Graphic Of The Day: Romancing The Highways - A Half-Century History Of US Transit Funding

cumulative government capital investment budget public transit highways graphic

Driving The Highway Budget Myth: The "Last Bastion Of Socialism In America"
For over 5 decades, US transportation projects have been budgeted based on a pair of myths: that public transit funding is an increasing drain on Federal and state highway budgets; and, a corollary, that fuel taxes cover the costs of highways and bridges. These mistaken beliefs feed hostility toward bicyclists and pedestrians who transgress on 'something we drivers pay for.' (Never mind that bicyclists and pedestrians often drive cars and trucks.) Via::Streetsblog, Highway Funding: The Last Bastion of Socialism in America . AND Delucchi Study Finds That U.S. Motorists Do Not Pay Their WayPolitics On Route 66 The politics, then, have been driven by a sentiment that the non-driving public somehow 'feeds out of the public trough'. Like public transit was some kind of welfare system.

Look again the graphic. As the decades passed, the slope of accumulating expenditures remained steep for highways and relatively flat and low for public transit. No indication of significant trade-offs between the two (at least at the national scale).

As for belief that drivers pay-as-they-go, based on fuel taxes:- the U.S., current tax and fee payments to the government by motor-vehicle users fall short of government expenditures related to motor-vehicle use by approximately 20-70 cents per gallon of all motor fuel.
That would be before any proposed 'summer gas tax holiday,' as the McCain Presidential campaign has supported.

The facts support quite a different view than the myths. Public highway funding appears to have been by socialistic instincts: albeit for a majority public interest that also happened to create corporate wealth for both the car makers and the oil industry. do you overcome myths formed over a half-century?

Given: America is sufficiently fact-proof, these days, that no amount of graphics and peer reviewed study will make for a fast turnaround by elected officials.

Can a countervailing myth fill the disappearing chalice of Route-66? Widely held social myths take decades to change. Even "social networking," popular with only a minority of the populace, is not up to that task.

Money Talks
Only economic necessity can overcome the widely felt revulsion for being shoulder to shoulder with other humans and the attachment to vehicle as expression of personal freedom.

Public Outcry Can Make Politicians Walk
Intensive grass-roots lobbying could help, though. As our tipster points out:

the federal transportation funding bill is going to be coming up for reauthorization in 2009. I would suggest that U.S. enviros need to get focused on this. It's a big opportunity...