Thursday, May 29, 2003

Highway Spending

Via Nathan Newman, I see that the Bugman is trying to screw New York out of transportation funding.

On the general issue of highway spending, I'm always a bit confused why fiscal conservatives and libertarianish-leaning Republicans don't spend more time complaining about transportation expenditures. We hear lots of bitching about Amtrak, which gets a whopping $1.2 billion or so per year. And, the airlines and airports soak up a big bunch of public money ('I'm too lazy to look up the specific amount right now). But, we rarely hear much complaining about highway or road expenditures generally.

In 2000, total public money spent on highways alone was $128.5 billion, which is about $450 per person. One of the arguments used to justify this is that highway expenditures are paid by "user fees" in the form of gas taxes, which is different than, say, using general revenues or that gasoline tax money to fund public transportation. But, it isn't even true - only 63% is financed by gas taxes and other similar user fees.

Now, I'm not explicitly trying to make the case for increased expenditures on Amtrak or other mass transit systems, but I'm just puzzled why so much ink is used debating the evils of Amtrak and other subsidized transit systems. Them highways sure are subsidized, not to mention the rest of the road network. I'm sure some of those expenditures are justified - but there are plenty of "highways to nowhere" littering the country which can't have been productive investments by any measure. Why aren't we complaining about those wasteful expenditures?

I'm a a mass transit fan, though even I wouldn't support the proposed light rail system in Orange County, CA (though the old LA Red Car system used to go all the way to Balboa Island!). However, my real issue is simply the double standard applied to roads/highways (and airports) versus mass transit. No one expects a road to make a profit.

Here's a map of the old red car system, before Judge Doom trashed it so he could make money on fast food franchises at highway intersections.