Kirk Landers: Editor Emeritus
Better Roads Staff | September 7, 2012
Actually America, Our Road Funding Could Be Worse
By Kirk Landers
A lifetime of eager anticipation is swallowed in the sudden realization that his world is a lesser place after his victory, that his role model has fallen and he must now face the mud storms of life head on, with no one to buffer him from the chaos.
We don’t want these thresholds, but there it was, in black and white, laid out in an on-line German newspaper for all to see: Germany’s Autobahn is being overtaken by gridlock and crumbling pavement.
The icon of modern automotive transportation, the inspiration for America’s Interstate Highway System, the engineering marvel that changed modern transportation as much as the automobile itself is said to be overwhelmed by the twin evils of over-use and underinvestment.
Sounds familiar, eh?
What makes this news especially shocking is the knowledge that the German economy has been more robust than many others in the West over the past decade, including our own, and Germany’s national government has taxed fuel and vehicle-related items like licenses, cars and trucks with an aggressiveness that road professionals in the United States can only fantasize about.
There are several life lessons that we here in the colonies can take away from this parable.
First, in this arm-wrestling match, there is no winner. The match pitted two cancer victims, both in degenerative states. The winner is the one least close to death at the moment, not the one getting stronger faster.
Second, and most important, Germany’s situation is proof positive that road funding is a universal and chronic problem. German roads have been a source of national pride for eight decades, give or take, and German citizens have been willing to pay dearly for them. Where our fuel taxes are measured in pennies per gallon, theirs are measured in dollars.
According to the news article, German road professionals put the national need for a road budget at 5 billion euros per year. Taxes on trucks alone create nearly that much revenue, and taxes on cars and fuel harvest billions more.
The problem, of course, is that these tax revenues are not dedicated to roads. They are part of general revenues and where they get spent is part of an annual budgeting crapshoot, just like our general revenues.
Overcrowding and pavement integrity problems are hardly unique to Germany’s autobahns and America’s Interstates. These conditions are, in fact, nearly universal ills plaguing road systems serving highly populated areas in many developed countries. Indeed, it’s likely that America’s woes are less severe than some others if for no other reason than our federal fuel tax, inadequate as it may be, is dedicated to highway and mass transit investment.
As we give thanks to the industry advocates who were able to get Congress to designate the fuel tax as a pure user fee, let us also resolve to protect this status with every future transportation bill, no matter how disappointing it is in any other regard.