September 13, 2006
Toll road math (again)

Those who forget middle school math are doomed to pay more to drive than those who don't.

It would take a local gasoline tax of about 17 cents a gallon to replace the money brought in by a controversial second round of toll roads, the Texas Department of Transportation says in an analysis released Monday.

That estimate dwarfs an earlier figure of 2.4 cents a gallon produced by the staff of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. But that 2005 estimate came in answer to a different question: What would it take to replace about $500 million in lost state funding and borrowed money if the five Phase II toll roads were to be built as free roads instead?


The 2.4-cent-a-gallon estimate, small enough that it might actually pass muster with voters, made the gas tax option particularly tantalizing. The new estimate, to the extent that it is accepted as legitimate by policymakers and the public, may or may not fall withinCAMPO board members' political comfort zone.

They're talking about an additional local tax on gas, since the state tax is 20 cents per gallon. I don't really care about the details of this plan or the politics behind it, I just want to remind everyone of the numbers. I've done this calculation before, but it looks like I'm going to have to keep on doing it since the mainstream media doesn't. So: If you use 40 gallons of gas a week - and remember, that's the equivalent of driving 600 miles per week while averaging 15 miles per gallon - you'd pay an extra $6.80 per week with that 17 cent tax. I don't know what the toll structure would be like on this road, but a full-distance round trip on the Westpark Toll Road would set you back $6.50 per day, or $32.50 per week, assuming no weekend driving. Just getting on and off the Westpark Toll Road as part of your daily commute is $10 per week. Tell me again what's so damn scary about that 17 cent gas tax?

Basically, this is tax theory turned onto its head. Normally, you want as broad a tax base as possible so you can have the lowest possible rates. Here, you've got a tiny base, so your rates have to be relatively exorbitant. Now, if I knew that this would only affect people out in the burbs driving on roads I'd never set wheel on, I'd be more than happy to cheerlead for this. But as I'm not naive enough to think that no one will ever want to start slapping tolls on all the existing major thoroughfares, since at this rate we'll never again raise the gas tax, well, I'll be drawing my line in the sand now, thankyouverymuch. If more people would do the math and come to realize how badly they'd be getting shafted by these deals, maybe we could do what needs to be done and stop the madness before it's too late. No, I'm not the least bit optimistic about this, but I gotta do what I gotta do. Thanks to Eye on Williamson for the link.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 13, 2006 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

The funny thing about that TxDOT number is that it's based off of building out the 50 year infrastructure VERY quickly when in reality we could rationally build it over the next 25 years with a moderate increase in tax. I'm closer to a $0.04 increase in the gas tax as well a constitutional amendment prohibiting transportation related taxes from being used for any other purpose than transportation when the building backlog exceeds 4 years.

Posted by: McBlogger on September 13, 2006 2:13 PM

Well, the big difference is that the gas tax hits everybody, and the Westpark is voluntary. It creates an incentive for people to live closer in. Over time, we may see more renewal in the neighborhoods between 610 and BW8. And if we want to use congestion pricing to keep highways free-flowing at rush hour and encourage transit-riding and van/carpooling, then we have to go to a toll network (although to be politically realistic, it will be toll lanes next to free lanes, like the Katy plan, so the toll will be voluntary if the speed is worth it to you).

Posted by: Tory on September 15, 2006 8:10 AM