News Release

Do Roads Pay for Themselves?

Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding
For Immediate Release

A new report released today by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group disproves the common misperception that road-building is paid for by user fees, showing that gas taxes cover barely half the costs of building and maintaining roads, a fraction which is likely to fall steadily.

Among the findings of the report:

  • Federal gasoline taxes were originally intended for debt relief, not roads.
  • Highways, roads and streets have received more than $600 billion in subsidies over the last 63 years in excess of the amount raised through gasoline taxes.
  • The amount of money a particular driver pays in gasoline taxes bears little relationship to his or her use of roads funded by gas taxes. Drivers pay gasoline taxes for the miles they drive on local streets and roads, even though those proceeds are typically used to pay for state and federal highways.
  • Most state gas taxes, including Maryland, are partly offset by subsidies that exempt gasoline from sales taxes.

“Maryland needs to make difficult choices about how to fund our states’ troubled transportation system. The first task is to discard common myths about how roads are paid for,” said Jenny Levin at Maryland PIRG.

The state is currently using federal stimulus dollars to chip away at the backlog of transportation projects. 

This year, Congress will again address funding for the nation’s Highway Trust Fund, which has been bailed out four times with $35 billion from general funds since 2008. Federal gas taxes have not increased since 1993 and revenues are expected to remain flat as Americans continue to drive less and use more fuel-efficient cars.

“Highway advocates often wrongly portray highway spending as financially conservative by falsely labeling gas taxes as “user fees” that pay for roads,” said Levin “Funding programs based on myths instead of on what is most needed leads to waste.”

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