Do Roads Pay for Themselves?

“Bicycles do not have a right to the road because they do not pay for the roads.” This is an argument I have been in more times than I want to think about. Luckily this is not an argument I have ever been in here in Provo. However, I believe it may reflect a general mindset one that, even I as a cyclist, was not sure how to answer at first. Recently I  stumbled across an interesting article about how much roads pay for themselves and thought that we could all learn something from it.

So, the question stands, “Do roads pay for themselves?” The report comes from a public interest group that crunched some numbers and came up a little short of the answer yes. Actually they came up about 600 billion (2005) short of yes.

One of the biggest reasons that I have heard the above statement is based on the idea of the gas tax. The gas tax is what pays for roads, right? Wrong. Since 1947 the gas tax and all other road user fees combined (tolls, state park entry, etc.) have actually left a 600 billion dollar tab for all of us to pay into. There was a stint in the 1930’s when all gas tax went to the highway system. That lasted for 17 years. This was also before the start of the large interstate projects which began in the 1950’s. Essentially what the report says is that even if we allocated the gas tax to just roads we would have to raise it as high as 70 cents or more (currently user fees barley pay for 50% or roads). That 70 cents however is only applicable to just the roads. The report says nothing of the larger reaching effects of road expansion and use by only motorized vehicles. If we were to add in wear and tear on the road, air quality, utility expansion to support urban sprawl, as well as the impact car-centric facilities have on the quality of life, we would actually have to raise the tax by $2.10.

As can be seen roads most definitely do not pay for themselves through only one user base. We are all paying for them. Not just with money either but with quality of life and, clean air. Do I think that roads are evil? No. Do I think that cars are evil? Used like a privilege and not a right I do not think cars are evil. What I am trying to point out and, what this report expressly points out, is that roads are for all users. Cars do not have anymore of a right to be there than pedestrians. Bikes do not have anymore of a right to be there than cars. So why is it that roads are constantly being built with out any other user in mind than the driver? I believe it is because most of us buy into this idea.

Now that you know the truth you are obligated to tell at least one person. As a result that person will tell some one else and, someday not to far off, every new road will have car lanes, bike lanes, and great sidewalks. Even if that does not happen we, as users of the roads that we all pay for, can be more aware of our rights as well as, the rights other users have to get from point A to point B the best way we know how. We can not blame ourselves if everyone does not know that the bike is the best way :).

For further reading Streetsblog had a great write up and the PDF can be found here.

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