Study exposes "hidden"tax

News April 07, 2000
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For those who fear the tax collector, lock yourself in the
car and don't move.

According to a recent study conducted by The Road Information Program (TRIP),
entitled "Road Conditions in Metropolitan Areas and The Impact on
Motorists," the mere act of driving city streets can expose a "hidden
tax," which falls right in the pocket of the neighborhood mechanic. TRIP
has revealed that more than one-third of the nation's major roads-interstates,
freeways and other main arterial routes-in 50 of the nation's most populous
metropolitan areas have significant deterioration and are in need of resurfacing
or reconstruction.

"Even if all the money that was available in TEA-21 was spent, we would
need to increase spending at all levels of government by 50% to see an
improvement in our system," Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP, told
ROADS & BRIDGES. "Right now we're just spending enough that barely
maintains the current conditions of the system."

TRIP released the study earlier than expected in response to the heavy load of
pressure truckers are putting on Capitol Hill to suspend diesel fuel taxes due
to a sharp increase in gas prices.

The research packet reveals a link between heavy diesels and the need for road
repair, stating overall travel by large trucks increased 46% from 1988 to 1998.

"How can you think about suspending the diesel fuel tax when huge needs
exist and motorists are paying a hidden tax by driving over these roads?"
asked Wilkins. "If you save a few cents at the pump it's going to cost a
lot more at the car repair shop."

TRIP claims the average U.S. motorist in the nation's 50 largest metropolitan
areas is paying $142 annually in additional vehicle operating costs as a result
of driving on roads which are in substandard condition. A desirable goal for
state and local governments is to maintain 75% of its roads in good condition,
but only two of the 50 crowded regions-Phoenix and Atlanta-meet this
requirement.

"There are arguments made that trucks do more damage to our highway system
than what they pay for in user fees," said Wilkins. "I think the best
way to resolve the gas price hike is to have OPEC introduce more oil. It's sort
of beyond our control, but that's what it all comes down to."

However, Americans are still enjoying the best of times when fuel dollars are
mixed into a different formula. According to the study, motorists are paying
$7.42 to drive 100 miles compared to $16.21 back in 1980. The numbers have been
adjusted to reflect inflation, and the difference also is due to the fact that
fuel efficiencies of passenger vehicles have increased from 15 miles per gallon
in 1980 to 21.4 miles per gallon in '98.

While the nation's roadways are on the mend, TRIP is stressing the importance of
preventive maintenance through the use of new materials (i.e. Superpave) and
techniques. Research indicates repairing a road in poor condition is
approximately four times more costly than repairing a road in fair condition.

"Right now by necessity, because of the limited funds, a lot of
jurisdictions are forced to adhere to a policy of fix the worst," said
Wilkins. "If some preventive maintenance is done before the road
deteriorates into that condition you probably can extend the life of the
pavement."



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