In the Sunday paper, the P-I had a spot-on editorial in favor of the the Sound Transit expansion vote we’ll be getting on the ballot in November, and pointing out the madness of raiding transit funding to put into the highway fund:
Major investments in public transportation are the smart, obvious move at a time when high gas prices are pushing a record number of Americans out of their cars and packing them into mass transit. Unfortunately, doing so is neither smart nor obvious to the federal government. Running short of gas-tax dollars for highways and roads, the Bush administration is planning on taking money out of mass transit funds to take care of highways.
The New York Times on Tuesday reported that, “the short-term solution would be for the Highway Trust Fund’s highway account to borrow money from the fund’s mass transit account, a step that would balance the accounts as highway travel declines and use of mass transit increases.”
Congress has the power to put the kibosh on this plan by refusing to approve it, and killing this counterintuitive move is the only way to go.
Of course I agree, but I think congress should go one step further. People have already started making the decision that the convenience of driving may not be worth the trade-offs in terms of cost and stress, which is why driving is down and walking, biking, and riding transit are up. It’s time for congress to take a similar re-evaluation and decide whether it’s still cost-effective in terms of mobility to subsidize highways to the extent the Federal Government has been.
The obvious reason why the highway fund is in trouble is because people are driving less, and thus buying less gas and paying less gas tax. But the less obvious reason that highway fund is in so much trouble is that the same amount of highway funding buys you less roads today than ever before. The cost of concrete, steel and real estate are all considerably higher than they were ten years ago, and because of it roads are more expensive than before.
The cost of providing transit has also gone up with materials and real estate prices rising, but transit costs less to begin with in a lot of cases. In our area, just the 520 bridge replacement will cost nearly as much as East Link, and the Alaskan Way Viaduct will likely cost more than as North Link. Neither will get significantly more users than the corresponding light rail systems. With tax dollars tight, it may be time to think about increasing funding for the more cost-effective way of moving people around.