Thursday, October 13, 2011

Where the Roads Are

A GAO report shows that for each dollar a state contributes in gasoline tax, that state gets more than a dollar in highway funding. That's pretty funny since the whole idea of the tax is a sort of user fee for the roads. Clearly, this Solyndra-style payment scheme isn't what it's cracked up to be.

Here's a chart showing how much each state gets in highway money for every dollar it sends.

Two territories stand out as getting more than $3 for every dollar they contribute. First is Alaska at $4.99 for each dollar (quite a bit more than $3, actually). What's the deal here? My guess is that there's even more space between all the spread out towns. They spend more money on roads than the average state; they have to in order to connect all its disperse pieces. Here the big winners are the rural areas.

The second is DC at an even higher $5.85(!) for each dollar they collect in taxes. My first guess is that it was the politicians making extra sure their roads are in good condition. But I've driven in DC and at that ratio, I'd expect roads which clear themselves of snow and traffic so light, you'd think you're in the country except for all the buildings. Neither are near the case.

No, what makes the most sense is that commuters fill their tanks up outside the city, where it's cheaper. Where Alaska has extra costs, DC has less revenue. Waaay less revenue. Here the big winners are the city folk who get to enjoy their roads 7 days a week even though they are being paid for by motorists who only come in during the weekdays and are gone by the evening.

So while the whole thing is muddled up and it's important not to read too much into this since all the money goes to a big federal pot anyway, it seems like the suburbs are consistently the biggest losers in this deal. They pay for rural areas which are road intensive and they pay for city streets which they use disproportionately less than the city dwellers.

Of course, the city dwellers tend not to have cars so maybe it just comes out in the wash.

HT: Yglesias