Transportation

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Millennials in Motion

Millennials are less car-focused than older Americans and previous generations of young people, and their transportation behaviors continue to change in ways that reduce driving. Now is the time for the nation’s transportation policies to acknowledge, accommodate and support Millennials’ demands for a greater array of transportation choices.

News Release | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Study Questions Why Effingham Parkway Still Angling for Tax Dollars

A new report by the Georgia PIRG Education Fund calls the Effingham Parkway an example of an unjustified highway expansion. Officials are still planning to channel funds to build the highway, despite data that fail to support its construction. While prospects for the larger $100 million state-funded version of the new highway have been deferred, country officials are still seeking scarce transportation funds to spend on an initial two-lane road, which the report identifies as a “boondoggle.”

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles

Even though the Driving Boom is now over, state and federal governments continue to pour vast sums of money into the construction of new highways and expansion of old ones – at the expense of urgent needs such as road and bridge repairs, improvements in public transportation and other transportation priorities. Eleven proposed highway projects across the country – slated to cost at least $13 billion – exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Higher Ed, Transportation

A New Course

Across America, colleges and universities are showing that efforts aimed at reducing driving deliver powerful benefits for students, staff and surrounding communities. Policymakers at all levels of government should be looking to the innovative examples of these campuses. Universities and college towns also provide useful models for expanding the range of transportation options available to Americans while addressing the transportation challenges facing our communities.

Report | Georgia PIRG | Transportation

Moving Off the Road

The report will be available online on Thursday, August 29th, 2013, at 10 a.m. EDT.

Resource | Transportation

A New Direction In Driving Trends

After a 60 year boom, driving is on the decline in the U.S. and no likely scenario shows it returning to previous levels of growth. 

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Direction

The Driving Boom—a six decade-long period of steady increases in per-capita driving in the United States—is over. The time has come for America to hit the “reset” button on transportation policy—replacing the policy infrastructure of the Driving Boom years with a more efficient, flexible and nimble system that is better able to meet the transportation  needs of the 21st century. 

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead

Privatized traffic law enforcement systems are spreading rapidly across the United States. As many as 700 local jurisdictions have entered into deals with for-profit companies to install camera systems at intersections and along roadways to encourage drivers to obey traffic signals and follow speed limits.

The public interest is threatened when private camera companies and municipalities focus on ticket revenues first and safety second.  Before signing a camera enforcement contract with a vendor, local governments should heed the advice of the Federal Highway Administration and first investigate traffic engineering solutions for problem intersections or roadways. If officials decide that private enforcement systems are appropriate, they should still avoid deals that will limit future decisions about protecting safety.

Pitfalls of Contracting for Traffic Cameras:

  • -Contracts between private camera vendors and cities can include payment incentives that put profit above traffic safety.  Privatized traffic enforcement system contracts that limit government discretion to set and enforce traffic regulations put the public at risk, including the duration of yellow lights, ticket quotas, and enforcement on right turns.
  • -Contracts between camera vendors and cities can include penalties for early   termination – or fail to provide provisions for early termination – leaving taxpayers on the hook even if the camera program fails to meet its objectives. 

 The privatized traffic law enforcement industry has amassed significant political clout that it uses to shape traffic safety nationwide.  Camera vendors lobby aggressively to expand the use of private traffic law enforcement to more states and communities.

 

To prevent these problems, local government officials who are considering privatized traffic law enforcement should follow ten recommendations outlined in the report to protect the public by ensuring that cameras are not considered as a potential source of revenue but only as a public safety measure.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Do Roads Pay for Themselves?

Highway advocates often claim that roads “pay for themselves,” with gasoline taxes and other charges to motorists covering – or nearly covering – the full cost of highway construction and maintenance.

They are wrong.

Highways do not – and, except for brief periods in our nation’s history, never have – paid for themselves through the taxes that highway advocates label “user fees.” Yet highway advocates continue to suggest they do in an attempt to secure preferential access to scarce public resources and to shape how those resources are spent.

To have a meaningful national debate over transportation policy – particularly at a time of tight public budgets – it is important to get past the myths and address the real, difficult choices America must make for the 21st century.

Gasoline taxes aren’t “user fees.”

Highway advocates often describe gasoline taxes as “user fees” in order to argue that those funds should be used only on highways. Yet, gasoline taxes are not user fees in any meaningful sense of the term. 

  • “Fees” are not connected to “use” – The amount of money a particular driver pays in gasoline taxes bears little relationship to his or her use of roads funded by gas taxes – unlike other true user fees such as admission fees for state parks or turnpike tolls. Drivers on local streets and roads, for example, pay gasoline taxes for the miles they drive on those roads, even though those taxes are typically used to pay for state and federal highways. Efforts to ensure that residents of a given area “get back” what they pay in gasoline taxes – such as the federal equity bonus program – actually perpetuate wasteful pork-barrel spending since they allocate money with no consideration of need or the benefits those investments would deliver to society.
  • State gas taxes are often not “extra” fees – Most states exempt gasoline from the state sales tax. The substitution of the gasoline tax for the sales tax diverts much of the money that would have gone into a state’s general fund to a fund used often for the exclusive benefit of drivers. In some states, such as New Jersey, the gasoline tax is at times lower than the corresponding sales tax would be, meaning that drivers get a net tax subsidy that encourages the purchase of gasoline relative to other goods.
  • Federal gas taxes have typically not been devoted exclusively to highways – The federal gas tax began its life as a deficit-fighting measure under President Herbert Hoover decades before the Interstate Highway System.  Only during the brief 17-year period beginning in 1956 did Congress temporarily dedicate gas tax revenues to construct the Interstate network, a project completed in the 1990s. Since 1973, the gasoline tax has been used to fund a variety of important transportation priorities and has periodically been used to reduce the federal deficit.
  • Many states use gas tax revenue for a variety of purposes – While many states have historically dedicated their own state gasoline taxes to highways, that decision has not been universal. According to Federal Highway Administration data, roughly 20 cents of every dollar collected in state gas taxes, motor vehicle fees or tolls nationwide is used for public transportation and other governmental purposes.  Many of the states that do use gasoline taxes solely for highways do so because they remain bound by constitutional earmarks of gasoline taxes imposed three-quarters of a century ago, regardless of whether those decisions still make sense today.

Highways don’t pay for themselves.

  • Since 1947, the amount of money spent on highways, roads and streets has exceeded the amount raised through gasoline taxes and other so-called “user fees” by $600 billion (2005 dollars), representing a massive transfer of general government funds to highways.
  • Highways “pay for themselves” less today than ever. Currently, highway “user fees” pay only about half the cost of building and maintaining the nation’s network of highways, roads and streets.
  • These figures fail to include the many costs imposed by highway construction on non-users of the system, including damage to the environment and public health and encouragement of sprawling forms of development that impose major costs on the environment and government finances.
  • New or expanded highways are even less likely to pay for themselves in the future as changing demographic conditions and consumer choices limiting the growth in vehicle travel and fuel use that would otherwise provide the revenue for a major program of highway expansion.

Highway advocates use the “user fees/highways pay for themselves” myth in an effort to secure access to scarce government revenue for their desired public policy ends – distorting transportation decision-making.

  • Highway advocates often argue that the fact that highways come with their own built-in source of revenue in the form of gasoline taxes make them a financially conservative option relative to other transportation investments. 
  • Highway advocates often use funding myths to make public transit and other forms of transportation appear relatively expensive – diverting attention from the full accounting of costs and benefits that should be the basis of sound transportation decision-making.

To make the right choices for America’s transportation future, the nation should take a smart approach to transportation investments, one that weighs the full costs and benefits of those investments and then allocates the costs of those investments fairly across society.

News Release | Georgia PIRG | Transportation

High Speed Rail Grant Puts Georgia on the Right Track

Statement of Georgia PIRG Program Associate Stephanie Ali on the awarding of $4.1 million in high-speed rail grants for Georgia. Georgia was awarded this grant to complete a service development plan and corridor study as part of the Charlotte-Atlanta Corridor Plan. 

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