Paved With Good Intentions?
Combest linked today to a Missourinet article about a decline in the state’s transportation funding:
State Transportation Director Pete Rahn has warned lawmakers that transportation funding will soon drop from $1.5 billion dollars to $421 million, which would end the ramped up construction the past few years which has vastly improved Missouri roads and bridges.
The article talks about proposals to address the decreased budget with more taxes, specifically targeting Missouri’s gas tax, which is lower than in all of our neighboring states — except for Oklahoma, which has the same 17-cent tax. A reliance on gas tax increases can only do so much, however. After all, as the article mentions, new cars are becoming more fuel efficient, and raising the gas tax only accelerates a switch to more fuel-efficient cars, decreasing the budget further.
Instead of taxes, what about tolls? The Show-Me Institute published a policy study last year about privately funding roads. It’s a model that has worked in Europe, and in other parts of the United States. The Skyway in Chicago is a good example of a public highway being successfully transferred to private ownership. A 99-year lease shifted a large cost from the government to a private company, and the people are paying directly for their travel on that road, rather than having to pay a flat fee regardless of their usage.
Maintenance of roads is expensive, but also potentially lucrative for a private company. The profit motive incentivizes companies to attract customers by maintaining the roads and keeping road closures to a minimum; so, a private company almost certainly wouldn’t entirely shut down a highway for two years to do roadwork. Rather than increasing taxes, Missouri should be transferring its expensive public roads to private companies that have a a financial stake in keeping the traffic flowing.