The Citizens’ Guide to Transportation Reauthorization

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Sometime in 2010 or 2011, Congress expectsto decide how to spend the $250 billion or more offederal gas taxes and other highway user fees thatwill be collected over the next six years. Theprocess of doing so is called surface transportationreauthorization. A major point of contention in thislaw is how much of our transportation systemshould be centrally planned and how muchshould be built and operated in response to theneeds of actual transportation users.

Advocates of top‐​down planning want toreduce per capita driving by providing disincentivesto automobiles, such as increased congestionand driving costs, and funding expensivealternatives such as high‐​speed rail and rail transit.Even if you believe in the goal of reducing percapita driving, the evidence indicates that thesetools have minimal effect on driving and mayeven be environmentally counterproductive.

Advocates of customer‐​driven transportationwant to fund transportation out of user fees,not taxes, and make transportation providers — whether public agencies or private parties — responsive to the needs and desires of thoseusers. Decades of experience have proven thatthe best way of reducing the environmentalcosts of transportation is to use new technologiesto reduce the impacts per mile of mobility,not to reduce mobility itself. This citizens’ guidepresents the basic facts behind these two views.