Did You Know?

Only 11 percent of Chicagoland residents ride transit to work.

Think user fees pay for roads? You don't know the half of it

The report published today by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (Illinois PIRG) on how much highway construction and maintenance your federal gas tax actually pays for is a dense read. It's a dense read because the highway construction lobby stole the simple message and left you with stacks of history, complex public policy and tax legislation to explain why it's misguided.

I'll nutshell it for you (and coin a new verb!):

• The federal gas tax you paid at the pump pays for less than half the roads you drive on.

• You're not paying a user fee when you pay a gas tax. You're paying a tax, and as such should be put to the best and highest use on behalf of America's interests. You didn't buy your right to use the road.

• You pay lots of other taxes and fees that pay for roads, even though those taxes have nothing to do with driving. Your other taxes, even if you never drive, are subsidizing driving. (You're welcome.)

• Do you really think building more roads will take care of driving's biggest bane, congestion? Did you buy bigger pants to solve your 10 extra pounds of cheer from the holidays?

• If gas taxes fully covered the cost of building and maintaining roads to benefit drivers (which they don't), they'd still be shirking most of the bill for the negative impacts roads have on safety, noise levels, runoff, flooding, airborne carbon…   

• Relying on the current gas tax scheme, which isn't indexed to inflation, to fund transportation is strangling all transportation programs, thanks to rising prices of road construction and maintenance, higher mileage cars and a drop in driving miles.

To nutshell my nutshelling: the next federal transportation bill would be a great place to start over how we fund transportation in Illinois and the nation.

How would you fund transportation in America?