America's highways, running on empty

The obvious solution, raising the gas tax, is a political nonstarter. And even if it could pass, Congress would be tempted to direct some or all of that revenue to other purposes, like deficit reduction — it did just that in 1990 and 1993.

In any case, raising the gas tax wouldn’t help in the long run. When America planned the Interstate System in the 1950s, only half the country was urbanized and the number of cars was growing rapidly. Now more than 80 percent of Americans live in metropolitan regions, and total driving has stagnated. Even if we could raise the tax, it would only reinforce an outdated program.

While the idea of a user fee for our highways has its appeal, it fails to capture the full role of transportation in our economy. A better transportation system can keep the costs of goods down, provide access to jobs and labor, reduce emissions and prevent fatalities and injuries. Why should users bear the cost alone when everyone enjoys the benefits?