Pennsylvania Transportation: Higher gas tax could save you money?


Is there some way that raising the gas tax could actually save drivers money? According to this article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Pittsburgh Section, the answer is ‘yes’.

Consider this math from Karl P. Sieg, vice president of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Pittsburgh section:

Various studies have placed the cost of damage to vehicles from rough roads at $300 to $400 per year. He has heard estimates as high as $750.

A 25-cent-per-gallon increase in the state gasoline tax (or “user fee” as Mr. Sieg calls it) would raise more than $1.5 billion. For a driver who goes 15,000 miles a year at 25 miles per gallon, the annual cost would be $150.

“In other words, for less than half what we pay each year to repair the damage to our cars caused by worn-out roads, we could fix the roads,” he said. “Kind of a no-brainer, isn’t it?”

It makes sense that if the roads are smoother and safer, there will be less wear-and-tear and accidents to cars. According to WFMZ coverage of the Pennsylvania’s infrastructure progress report,– prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers– the state’s roads received a D-, bridges received a C, and transit received a D-.  And what’s more, PennDOT says that the state has more structurally deficient bridges than ANY STATE in the country. Our number is 5,646.

While 25 cents per-gallon may seem like a drastic increase, consider the $1.5 Billion in new revenue, and the relatively low cost of $150 to drivers who spend about 15,000 miles  in a car each year. There are two clear benefits:

1. Closing the transportation funding gap
This revenue would provide enough money to cover the $450 million dollar transportation funding gap AND leave plenty of money to enhance our transit systems and get the state back on track in all of its infrastructure demands.

2. Save taxpayers money
Taxpayers are currently driving on damaged roads which causes unnecessary damage to vehicles over the course of a year. By repairing the roads, there would be less damage to the cars that travel on them. In other words, a tax at the pump actually saves a driver from annual repair costs.

The state is in the middle of a serious transportation crisis. In fact, the state has launched this website to explain the seriousness of the crisis. After seeing the extent of the state’s needs, consider whether or not raising the gas tax may be a relatively simple and inexpensive (for the taxpayers) way to create a sustainable funding source.

Is this line of thinking flawed? Is there anything that the American Society of Civil Engineers is missing?

Feel free to comment below.

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Posted on May 25, 2010, in Public Infrastructure, Transportation. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. One caution: in PA, fuel tax revenue must be spent on highway-related expenses — it cannot be used for public transit. Of course, additional funding for highways might allow other appropriations to be diverted to transit.

    Does anyone think our elected representatives have the backbone to raise fuel taxes?

  2. Excellent point, Peter, and thanks for clarifying that. I think you are correct in saying that by using gas tax revenue for highways and bridges (as allowed by the PA Constitution quoted below), we would free up funds for transit. The fact that the constitution allows for gas tax revenue to go to funding bridge repair is especially helpful because it means that we could begin decreasing the number of structurally deficient bridges in the state thereby relieving a serious transportation funding drain.

    The idea that revenue from fuel tax, despite its restricted use- would free up other funds for transit, is similar to the line of thought related to the proposal to toll I-80. The idea was that if funds could be generated to make the highway self-sufficient, other funds would be available to fund transit projects and other transportation needs throughout the state. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to make the distinction clear enough. It doesn’t seem as though the distinction would be as hard to make in this case.

    However, some skeptics feared that the additional revenue would just be used to perpetuate our current allocation of funding by continuing to build new infrastructure heavily favoring roads and highways. This fear stems from the lack of any real policy change to establish an equitable funding stream for transit.

    Supposing that we were able to raise the gas tax, what other steps would need to be taken to ensure a substantial funding stream for transit?

    Act VIII, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution includes:

    (a) All proceeds from gasoline and other motor fuel excise taxes, motor vehicle registration fees and license taxes, operators’ license fees and other excise taxes imposed on products used in motor transportation after providing therefrom for (a) cost of administration and collection, (b) payment of obligations incurred in the construction and reconstruction of public highways and bridges shall be appropriated by the General Assembly to agencies of the State or political subdivisions thereof; and used solely for construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of and safety on public highways and bridges and costs and expenses incident thereto, and for the payment of obligations incurred for such purposes, and shall not be diverted by transfer or otherwise to any other purpose, except that loans may be made by the State from the proceeds of such taxes and fees for a single period not exceeding eight months, but no such loan shall be made within the period of one year from any preceding loan, and every loan made in any fiscal year shall be repayable within one month after the beginning of the next fiscal year.

  3. There is no magic way out of this problem. Our elected officials will either pay for this now or they WILL pay for it later as the cost of inaction increase as the system falls apart. We must provide a safe and efficient transportation system…it’s a core function of government.

  1. Pingback: Transportation Funding: Regional Infrastructure Improvement Zones (RIIZ) « Crossroads

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