capntransit: @vpostrel Of course, highways have NEVER been oversold with glamour. And they always pay their own way. Right? http://t.co/pFVkwh8
vpostrel: @capntransit Highways were glamorous in mid-20th century, w/ the self-deception that implies. But they're funded by gas taxes.
capntransit: @vpostrel No, highways are not completely funded by gas taxes. http://www.cnu.org/node/2329
vpostrel: @capntransit Gas taxes + tolls=not subsidized. Sounds like Wisc isn't consistent, but the TX example doubly proves the pt.
capntransit: @vpostrel I don't think taxes + tolls covers it. Maybe in Texas, but definitely not here in NY.
vpostrel: @capntransit In CA, where I live, they haven't built non-toll highways since the 1970s.
So I went looking for figures about California and came up with this one from a guy named George Crissman almost $7 billion in 2004. The funny thing is that it's part of an anti-transit campaign. As far as I can tell, the reason he went to the trouble to compute it is that he divides it by vehicle-miles to get 2¢ per vehicle-mile, and then by 1.6 to get 1¢ per passenger-mile. Still, wow, 6.9 billion dollars in highway subsidies in 2004.
It gets weirder though: this guy got his formulas for calculating subsidies on the basis of Federal highway statistics from Randal O'Toole! That's right, one of the biggest road-widening apologists in the country has given us this formula in connection with his self-published 2000 book, The Vanishing Automobile. O'Toole writes:
Get all the data you need to calculate highway subsidies in your state from Highway Statistics. For any given year, you will need to download tables HDF, SF-1, LGF-1, LGF-2, and VM-2. From table HDF, add together the following for your state:
* The amount of federal highway user fees that are diverted to mass transit;
* The amount of federal highway user fees diverted to (from) other states or for general purposes.
These are the diversions. Ignore state diversions because they are accounted for in table SF-1. Then add together the following:
* Appropriations from state general funds from table SF-1;
* Other imposts from table SF-1;
* Miscellaneous from table SF-1;
* Federal funds from other agencies from table SF-1; and
* Total dispersements by local governments from table LGF-2.
From this sum, subtract the following from table LGF-1:
* Motor fuel and vehicle tax revenues;
* State highway user imposts; and
* Federal FHwA funds.
What is left are the supplementary funds. Subtract the diversions from the supplementary funds. If the result is less than zero, there is no subsidy: Road users are subsidizing something else. If the result is positive, there is a subsidy. To calculate the subsidy per vehicle mile, divide the subsidy by the total number of vehicle miles driven in your state shown in table VM-2. To get the subsidy per passenger mile, divide again by 1.6.
So I've taken all those tables and put together a spreadsheet that calculates the subsidy for each state. There are some interesting figures in there! According to the 2008 numbers, the biggest total road subsidies come from California ($11 billion), Texas ($8 billion), New York ($8 billion) and Florida ($5 billion). Tennessee pays for 91% of its road expenses with user fees, mostly gas taxes; no other state comes close. In actuality, $260 million in federal gas tax money is diverted to other states or uses, but that's made up by $522 million in local government funding. Tennessee is followed by Indiana (66%), Ohio (65%), South Carolina (63%) and Maryland (62%).
Again, I'm still not quite sure why O'Toole wants to help us calculate the billions of dollars that subsidize roads. He seems very fond of the per-vehicle-mile and per-passenger-mile figures, probably because those measures favor a system that involves lots of long trips. I'd like to see a figure of subsidies per trip, but I can't find a figure for trips in the National Highway Statistics. Table HM-62 gives weighted average daily traffic per lane on principal arterials, but it doesn't tell us how many lanes of principal arterials there are. I could probably figure it out, but I'm just about ready for bed.
The other thing that I'm not sure about is that O'Toole tells us to get the motor fuel and vehicle tax revenues from Table LGF-1, but Crissman gets his from Table LDF. These are very different figures, and I don't know which to go with and why. The spreadsheet that I've linked to uses LGF-1.
You do get some interesting figures per capita, though. In big empty states like Alaska, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota, roads are subsidized to the tune of more than $500 per person. Good ol' frontier self-reliance! Sadly, New York isn't far behind South Dakota at $403 per person. The lowest subsidies per capita are Tennessee, South Carolina, Ohio, Maryland and Connecticut.
For those of you who are more familiar with this data than I am, is there a reason why I've never seen this before? Is the data suspect, or the formula?