Chart of the Day: User Revenue vs. Highway Spending Gap over Time

This is something we’ve written about many times before, but here’s a straightforward chart for you this Friday afternoon. The cumulative “general fund” spending on highways, from an article in City Observatory:

highway revenue gap chart

The author, Joe Cortright, makes the case that we need to move towards better user fees for roads and driving, which is again something of a mantra for many of our posters. Here’s the key point:

Because user fees are set too low, and because, in essence, we are paying people to drive more, we have excess demand for the road system. If we priced the use of our roads to recover even the cost of maintenance, driving would be noticeably more expensive, and people would have much stronger incentives to drive less, and to use other forms of transportation, like transit and cycling. The fact that user fees are too low not only means that there isn’t enough revenue, but that there is too much demand. One value of user fees would be that they would discourage excessive use of the roads, lessen wear and tear, and in many cases obviate the need for costly new capacity.

Obviously, this is not something that most car drivers want to hear. But as road funding becomes a hot button issue at the state and Federal level, this chart is something to keep in mind. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.


5 Responses to Chart of the Day: User Revenue vs. Highway Spending Gap over Time

  1. David Markle
    David Markle October 24, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    This chart makes a very good point, although I understand that truck traffic accounts for a disproportionate amount of wear and tear (something that truckers don’t want to hear).

  2. Wayne October 25, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

    Am I correct in reading that as a six hundred BILLION dollar subsidy to auto infrastructure?

    I knew it was a lot, but wow. That surprised even me.

  3. Monte Castleman October 25, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    Does anyone have a comparable figure for transit?

    • Wayne October 26, 2015 at 8:46 am #

      I can guarantee you it’s less than six hundred billion dollars.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller October 26, 2015 at 10:45 am #

        Hm. I’d bet it’s not.

        But they are different things.

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