New Report Says Roads Don’t Pay For Themselves

A new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group PIRG's report estimates that road construction has cost the American public $600 billion since the highway system began.

Tanya Snyder at Streetsblog says the report shows that the traditional arguments that road construction "pays for itself", such as the economic benefit of cutting road congestion, don't hold water:

"Highway expansions are often justified as projects that relieve traffic and, believe it or not, reduce pollution. So if a highway widening achieved its stated aims, it would cut congestion and fuel consumption, which would mean fewer gas tax dollars and roads that don't pay for even a fraction of their construction costs. However, we know that new highway capacity doesn't actually reduce driving – it induces more driving.

The additional traffic created by expanding highways does generate more gas tax revenue, but still not enough to come close to covering the costs of new roads."

Thanks to Tanya Snyder

Full Story: Actually, Highway Builders, Roads Don't Pay For Themselves

Comments

Comments

Roads cost America closer to $200 billion a year

America has spent $600 billion a year on roads since the 1950's?

That's barely $10 billion a year and completely off the mark!

The figure is closer to $200 billion a year, not counting the costs for health care, pollution, civic blight, dui arrests, car accidents and overseas oil wars associated with road spending for automobiles.

The state of California, alone, spends $25 billion a year building and maintaining its vast, growing road network, which can't be good for its annual budget woes.

Someone needs to go back and do their homework.

Subsidies to Roads

They are talking about the subsidies to roads, not the total cost of building roads.

"The myth of the self-financed road meets its match today in the form of a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group: “Do Roads Pay For Themselves?” The answer is a resounding “no.” All told, the authors calculate that road construction has sucked $600 billion out of America’s public purse since the dawn of the interstate system."

However, I am sure they are not including local streets in that figure.

Charles Siegel

the worth of a $10 Billion a year subsidy...

I'm far from a raging road-building booster, but this actually doesn't seem that awful. Why? Simple early in our modern road building history we made a significant investment in return for massive productivity gains. While those gains have tapered off significantly because we've essentially built out our network, we should also consider the productivity losses that would occur if the network were allowed to degenerate. Moreover, Federal road-building comes with prevailing wage requirements, which at the very least ensure that workers building the damn roads are paid middle-class wages and benefits (for the most part).

The point of the comment though isn't to defend road-building per-se but to ask for better arguments of how we can redirect infrastructure investment towards more sustainable transportation choices...

Roads and Productivity

Up to a point, road building increases productivity, but the United States has gone far beyond that point.

Compare of how productivity correlates with per capita road mileage in the United States and, say, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden. I don't know the exact figures off the top of my head, but I think you would find that those European countries have gotten similar productivity gains with about half as much road building.

Charles Siegel

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