Find Out Where Our Transportation Tax Dollars Go

Big-Medicine, NFP

Provocateur: Big Myth Busted: Gas Tax Doesn't Cover Road Costs

Excerpted from the Regional Plan Association's May 2, 2003 "Spotlight on the Region" by Alex Marshall, Senior Fellow

Year after year, revenues from state and federal taxes on gasoline sales pump approximately $45 billion into constructing and maintaining the nation's road network. Advocates of trains, light rail, bicycle paths, ferries, buses, and other means of transport look with envy and longing for some similar, stable source of funding.

But Martin Wachs, in a new report released this month by the Brookings Institution (see, shows that the gas tax has been paying for less and less of the total cost of the national road system. Although Wach's report is at times overly narrow, it is valuable because he shows what many people do not know: that the gas tax pays for only about a third of the cost of the road system. This has major implications for mass transit funding, which is so often criticized for "not paying for itself."