Who Should Fund Pennsylvania’s Roads?

August 14, 2008

Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania says that his state needs $1.7 billion to repair and maintain the state’s transportation system. So far a few proposals for raising the funds have surfaced. One idea that is receiving much support from authorities is to place tolls on I-80, the interstate highway that runs east and west across the center of the state. Another option under consideration is a 75 year lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to bring in an immediate $12.8 billion.

A third option is receiving little attention: increasing the state’s fuel tax. Supporters of the fuel tax increase argue that a toll is unfair because it targets only a small group, those who drive on I-80, to fund statewide road maintenance. This is a very good point. Sound tax policy would require that money used to broadly fund transportation infrastructure be raised as broadly as possible. The burden should not fall on the relative few who travel an arbitrarily chosen road. Anyone who benefits from well-maintained Pennsylvania roads should be required to pay for those roads.

As it turns out, gas consumption is a reasonably good proxy for road usage, and as such it is a good candidate to raise money for road maintenance. Even groups such as the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, a trucking industry organization whose members would be negatively affected by either an increase in tolls or fuel tax, support a fuel tax increase arguing that an increase in the fuel tax would be more equitable than a toll on one road.

If Pennsylvania’s entire transportation system truly needs more funding, then everyone who uses the system should pay. Of course, given current fuel prices, Pennsylvania politicians are unlikely to do such a politically unpopular thing as increase the price of fuel, even if it is the fair option.

Read more on gas taxes and tolls.

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