Transportation taxation

May 2014 » Columns » FIRM THOUGHTS
David Evans, P.E., PLS, F.ASCE
“The difference between death and taxes is death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”
— Will Rogers
“If you get up early, work late, and pay your taxes, you will get ahead — if you strike oil.”
— J. Paul Getty

While I enjoy quotes, I am finding the current headlines and articles on the sorry state of our infrastructure more amusing.

“DOT chief expects ‘rough’ transport funding fight,” so says Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation. Of course he is fairly new.

From Railway Age: “Highway Homicide affects railroads too, It’s the trucks who dunnit!”

Harvard Business School Dean: “We suffer through an extremely aged and outdated infrastructure.” Wow, they do learn things at Harvard.

ARTBA: “In virtually every recent congressional hearing and media reports about federal transportation policy, the false claim that ‘Americans are driving less’ emerges in some capacity. FHWA data show U.S. vehicle miles travelled (VMT) increased 0.3 percent in 2012 and 0.6 percent in 2013.” Every Los Angeles commuter could have told ARTBA that. It further states, “Truck travel is also expected to grow to 18.8 million tons by 2040.”

Back to Railway Age: “One 80,000 pound truck causes the equivalent infrastructure damage as 9,600 automobiles. As axle weights double, the pavement damage increases by 16-fold.” See, it was the trucks that dunnit.

A significant number in Congress are fond of quoting 18th century economist Adam Smith. They should not ignore his counsel on user charges now that the problem of solving the Highway Trust Fund deficit is in their laps and requires a solution before the till is empty by September. Wrote Smith: “When the carriages which pass over a highway or bridge… pay tolls in proportion to their weight or their tonnage, they pay for the maintenance of those public works exactly in proportion to the wear and tear which they occasion on them. It seems scarce possible to invent a more equitable way of maintaining such works.” And he wrote it in 1776!

Maybe, just maybe, now is the time to consider a way to pay for our road and highway maintenance and improvement. An increase in the gas tax seems like such a no-brainer. Even trucking interests have suggested “an increase of 15 cents for gas and diesel fuel,” according to Railway Age. And if we are driving more, as ARTBA reports, this would make some difference. Then the opponents of a gas tax increase say that this is not fair and hurts lower-income parts of society and as cars become more fuel efficient, less revenue will be generated. I find that argument missing the point. A greater gas tax will encourage more fuel-efficient vehicles, discourage more travel, and cause less pollution, all of which we seem to want. Of course those Tesla owners get off free!

If you can’t get behind a gas tax, try the Vehicle Miles Travelled tax that will monitor how many miles your vehicle travels and tax you accordingly. This means “Big Brother” will be watching your car — even your electric one!

David Evans, P.E., PLS, F.ASCE, is the founder (1976) and a member of the board of David Evans Enterprises, Inc., the holding company for David Evans and Associates (www.deainc.com), and the author of “Achieving Zero,” a book on the life of the firm. He can be contacted at david.evans@zweigwhite.com. 


Upcoming Events

See All Upcoming Events