The Citizens’ Guide to Transportation Reauthorization

24 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2013

Date Written: December 10, 2009


Sometime in 2010 or 2011, Congress expects to decide how to spend the $250 billion or more of federal gas taxes and other highway user fees that will be collected over the next six years. The process of doing so is called surface transportation reauthorization. A major point of contention in this law is how much of our transportation system should be centrally planned and how much should be built and operated in response to the needs of actual transportation users. Advocates of top-down planning want to reduce per capita driving by providing disincentives to automobiles, such as increased congestion and driving costs, and funding expensive alternatives such as high-speed rail and rail transit. Even if you believe in the goal of reducing per capita driving, the evidence indicates that these tools have minimal effect on driving and may even be environmentally counterproductive. Advocates of customer-driven transportation want to fund transportation out of user fees, not taxes, and make transportation providers — whether public agencies or private parties — responsive to the needs and desires of those users. Decades of experience have proven that the best way of reducing the environmental costs of transportation is to use new technologies to reduce the impacts per mile of mobility, not to reduce mobility itself. This citizens’ guide presents the basic facts behind these two views.

Keywords: surface transportation reauthorization, federal transportation policy, high speed rail in the united states, alternatives to cars, government subsidies

JEL Classification: R40, R41, R42, R48

Suggested Citation

O'Toole, Randal, The Citizens’ Guide to Transportation Reauthorization (December 10, 2009). Cato Institute Briefing Papers No. 116, Available at SSRN:

Randal O'Toole (Contact Author)

Cato Institute ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

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