Gas Tax Equals Bridge Safety

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Dean Baker
BusinessWeek, September 4, 2007

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The fact that we have neglected the country’s infrastructure is hardly a secret. The tragedy of the Interstate 35W bridge collapsing in Minnesota last month serves as a dramatic symbol of this delinquency. Across the country, thousands of roads, bridges, and highways have fallen into disrepair. Most often this decay takes the form of annoying potholes that slow traffic and damage cars. If the neglect continues, however, we will see more fatal bridge collapses. (And of course, even potholes will lead to more accidents and, therefore, more deaths on the road.)

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it will cost $94 billion a year over the next five years to maintain the country’s roads and bridges. This is almost $35 billion more than we are projected to spend. A 5¢-per-gallon gasoline tax would raise close to $6 billion a year. That sum would go far toward ensuring that our bridges are kept in at least decent repair, even if it will not be sufficient to address all the problems with our roads and bridges.

In addition to providing revenue needed to keep our bridges safe, this tax would also discourage unnecessary driving and reduce gasoline consumption. The problems associated with our dependence on imported oil have been brought home by the war in Iraq. Certainly oil is central to the U.S. involvement in the region. A gas price hike would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While the impact of this tax on oil dependency and greenhouse gas emissions promises only modest changes, they mean progress.

Inadequate maintenance imposes large costs on a daily basis in the form of traffic delays, vehicle damage, and unnecessary injuries and deaths on the road. This tax would represent a small but significant step toward fixing the problem. It also carries the benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and lessened dependence on imported oil. That sounds pretty good compared with a future of more collapsing bridges.


Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer (www.conservativenannystate.org). He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues. You can find it at the American Prospect's web site.