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Opinion: Gas Tax Money Not Spent on New Roads
The vast majority of gas tax money is spent on programs of little or no benefit to motorists.

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The federal government adds an extra 18.4 cents to every gallon of gasoline that motorists purchase, yet little of this user fee -- amounting to billions each year -- is actually spent to maintain or build roads that any motorist can use. As a result of the lack of new road construction, Americans in the top 85 urban areas wasted an extra 2,258,708,000 gallons of gasoline in 2003 because they were stuck idling in traffic, according to the latest figures from the Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility Study.

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 3, a six-year transportation authorization bill funded primarily by revenue from the federal gasoline tax. The House passed its version of the legislation in March, and the two versions must be reconciled before becoming law.

According to the Heritage Foundation, of the $41 billion authorized in early versions of the bill, only $23 billion is allocated toward constructing, repairing or improving general purpose roads. The rest of the money is diverted into mass transit, bicycle trails, and other unrelated projects. For example, the bill establishes a Safe Routes to Schools program designed "to enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school... encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age." A new Transit in the Parks program would be established "to improve visitor mobility and enjoyment" inside national parks.

The following spending projects are part of H.R. 3:
  • $3,000,000 to renovate and expand the National Packard Museum
  • $3,000,000 for the National Infantry Museum Transportation Network
  • $1,705,000 to reconstruct Union Station in North Canaan, CT and establish a transportation museum
  • $1,000,000 to construct the Transportation and Heritage Museum in Townsend, Tennessee
  • $500,000 to Rehabilitate and redesign Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, NY
  • $250,000 for the Issaquah Valley Trolley Project
Citizens Against Government Waste has identified other wasteful items out of the 3,800 "high priority projects" inserted into the House version of the bill.

In March, the White House issued a statement (pdf) blasting the set-asides saying, "The Administration believes the vast majority of Federal-aid highway funds should be distributed to States via formula as States are far better equipped than the Federal Government to make appropriate decisions about their own transportation systems."

There's more to fixing the waste in the transportation bill than just eliminating the earmarks and returning local control. Our opinion is that gas tax revenue should be devoted to no purpose other than building, repairing and otherwise improving roads that everyone can use.

View a Heritage Foundation Chart showing the amount of spending directed away from general purpose roads

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