Many don’t know how much they pay for roads, survey finds


Gas prices over $4 a gallon are displayed on a pump at a Chevron gas station on March 1, 2013 in San Francisco. The California Board of Equalization has voted to implement a statewide excise tax on gasoline starting July 1. (Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGES)

As Congress continues the search for a new way to fund the nation’s roads and bridges, it turns out that many American taxpayers don’t know how much they’re paying for them now.

Forty percent of those who participated in an advocacy group’s survey said they didn’t know, and a quarter of all those surveyed estimated that they paid twice as much as the $46 that the Federal Highway Administration said was the average monthly gas tax paid by households in 2011.

One of the dilemmas faced by those on Capital Hill and in the Obama administration is that of selling the American public on new ways to pay for transportation, since so many people are unaware of how the current system works — and therefore, why it’s failing.

There is greater public awareness of state fuel taxes, in part because many states have raised them recently, than there is of the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, last increased in 1993.

Inflation alone has eroded the value of that tax by an estimated 40 percent over two decades, even as the average mileage per gallon has increased dramatically. As a result, the federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for highways, bridges and public transit, is nearly bankrupt.

The current federal highway bill, which expires next year, was bolstered by the transfer of billions of dollars from the general fund and elsewhere.

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association commissioned the survey done last month and released it Tuesday to buttress its argument for greater investment in transportation.

The survey found that 78 percent of respondents said driving was an important part of their daily life, and 21 percent said they counted on public transportation.

“Americans and our elected representatives can’t simply wish for a 21st century transportation network. We have to pay for it,” said Pete Ruane, president of the advocacy group. “We are under investing in our road and transit infrastructure relative to many other basic services we rely on every day. This research clearly shows there is a disconnect between our perceived value of transportation mobility and our personal investment in the infrastructure that provides it.”

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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