It costs about 60 cents per mile of travel to own and operate an automobile on one of our nation's highways. And of that, about 2 cents per mile is devoted to building and maintaining roads and bridges. When cars got 15 mpg, the revenue from the 51 cent-per-gallon gas tax provided about 3.4 cents per mile, a sufficient sum.
Today, however, with cars getting 30 mpg, the revenue has dropped to about 1.7 cents per mile, which is not sufficient. We are actually driving more miles but paying less to support the existing highway system.
Apparently there is reluctance to pay a larger tax at the gas pumps, so a fairer system is needed that would charge all highway users a reasonable fee, including bikes, motorcycles and farm tractors. And particularly large trucks, each of which takes about as much space on the road as 10 cars. These do most of the damage to highway pavements and require larger design elements to negotiate curves, roundabouts, other intersections and related geometric features.
To put highway costs in perspective, we must decide what is more important — good roads that save operational costs, or frills such as super design elements, multi-track CD players, mag wheels, or off-road capability. And don't overlook the related cost of insurance and depreciation.
— Walt Hannan, Livingston, engineer