City-Data Forum "But gas taxes pay for the roads I drive on!" (highway, market)
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07-15-2014, 01:14 PM
 Location: Chicago 1,312 posts, read 1,582,448 times Reputation: 1487

There's a hard working guy out there. His name is John. John Q. Public. He's worked hard his entire life. In fact, ever since he could drive (age 16) to the age of his retirement (age 76) he's worked every single day in that 60 years. He drove an average of 100 miles a day. 365 days a year. For 60 years.

And he thinks, no, he knows, that Uncle Sam has been screwing him over all those years with taxes, and taxes, and more taxes. "I've paid for it with my taxes!", he says as he talks about roads and highways. "I've paid more than my fair share!", is a common phrase from Mr. Public.

But has he?

The federal gas tax is \$0.184 a gallon
The highest taxed gallon of gas is \$0.719 a gallon
Combine those numbers and you get a total of \$0.903 of taxes levied per gallon of gas.

John spit out his coffee when I told him that. "You mean to tell me that I've been paying almost a dollar per gallon of gas in taxes for all these 60 years???" I nodded my head solemnly in agreement.

"Hell, if that's the case, then I've more than paid my fair share! I've been robbed!"

But has he?

New cars on the market get an average of 25 miles per gallon. Now John drove 100 miles a day with a car that got 25 miles per gallon, so he went through 4 gallons of gas a day.

That works out to \$3.61 in taxes paid a day. And since John worked everyday, 365 a year, he paid \$1,317.65 a year in gas taxes. And since he drove 100 miles per day, everyday, for 60 years, he paid \$79,059 in gas taxes.

He about flipped his lid when I told him that number. Just a bunch of stammering and half-baked words coming out of his mouth. But then I told him the really bad news.

It costs \$1,600,000 dollars (lowest estimate) to build one mile of interstate.

So that means that over the course of 60 years and 87,600 gallons of gas used, John Q. Public had paid for roughly 5% of one mile of highway… or 264 feet of highway.

When talking about his daily commute of 100 miles per day, 528,000 feet, he only paid for 0.5% of the highway he drove on.

When presented with this information, John was shocked. "But… but… I paid to drive on those roads! The gas tax pays for the roads I drive on!"

Yes John, you did pay, but you didn't pay nearly enough to cover the actual cost of building that road, nor the upkeep of that road.

But take heart John Q. Public: If your vehicle got .5 MPG, you could proudly say that you paid for, completely by yourself, 2.5 miles of highway.

SOURCES:

Commute Statistics | Statistic Brain

Average Fuel Economy for New Cars Dips to 25.5 MPG in June | Edmunds.com

Top 10 States With Highest Gasoline Taxes - ABC News

http://www.railstotrails.org/resourc...nstruction.pdf

Transportation FAQs | The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA)

07-15-2014, 01:34 PM
 Status: "Summer!" (set 19 days ago) Location: Foot of the Rockies 87,002 posts, read 102,592,596 times Reputation: 33059
How cute!

Maybe you could calculate how much you paid to support your local transit agency through the farebox. I can assure you, the answer will not will not make the individual transit rider look good.

07-15-2014, 01:34 PM
 Location: Long Island / NYC 45,988 posts, read 41,967,271 times Reputation: 14805
Quote:
 Originally Posted by A2DAC1985 New cars on the market get an average of 25 miles per gallon. Now John drove 100 miles a day with a car that got 25 miles per gallon, so he went through 4 gallons of gas a day. That works out to \$3.61 in taxes paid a day. And since John worked everyday, 365 a year, he paid \$1,317.65 a year in gas taxes. And since he drove 100 miles per day, everyday, for 60 years, he paid \$79,059 in gas taxes. He about flipped his lid when I told him that number. Just a bunch of stammering and half-baked words coming out of his mouth. But then I told him the really bad news. It costs \$1,600,000 dollars (lowest estimate) to build one mile of interstate. So that means that over the course of 60 years and 87,600 gallons of gas used, John Q. Public had paid for roughly 5% of one mile of highway… or 264 feet of highway. When talking about his daily commute of 100 miles per day, 528,000 feet, he only paid for 0.5% of the highway he drove on. When presented with this information, John was shocked. "But… but… I paid to drive on those roads! The gas tax pays for the roads I drive on!" Yes John, you did pay, but you didn't pay nearly enough to cover the actual cost of building that road, nor the upkeep of that road.
Several flaws with your argument:

1) Interstate highways are the most costly type of road construction. Not all, or perhaps most of John Q. Public's driving is on interstate
2) Why would one person's driving pay for the entire highway? Plenty of other people drive on it.
3) A daily commute of 100 miles / day is really high. That's 30,000-35,000 miles / year, assuming little non-commute driving. More common is 10,000 to 15,000 miles / year.

There's probably others, too. I don't thinking highway construction was ever expected to pay for itself in user fees.

07-15-2014, 01:51 PM
 410 posts, read 388,981 times Reputation: 495
John Q. isn’t the only guy driving on the road though. The same 1-mile section of interstate that costs \$1.6 million to build may carry 50,000 vehicles per day:

50,000 vehicles / 25 mpg = 2,000 gallons of taxable fuel each day
2,000 gallons * \$0.903 = \$1,806 tax to drivers each day
\$1,806 x 365 x 20 year design life = \$13,183,800 taxed over 20 years

So drivers are taxed \$13,183,800 for a mile-section of interstate that costs \$1,600,000 to construct (that seems very low to me, but I’m going with it for argument sake). Subtracting the cost to construct that mile of road, it leaves \$11,583,800 for maintenance (\$579,190/year).

07-15-2014, 03:32 PM
 Location: Thunder Bay, ON 2,610 posts, read 3,761,847 times Reputation: 1616
Well if you drive more you pay more gas tax too. The main problem is that interstates get way more than 1 user per day. In Ontario, most rural freeways average around 20,000 ADT for 4 lanes of freeway. There's a couple in Northern Ontario that were built recently, and I'm somewhat doubtful as to whether they were worth it, and they carry about 5,000-10,000 per day. There are plans to expand the Northern Ontario freeway network, replacing 2 lane undivided highways (often with a centre lane for passing), and these are often less than 5,000 ADT per day. Many of them involve blasting through bedrock so they're probably pretty expensive too.

But anyways, that's not the kind of highways most are commuting on. The urban highways of Ontario, those that were built more for commuter travel rather than regional travel and trade, those carry at least 10,000 per lane, and typically more like 20,000 per lane (up to 25,000 per lane in the busiest part of the 401), so like around 150,000 for a 8 lane freeway. For a 4 lane freeway, I guess you'd be looking at 60-85,000 per day.

I think 1 mile of 4 lane freeway is more like \$20-25 million though?

Last edited by memph; 07-15-2014 at 03:55 PM..

07-15-2014, 04:21 PM
 2,553 posts, read 2,004,793 times Reputation: 1348
Quote:
 Originally Posted by nei I don't thinking highway construction was ever expected to pay for itself in user fees.
First off, let's put aside public transit and the FRR issues that some people may feel is important, but is somewhat tangential.

This narrative is an accurate descriptor of the way very many people think about gas taxes and taxes in general, in and out of these forums. It gets in the way of talking about the purpose and value of cars and how much money and land should be dedicated to them vs. other uses.

Our roads are in poor shape, but it can be nigh impossible to have a conversation about how much, if any, money should be spent, and where that money should come from (general fund, use fee, gas tax). If you already believe you pay plenty in taxes and that the government is big enough, you cannot be convinced to pay more.

07-15-2014, 05:00 PM
 Status: "Summer!" (set 19 days ago) Location: Foot of the Rockies 87,002 posts, read 102,592,596 times Reputation: 33059
Quote:
 Originally Posted by darkeconomist If you already believe you pay plenty in taxes and that the government is big enough, you cannot be convinced to pay more.
This is also tangential.

07-15-2014, 05:36 PM
 Location: Vallejo 14,062 posts, read 16,081,530 times Reputation: 12636
Someone should take the time and plug the numbers in for a stupid story that misses the point about how much of the money John Q paid in that siphoned out of the Highway Trust Account and tell us what percentage he paid for the 2nd Avenue extension in NYC he'll never even ride on as if it was his own private subway.

07-15-2014, 07:31 PM
 2,553 posts, read 2,004,793 times Reputation: 1348
Quote:
 Originally Posted by Katiana This is also tangential.
How so?

Quote:
 "Hell, if that's the case, then I've more than paid my fair share! I've been robbed!"
One's feelings about what constitutes "fair share" and how those feelings, accurate or otherwise, get in the way of conversations is the core of the narrative.

07-15-2014, 09:19 PM
 4,023 posts, read 3,265,973 times Reputation: 2924
Quote:
 Originally Posted by A2DAC1985 It costs \$1,600,000 dollars (lowest estimate) to build one mile of interstate. So that means that over the course of 60 years and 87,600 gallons of gas used, John Q. Public had paid for roughly 5% of one mile of highway… or 264 feet of highway. When talking about his daily commute of 100 miles per day, 528,000 feet, he only paid for 0.5% of the highway he drove on.
But that's just for the initial construction. I believe life cycle of a busy paved road or highway is only 20-30 years. Then it has to be resurfaced at much additional cost. That's why everywhere you go you see construction crews at work repaving the roads (which causes traffic to slow to a crawl). Not sure the cost of repaving but I know it ain't cheap.
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