Transportation Finance

Use road taxes for our roads

Denver Post 03/22/2013

By Brian T. Schwartz, PhD. and Dennis Polhill, P.E.

Drivers can get more mileage from fuel taxes they already pay. But some states are considering increasing their fuel tax. It’s a bad idea.

Much of Colorado’s existing 22 cents-per-gallon fuel tax does not maintain roads. Fuel taxes penalize less-wealthy drivers and encourage traffic congestion. There are better ways to finance roads.

Instead of increasing taxes, the Colorado legislature should stop spending current fuel-tax revenue on rail transit and other boondoggles. For every dollar from state and local fuel and vehicle taxes, more than 19 cents supports “mass transit purposes,” according to 2010 federal highway statistics. Just as non-drivers should not subsidize roads, drivers’ taxes should not subsidize other services.

Some argue that mass-transit benefits drivers by reducing traffic, so drivers should fund it. Nonsense. By such reasoning, government should force drivers to subsidize brakes for tractor-trailers because drivers benefit when huge trucks have functioning brakes.

The federal fuel tax is worse. “Only about 60 percent of the gas tax money … goes into highway and bridge construction,” former Transportation secretary Mary Peters told PBS.

A Heritage Foundation analysis of the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) concurs: “[M]otorists will receive only about 62 percent of what they have paid into the fund for general purpose roads and safety programs.”

The HTF is worse for Colorado drivers, who send the fund much more than Colorado gets back. Colorado would be better off keeping those dollars in state. According to the Government Accountability Office, if Colorado could opt out of the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal fuel tax, it “could achieve the same funding level” it receives from the HTF with a replacement tax of just 13.8 cents-per-gallon. That’s a 25 percent savings.

The Colorado legislature and congressional delegation should work with other shortchanged states to opt out of the HTF. No longer would Coloradans send fuel and other taxes to Washington, only to get a fraction back with strings attached.

Regardless of how governments spend fuel tax revenue, imposing fuel taxes to finance roads is unfair to less-wealthy drivers, who tend to drive older, less fuel-efficient cars.

Fuel taxes also promote traffic congestion, which wastes time and wealth. Rush hour occurs because the price for road use — fuel taxes — does not increase during peak-demand hours.

How bad is congestion? Around Denver and Aurora, the annual travel time delay per commuter was 45 hours, consuming 20 gallons of fuel, reports the Texas Transportation Institute. Congestion leads to dirtier air, too. Excess fuel burned annually around Denver and Aurora exceeded 34.5 million gallons, releasing over 300,000 tons of CO2.

Instead of increasing taxes, Colorado’s legislature should explore better alternatives to road financing. The Independence Institute’s Citizens’ Budget project advocates expanding high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes to all lanes on controlled-access expressways. These roads can become self-financing, and fuel tax revenues can be reallocated to lower-capacity roads.

Electronic tolling can reduce traffic congestion by decreasing tolls during off-peak hours. By charging for road use instead of fuel purchased, tolls don’t punish those with less fuel-efficient cars. Colorado should extend its fuel tax refund, so toll payers can recoup fuel taxes paid for miles they drove on toll roads.

Fuel taxes are unfair and wasteful. There are better alternatives. Instead of increasing the fuel tax, Colorado’s elected officials should ensure that its current revenue actually funds in-state roads, as required by the Colorado Constitution, rather than continuing to divert it to other purposes, and to other states.

Brian T. Schwartz and Dennis Polhill are senior fellows at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank.

Is More Mobility at Less Expense Possible?

By Will Toor and Dennis Polhill


In most arenas, we are used to the notion that you pay for what you get. Intuitively, we all understand that if you offer something for free that really has a cost, demand is going to exceed supply. Now, society has decided that some things should be collectively paid for with tax dollars. The two authors of this article have widely differing views on the appropriate levels of public expenditures in areas like education and health care.


One area where we do agree is that there would be great benefits – for our economy and our environment – in bringing more market forces to play in transportation. Currently, our roads are paid for by a complicated and irrational mix of funding sources including gas tax, sales tax, property tax, registration and other fees. Most parking spaces are paid through sales and property tax, or the cost is hidden in higher prices for goods and services. Gas tax revenues will continue to struggle to keep pace with construction cost inflation making maintenance of existing roads increasingly difficult.


Switching more of the costs of roads and parking to user fees, similar to how the gas tax once worked, would be fairer –those who use more should pay more and those who use less pay less.   User-fee systems can also help roads perform better by reducing congestion, reducing the need for infrastructure investments, increasing transit ridership and reducing emissions. Better transportation at less expense to taxpayers and an improved quality of life is truly a vision that all should unite behind.


Consider a congested freeway. When the lanes are free flowing, some can carry up to 2,000 vehicles an hour. When a lane gets overloaded, it switches to stop and go traffic, and the capacity drops dramatically, often moving close to a thousand vehicles an hour. When drivers are charged a toll that increases when traffic gets heavy, people make different decisions. Some switch trips to less congested times or take different routes. Others carpool or use transit. The highway keeps flowing freely, uncongested. SR 91 in Orange County, California provides an instructive example. This is a 12 lane highway, with 4 free lanes and 2 tolled express lanes in each direction. During rush hour, the free lanes crawl along at stop and go speeds, while the 2 express lanes carry nearly as many vehicles as the 4 free lanes.


Colorado has begun to move toward roadway pricing. In 2006, the I-25 HOV lane was converted to a High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane, selling unused capacity to toll paying drivers. Right now, one HOT lane in each direction is under construction along US 36 between Denver and Boulder. US 36 will combine a toll lane with Bus Rapid Transit service, allowing transit riders faster and more flexible service than they could get from a train, at much lower cost to build. If we had just added a free lane in each direction, the free lane would eventually fill up, giving no long-term benefits to drivers and there would be no platform for faster transit service.


The biggest benefits will come when we are ready to start pricing existing lanes. Since each tolled lane will generally carry more vehicles freely during rush hour, while providing a platform for bus rapid transit service, tolling existing lanes can provide benefits without having to pay to expand the highway! This would free up tax revenues and let toll revenue fund other improvements within the corridor instead of just paying for construction. The political climate and societal awareness of the benefits of market principles is evolving to embrace this kind of innovation – now is the time to start exploring future possibilities.


For example, as a next step, could we convert some existing lanes on large highways to managed lanes, while leaving some lanes free, as a cost effective and sustainable alternative to expanding the highway?   After nearly two billion dollars to widen I-25 T-Rex, in just one decade it is already approaching pre-expansion levels of congestion. Could we consider taking 2 lanes in each direction for HOT lanes that would provide an alternative to congestion and generate money to cover operating costs, accelerate debt repayment and help pay for travel options? It may be hard to picture this being approved today – but as T-Rex commuters sitting in traffic watch travelers on US 36 and other corridors get an alternative to congestion, public attitudes will change.


Instead of requiring ever increasing amounts of revenue to build underutilized infrastructure, market principles, connecting the costs and benefits of services, can help gain more use from infrastructure and benefit us all.


Bio: The two authors of this commentary – one the director of Transportation Policy at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and a liberal Democrat who spent 15 years in public office, the other a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free market think tank, have widely differing opinions on many questions.

Better Motorcoach Trip Times

By Brian T. Schwartz and Dennis Polhill

Road-users can get more mileage from fuel taxes they already pay. But some federal officials and states are considering increasing fuel or other taxes. Bad ideas.

Much of the current fuel tax does not maintain roads. Fuel taxes penalize less-wealthy drivers and encourage traffic congestion. There are better ways to finance roads.

Instead of increasing taxes, political leaders should stop spending current fuel-tax revenue on rail transit and other boondoggles. For every dollar from federal fuel taxes, more than 17 cents supports “mass transit purposes,” according to 2011 federal highway statistics. Just as non-drivers should not subsidize roads, drivers’ taxes should not subsidize other services.

Some argue that mass-transit benefits drivers by reducing traffic, so drivers should fund it. Nonsense. By such reasoning, government should force drivers to subsidize brakes for tractor-trailers because drivers benefit when huge trucks have functioning brakes.

“Only about 60 percent of the gas tax money … goes into highway and bridge construction,” former Transportation secretary Mary Peters told PBS.

A Heritage Foundation analysis of the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) concurs: “[M]otorists will receive only about 62 percent of what they have paid into the fund for general purpose roads and safety programs.”

The HTF is even worse for most states. The majority of states send the fund more gas tax money than they get back. States would be better off keeping their own dollars. According to the Government Accountability Office, 27 states receive less than they contribute to HTF. Of the states that receive redistributions at the expense of the 27 states, those benefits are diminished in 13 of the 23 states because they contribute more federal gas tax funds to subsidize public transit in other states than they receive.

Those 40 shortchanged states should work together to opt out of the failing Federal and too-politicized HTF system. Worthy of consideration is Utah Senator, Mike Lee’s Transportation Empowerment Act that decreases over 5 years the Federal gas tax from 18.4 cents to 3.7 cents.

Regardless of how governments spend fuel tax revenue, imposing fuel taxes to finance roads is unfair to less-wealthy drivers, who tend to drive older, less fuel-efficient cars.

Fuel taxes also promote traffic congestion, which wastes time and wealth. Rush hour occurs because the price for road use — fuel taxes — does not increase during peak-demand hours.

How bad is congestion? Perhaps the only thing worse to the motor coach industry than a slow trip is an unreliable trip. Annually the Texas Transportation Institute updates the Urban Mobility Report. The 2012 TTI UMR put the annual cost of traffic congestion nationally at $121 billion. With annual costs approaching the cost to eliminate traffic congestion and no resolution in sight via government leadership, toll roads have begun to mushroom. Since 2003 toll road revenues nationwide have grown in excess of 30% per year.

Eradication of traffic congestion will yield benefits beyond greatly improving the value of the motor coach industry. Less congestion means less wasted fuel and fewer emissions. TTI estimates 2.9 billion gallons of fuel wasted nationwide in 2011 due to traffic congestion.

Instead of increasing taxes, better ways to finance road should be explored. Congress can lead by allowing 50 states to become laboratories for innovation. The fuel tax should be retained only until appropriate market financing systems can be implemented. As the express roads become self-financing, fuel tax revenues can be reallocated to maintain lower-capacity roads.

Lower tolls during off-peak hours using demand-managed electronic tolls reduce traffic congestion by encouraging off-peak driving. By charging for road use instead of fuel purchased, tolls don’t punish those with less fuel-efficient vehicles. To be fair to toll-payers fuel taxes should be refunded when tolls are paid.

When roads become self-financed through tolls, decisions will become less politicized. Repairs will happen faster and will be better targeted. Capital improvements will be quicker and less obtrusive to routine functioning of the surrounding world. Politicians and special interest groups will have to go elsewhere to finds funds for their personal whims. Diversion of funds to subsidize direct competition to motor coach operators will be more difficult and less common.

Fuel taxes are unfair and wasteful. There are better alternatives. Instead of increasing the fuel tax, elected officials should ensure that revenue actually funds roads, rather than continuing to divert it to other purposes.

Brian T. Schwartz and Dennis Polhill are Senior Fellows at the Independence Institute, the Colorado free-market think tank. This article appeared in the December 15, 2013 issue of Bus and Motorcoach News.

A chance to devolve transportation power and money back to the states


by Dennis Polhill

December 8, 2013 Denver Post


For decades U.S. transportation policy has been stagnant. Because about half of gasoline taxes cycle through Washington, D.C, cost-sharing and benefits in transportation are distorted. A new bill offers a chance to restore the balance.

The Transportation Empowerment Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R–UT) and Representative Tom Graves (R-GA) gradually would lower the federal gas tax from the current 18.4 cents to 3.7 cents per gallon over 5 years. The legislation also would lift federal restrictions on state Departments of Transportation.

The most recent U.S. Government Accountability Office study of gas tax redistribution among states shows that nearly 5 cents of the federal 18.4 cents per gallon tax paid by Colorado motorists ends up in other states. Keeping Colorado money in Colorado would mean the equivalent of a 5-cent gas tax increase, or nearly $100 million per year in new transportation funding.

Not only would devolving the federal gas tax to the states result in a major boon to Colorado roads and bridges, it also would honor a promise made to the American people more than 50 years ago. In 1956 Congress passed the National Defense Highway Act to construct the Interstate Highway system. The temporary federal gas tax was promised to expire when construction was completed.

For all practical purposes interstate highway construction was finished in 1982. Unfortunately, taxes almost never go away, or get smaller. Nor do government agencies or programs. Coincidentally, 1982 marks the same year roads outside the interstate system became eligible for federal funding. By tripling eligible mileage, the U.S. Department of Transportation used road revenues to fund other things more aggressively. Increasing amounts of gas tax revenue were siphoned to fund non-road programs, and congressional earmarks mushroomed.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s book Breach of Trust documents a common practice. Each member of Congress is rewarded with a $15 million earmark for a chosen project in exchange for his vote to continue the federal gas tax.

Since 2008 federal gas tax revenues have not kept pace with vehicle miles driven and fuel efficiency gains. Rather than diminish the spending, though, Congress has backfilled the funding of transportation with revenue from the general fund.

The irresponsible tactic of accelerating the national debt to fund transportation pork has helped to silence the states on the question as to which states are being enriched at the expense of others.

Congress has created the perception that all states are enriched by federal largess, while Congress uses the money to keep control over any state that might stray into finding innovative solutions.

It is worth noting that the federal government does not own or operate any transportation infrastructure (other than roads in national parks, etc.). Normal roads, highways, streets, airports, and transit stations are owned by states, counties, cities or districts, making the cycling of funds thru D.C. questionable.

The title of the 1956 legislation (National Defense Highway Act) was not a typo. Not only were the roads built in part for national defense purposes, but the title also allowed Congress to sidestep the constitutional prohibition on federal spending for local transportation.

The controversy over federal involvement in transportation arose in the Early Republic. President Jefferson informed Congress on December 2, 1806, that he might support a constitutional amendment to allow federal involvement, but that without an amendment, the federal government had no authority over road-building. At least eight presidents, including Madison, issued no less than 19 vetoes of transportation bills as “unconstitutional.” Monroe’s only veto was of a transportation bill, but he issued two veto messages in an effort to help Congress understand.

If the Transportation Empowerment Act were to pass, most states probably would raise state gas taxes by an amount equal to the federal decrease. Revenue neutrality would yield a significant funding boost to transportation, particularly for states such as Colorado. The net revenue for gas tax money which is raised in the states returning to the states is less than 70 percent. But even that figure does not account for funding delays and the attached strings, nor for redistribution from one state to another.

Citizens who favor more highway funding dollars staying in Colorado should take a close look at the Lee/Graves bill.

Dennis Polhill is senior fellow in public infrastructure at the Independence Institute, a free market think thank in Denver










By Dennis Polhill

Research assistance by

Dominque Tarpey and Steve McWhirter





Presented at

American Legislative Exchange Council

Seattle, Washington

July 2004






At least 9 Presidents of the United States

issued public statements to Congress

indicating that the U.S. Constitution

required amending before

the Federal government could

become involved in Transportation policy.

In 2004 the question is rarely raised.




The controversy over whether the Federal government is permitted by the Constitution to be involved in transportation improvements began soon after adoption of the Constitution.

At least nine United States Presidents very strongly believed that the enumerated powers in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution excluded Federal involvement in transportation improvements.  Evidence of their convictions is expressed in unmistakable terms in their veto messages.

CUMBERLAND ROAD – An ambiguity that emerged from early American history is the Cumberland Road.   The first Federal funded highway connected the head of navigation on the Potomac River (Cumberland, Maryland) to the head of navigation on the Ohio River (Wheeling, West Virginia).  Construction was authorized by Congress on March 29, 1806.  Contracts were issued in 1811, but the War of 1812 interfered and construction did not begin until 1815 and was finished in 1818.  America’s eagerness to solidify its claims on western lands was in conflict with Constitutional limitations on Federal authority.

In 1803 Congress passed the 5 percent law.  Five percent of the revenue generated from the sale of Federally owned public lands was deposited into a fund.  Funds generated from 60% of the five percent (three percent) were granted to the States upon admission to the Union for roads, canals, levees, river improvements and schools.  Funds generated from the remainder, two percent, were dedicated for constructing roads “to and through” the West.  Bitter debate ensued when the two percent funds were allocated in 1806 to build the Cumberland Road.  Jefferson chose expediency by not vetoing the bill, but issued his important message[1] to Congress later in 1806 suggesting that the Constitution should be amended to allow Federal involvement in “internal improvements.”

The Cumberland Road became so heavily used that it fell into disrepair.  When Congress sought to again intervene by establishing tolls for maintenance in 1822, Monroe issued his only veto, arguing that Federal collection of tolls implied a power of jurisdiction, that was not granted to the Federal government by the Constitution.  By 1835 the Cumberland Road was known as the National Road and extended into Illinois.  The dilemma was resolved when control was devolved to the respective States that operated it as a toll facility until toll roads were bankrupted by railroad competition.


JEFFERSON – In his December 2, 1806 message to Congress, President Thomas Jefferson considered the problem of a revenue surplus.  Reduction of the import duty on salt would give “advantage to foreign over domestic manufactures.”  Jefferson recommended “continuance and application to the great purposes of the public education, roads, rivers, canals, and such other objects of public improvement as it may be thought proper to add to the constitutional enumeration of federal powers.”  That is, Jefferson favored acceleration of Federal sponsorship, but was of the view that the U.S. Constitution must be amended to allow it.

Jefferson commented again on this topic in a February 14, 1824 thank you letter to Robert J. Garnett.  Garrett had given a copy of a book by Colonel Taylor, “New Views of the Constitution.”  The letter mentioned “the three great questions of amendment:” presidential term limits, popular election of the president, and giving to Congress the power over internal improvement on the condition that each State’s federal proportion of the moneys so expended, shall be employed in the State.

MADISON – James Madison, author of the U.S. Constitution, succeeded Jefferson as President in 1808.  In Madison’s last official act as President he issued a veto on March 3, 1817.  The bill, passed in February 1817, provided for setting aside the Bank bonus of $1,500,000 as a permanent fund for internal improvements.  To circumvent the constitutional prohibition, the bill language cleverly mixed rhetoric including “internal commerce,” “general welfare,” and “common defense.”  Madison replied specifically to each of these claims of authority.

Madison favored the policy but vetoed the bill as unconstitutional, “I am constrained, by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States.”[2]

He refers Congress to the Constitution, “The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the 8th section of the first article.”  He adds, “The power to regulate commerce among the several States, cannot include a power to construct roads … without a latitude of construction departing from the ordinary import of the terms.”

“To refer to the power in question as ‘common defense and general welfare,’ would be contrary to the established and consistent rules of interpretation … such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation … It would have the effect of subjecting both the Constitution and laws of the several States, in all cases not specifically exempted, to be superseded by laws of Congress.”  Finally, Madison points out “the assent of the States … cannot confer the power.”  In other words the states must agree by amending the Constitution, but may not agree to ignore its structurally imposed limitations on Congressional powers.  In the final paragraph Madison asserts, “that the permanent success of the Constitution depends on a definite partition of powers between the General and the State government, and that no adequate land-marks would be left by the constructive extension of the powers of Congress, as proposed in the bill.”

Madison’s veto message closed with sympathy for the policy objective, “I am not unaware of the great importance of roads … and hope that (the bill’s) beneficial objects may be attained …”

MONROE – James Monroe was elected in 1816 to succeed Madison.  His only veto was issued on May 4, 1822.  Monroe, like Madison and Jefferson, approved of the policy, but vetoed the Cumberland Road Bill as unconstitutional, “Congress does not possess the power under the Constitution to pass such a law.”[3]  Monroe reiterated Madison’s points, “This power can be granted only by an amendment to the Constitution.”  In addition to the indirect claims of authority refuted in Madison’s veto (commerce, general welfare and common defense), the Cumberland Road Bill claimed Congressional authority under post roads, the power to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution all the powers vested by the Constitution in the government, and the power to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory and other property of the United States.  Monroe, “it cannot be derived from either of those powers, nor from all of them united, and as a consequence it does not exist.”  He closes by suggesting that “Congress (exercise) the propriety of recommending to the states an amendment to the Constitution.”  Monroe’s veto message is brief, less than two pages in the Congressional Record, but he elaborates exhaustively in his May 4, 1822 “Views of the President of the United States on the Subject of Internal Improvements.”  This document is nearly 30,000 words, is not part of the Congressional Record.[4]

JACKSON -Congress became more aggressive.  Andrew Jackson (President 1828-1836) vetoed four transportation bills as unconstitutional.  Like his predecessors he favored federal participation in internal improvements, but understood the Constitution as not allowing, and therefore prohibiting, it.  Jackson offered support to advancing the necessary Constitutional amendment by suggesting public agreement made the amendment possible, “If it be the wish of the people that the construction of roads and canals should be conducted by the Federal Government, it is not only highly expedient, but indispensably necessary, that a previous amendment of the Constitution, delegating the necessary power, and defining and restricting its exercise with reference to the sovereignty of the States, should be made.”  In other words, public consent made an amendment achievable and preservation of both the Constitution and State sovereignty requires it.  Congress elected to not advance the suggested Constitutional Amendment.

The Maysville, Washington, Paris, and Lexington Turnpike Road Company was vetoed as “unconstitutional”[5] on May 27, 1830.  This is one of the longer veto messages consuming 10 pages (over 6,000 words) in the House Journal.  Jackson reviewed the history of his predecessors on the question and summarized the arguments on both sides of the issue.  In the end he agreed with his predecessor-Presidents, “When an honest observance of Constitutional compacts cannot be obtained from communities like ours, it need not be anticipated elsewhere; and the cause in which there has been so much martyrdom, and from which so much was expected by the friends of liberty, may be abandoned, and the degrading truth, that man is unfit for self government, admitted.  And this will be the case, if expediency be made a rule of construction in interpreting the Constitution … No good motive can be assigned for the exercise of power by the constituted authorities, while those for whose benefit it is to be exercised have not conferred it.”

Jackson’s Maysville veto message reiterates language from the Monroe veto message supplement, which evolved into another criterion, “purely local character,” that appears in subsequent vetoes in various forms.  This is discussed in a subsequent section.

The Washington Turnpike Road Company was vetoed as “unconstitutional”[6] on May 31, 1830.

Jackson’s next “unconstitutional” veto was of “An Act to authorize subscription for stock in the Louisville and Portland Canal Company” passed near adjournment and he provided the veto message to Congress on December 7, 1830.  Again he refers Congress to the Maysville veto for edification.  “The practice of thus mingling the concerns of the government with those of the States or of individuals, is inconsistent with the object of its institution.  The successful operation of the federal system can only be preserved by confining it to the few and simple, but yet important objects for which it was designed.  A different practice, if allowed to progress, would ultimately change the character of this Government, by consolidating into one the General and State Governments, which were intended to be kept forever distinct.”[7]

Jackson’s last transportation veto as “unconstitutional” came on December 2, 1834 of “An Act to improve the navigation of the Wabash River.”  “I cannot refrain from expressing my increasing conviction of its extreme importance, as well in regard to its bearing upon the maintenance of the Constitution … the dangers of unconstitutional acts which, instead of menacing the vengeance of offended authority, proffer local advantages, and bring in their train the patronage …in my opinion, the Constitution did not confer upon (Congress) the power to authorize the construction of ordinary roads and canals … I could not consider myself as discharging my duty to my constituents in giving the Executive sanction to any bill containing such an appropriation.”[8]

TYLER – John Tyler vetoed as “unconstitutional” “An Act making appropriations for the improvement of certain harbors and rivers,” on June 11, 1844.  “At the adoption of the Constitution, each State was possessed of independent sovereignty … (which) expressly reserve(d) to the States all powers not delegated … (Congressional) power, in order to be legitimate must be clearly and plainly incidental to some granted power, and necessary to its exercise.  To refer it to the head of convenience or usefulness would be to throw open the door to a boundless and unlimited discretion and to invest Congress with an unrestrained authority.”[9]

Tyler also pocket-vetoed “An Act making appropriations for the improvement of the navigation of certain rivers” on January 28, 1845, but issued no veto message, suggesting that he had said all that he wished to say on the issue in his June 11, 1844 veto message.

POLK – On August 3, 1946 James Polk delivered a veto message to Congress for “An Act making appropriations for the improvement of certain harbors and rivers.”  The bill appropriated $1,378,450 to more than 40 objects of improvement.  Because of the “local character” of these projects, Polk said, “it is difficult to conceive … what practical constitutional restraint can hereafter be imposed … The Constitution has not, in my judgment, conferred upon the federal government the power to construct works of internal improvements … The approved course of the government, and the deliberately expressed judgment of the people, have denied the existence of such a power under the Constitution.  Several of my predecessors have denied its existence in the most solemn forms … The general proposition that the federal government does not possess this power is well settled.”[10]  Polk also advances a test for constitutionality originally laid down by Madison, “Whenever a question arises concerning a particular power, the first question is whether the power be expressed in the Constitution.  If it be, the question is decided.  If it be not expressed, the next inquiry must be, whether it is properly an incident to an expressed power, and necessary to its execution.  If it be, it may be exercised by Congress.  If it be not, Congress cannot exercise it.”

Polk issued a second veto of a transportation bill on December 15, 1847 of “An Act to provide for continuing certain works in the Territory of Wisconsin, and for other purposes.”  Polk’s first objection was the bill’s misleading title.  It passed on the last day of a session and appropriated $6,000 for “continuing” work, while $500,000 was appropriated for numerous new projects.  The veto message opens by referring Congress to his prior veto message of August 3, 1946 and referenced to comments found in the veto messages of Madison, Monroe, and Jackson.  Polk also quotes Jefferson’s 1806 message to Congress recommending “an amendment to the Constitution.”  Restating the obvious Polk writes, “No express grant of this power is found in the Constitution.”[11]

PIERCE – Franklin Pierce issued seven transportation vetoes, more than any other President.  “An Act making appropriations for the repair, preservation, and completion of certain public works theretofore commenced under the authority of law” was vetoed as “unconstitutional” on August 4, 1854.  This bill is “not, in my judgment, warranted by any safe or true construction of the Constitution.”[12]

His first veto message was brief because the bill reached him in the “expiring hours” of a session, but Pierce elaborates at length in his December 30, 1854 (read on January 2, 1855) message to Congress.  He recites the 10th Amendment to the Constitution as further evidence to clarify the intended specificity of the enumerated powers listed in Article 1, Section 8.  He reasoned, “If the framers of the Constitution, wise and thoughtful men as they were, intended to confer on Congress the power over a subject so wide as the whole field of internal improvements, it is remarkable that they did not use language clearly to express it.”  In response to the assertion that language in the Constitution’s Preamble inferred a power vested Congress with authority over internal improvements, he wrote, “To assume that anything more can be designed by the language of the Preamble would be to convert all the body of the Constitution.”

On March 3, 1855, Pierce vetoed “An Act making appropriations for transportation of the United States mail by ocean steamer and otherwise, during fiscal years ending the 30th of June 1855 and the 30th of June 1856.”  In addition to citing that the appropriation was both a bad spending priority and a poor policy, Pierce stated that the bill was “of doubtful compatibility with the Constitution.”[13]

Congress persisted by passing “An Act to remove obstructions to navigation in the mouth of the Mississippi River at the Southwest pass and Pass a l’Outre.” It was vetoed on May 19, 1856, with “my views were exhibited in full on the subject … the Constitution does not confer on the general government any express powers to make such appropriations.”[14]

“An Act making an appropriation for deepening the channel over the St. Clair flats, in the State of Michigan” was vetoed on May 19, 1856 as violating the Constitutional “restriction on the power of Congress.”[15]

“An Act making an appropriation for deepening the channel over the flats of the St. Mary’s River, in the State of Michigan” was vetoed on May 22, 1856, as “not a necessary means for execution of any of the expressly granted powers of the federal government.”[16]

“An Act for continuing the improvement of the Des Moines rapids, in the Mississippi River” was vetoed on August 11, 1856.  For elaboration Congress was referred to his prior veto messages.[17]

“An Act for the improvement of the navigation of the Patapsco River, and to render the port of Baltimore accessible to the war steamers of the United States” was vetoed on August 14, 1856.  Pierce again referred Congress to his prior veto messages.[18]

BUCHANAN – President James Buchanan vetoed “An Act making an appropriation for deepening the channel over the St. Clair flats, in the State of Michigan” on February 1, 1860, as “a violation of the spirit of the Constitution.”  Buchanan declined to provide a protracted reply, “The question of the Constitutional power of Congress to construct internal improvements within the States has been so frequently and so elaborately discussed that it would seem useless on this occasion to repeat or to refute at length arguments which have been so often advanced.”  Suffice it to say, he agreed with his predecessors.  He specifically refers Congress to the Polk veto of December 15, 1847 and offers, “The corrupting and seducing money influence exerted by the general government in carrying into effect a system of internal improvements might be perverted to increase and consolidate its own power to the detriment of the rights of the States.”[19]

ARTHUR – Chester A. Arthur was the last President to unambiguously express his Constitutional views in a veto message.  On August 1, 1882 he vetoed, “An Act making appropriations for the construction, repair, and preservation of certain works on rivers and harbors, and for other purposes.”  “I regard such appropriations of the public money as beyond the powers given by the Constitution to Congress and the President.  I feel the more bound to withhold my signature from the bill because of the peculiar evils which manifestly result from this infraction of the Constitution.”[20]

PRESIDENTIAL VETO SUMMARY – This research of transportation vetoes finds that eight president vetoed 19 transportation bills as unconstitutional violations of enumerated powers.  Jefferson provided the same language in his December 2, 1806 message leaving no doubt of his views on this question (Jefferson issued no vetoes during his presidency).  Links to Senate and House Journals where the exact and complete language of the respective messages may be reviewed are provided in Appendix A.


The most significant power of a President is the power to veto legislation.  Thus, a veto represents the most solemn and sacred act exercised by a President.  A veto may be advanced for any reason or no reason at all.  Most are due to disagreement over scope, methods, nature or priorities of legislation; or philosophical differences.

All Presidents wisely strive to sustain a positive and constructive working relationship with the legislative branch.  Clearly, all of the nine veto-Presidents (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Tyler, Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, and Arthur) had the option to not use confrontational language by issuing their vetoes on other-than-constitutional grounds.  But they did not, inferring both a powerful strength of conviction and an enormous sense of obligation to express their Constitutional understandings.  That many also exercised these vetoes contrary to their own preference for policy, strengthens the message in their words.

Each of the above vetoes in effect accused members of Congress of ignoring their oaths of office to uphold the Constitution, of failing to comprehend the Constitution’s meaning and intent, or of being unwilling to abide by clearly enumerated Constitutional limitations.  Such accusations are neither trivial nor conducive to a positive working relationship.  Their principled stances provided no rewards.

GENERAL OR LOCAL BENEFIT – The views of the nine veto-Presidents above as represented by unmistakable language directed at Congress are unequivocal.  The specific views of other Presidents are less clearly decipherable from their veto message language.

The Jackson Maysville veto advanced Monroe language that evolved into criterion that appears in several subsequent vetoes in some form, “general welfare” of “purely local character” and eventually became the slippery slope that yielded current Federal involvement.  Did the vetoes of the subsequent Presidents seek to be more subtle and less offensive with their rhetoric toward Congress?  Did these words mean to say with less insult to the integrity of Congress, “unconstitutional under enumerated powers?”

This research does not attempt to comprehensively inventory all vetoes with this ambiguous language.  The cited veto messages sometimes included words like, “for the benefit of particular localities”, “of local interest”, or “lacking a general benefit.”  A partial list of such vetoes follows:

  • Benjamin Harrison, April 29, 1890 “a matter of local interest”
  • Benjamin Harrison, June 4 1890 “the public needs do not suggest or justify such an expenditure”
  • Grover Cleveland, May 23, 1888 “(not) necessary for the transaction of public business”
  • Grover Cleveland, May 29, 1896 “for the benefit of limited localities”
  • Grover Cleveland, July 7, 1896 “I (am not) satisfied that the legislation proposed is demanded by any exigency of the public welfare”
  • Theodore Roosevelt, March 3, 1903, “for local improvement”
  • Woodrow Wilson, July 11, 1918 “not in the public interest”
  • Herbert Hoover, July 11, 1932 “Fraught as it is with possibilities of misfeasance and special privileges”
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, June 11, 1940 “the public interests are not such”
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, August 2, 1941 “benefits of such expenditures are dependent upon local enforcement”


A Calvin Coolidge veto on May 18, 1928 comes close but does not quite state “local interest” as his reason, “Having in mind the increasing ability of the States to finance road construction due to the general adoption of the gasoline tax and the increase in revenue from this source which would accrue to States from roads.”  The State gasoline tax was a comparatively new innovation.  A Federal gasoline tax was, as yet, nonexistent.  Coolidge was, in effect, arguing against a Federal program of taxation and redistribution, the net effect of which would have advanced Federal involvement in State transportation decisions.


SEPARATION OF POWERS – As adherence to the Constitution slipped further from public perception, Congress acted to enlarge its power by including in legislation that Department Secretaries report directly to Congressional Committees.  Presidents objected to this infringement in another series of vetoes.  These are on Constitutional grounds, but because the limitations of Article 1, Section 8 seem to have been largely forgotten, the basis is encroachment on Executive Powers by the Legislative Branch.  These illustrate Congress’ insatiable thirst for more power.

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, July 16, 1956 “violate the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of powers”
  • Lyndon B. Johnson, June 4, 1965 “undesirable and improper encroachment by the Congress and its committees into the area of executive responsibilities”
  • Lyndon B. Johnson, August 21, 1965 “repugnant to the Constitution (by) encroachment (on) the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches”
  • Richard Nixon, April 5, 1973 “conflicts with the allocation of executive power to the President”
  • Jimmy Carter, July 10, 1978 “directs Secretaries to report to congressional committees”


INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM – On June 29, 1956 President Eisenhower signed into law the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.”  Title II, the Highway Revenue Act, was its financial component that raised the Federal gasoline tax from 1 cent (implemented in 1932) to 2 cents (raised to 3 cents in 1958 and to 4 cents in 1959) per gallon and was scheduled to expire on June 30, 1972.  The 40,000 miles of new highways would be State owned and operated.  The Federal role was fiscal, to collect and redistribute revenues to expedite construction by States.  Conformity of construction among the States was an important goal of the legislation.  The Clay Committee estimated the total cost at $27 billion.  The bill authorized $25 billion.  By 1958 the system had increased to 41,000 miles at a total estimated cost of $41 billion.  In 1966 the Bureau of Public Roads became the U.S. Department of Transportation.  The Interstate System was completed in 1982.  In 1976 the Federal gasoline tax was extended and in 1990 increased from 9 cents to 14 cents.  Currently the Federal gasoline tax, at 18.4 cents, generates about $40 billion per year.

GROWTH OF PORK – In “Breach of Trust” former U.S. Representative Thomas Coburn of Oklahoma defines pork as “one member of Congress determines where the money is to be spent.”  Congress uses the friendlier label: “earmark.”  By this definition Federal Transportation Legislation contained only ten pork projects in 1982 at a cost of $386 million.  The 1987 bill contained 150 pork projects for $1,300 million, motivating a Reagan veto.   By 1991 the number of projects had grown to 539, at $6,200 million and the 1998 bill contained “a record shattering 1,467 pork projects for $9,500 million.”  “Shuster consistently argued that setting aside 5 percent … was a very reasonable thing to do.”  The debate had moved quite considerably afar from the points so eloquently articulated by Madison, and others.

Coburn elaborates on how these projects are generated by vote-buying.  Maverick Congresspersons who say, “My vote is not for sale” are punished.  The going rate of $15 million for a vote for the 1998 bill was corroborated by several Congresspersons.  House Transportation Chairman, Shuster, lividly denied the accusations as “McCarthyism.”  But Budget Committee Chairman, Kasich, called the bill an “abomination,” introducing a short-lived amendment to the bill that would reduce the federal gasoline tax to 4 cents per gallon.

TRUST FUND HISTORY – The Reason Public Policy Institute Policy Study 216[21] by Bob Poole in 1996 reviewed the history of the Federal Highway User Trust Fund, seeking to account for all costs in order to reveal a more accurate listing of donor versus recipient states aggregated over the life of the Fund.  Conventional wisdom is that 21 states are donor states.

RPPI reasonably underestimated the costs of Federal administration, mandates, delays and distortion of priorities.  This exercise revealed that the number of donor states is 33, 12 more than are generally considered donor states.  Because RPPI conservatively estimated and because other costs exist that were not included in the analysis such as the significant resources state and local governments use lobbying to recover “free money,” 33 donor states is an understatement.  In a yet-to-be-released CATO study, author Gabriel Roth, estimates that at least 42 states are donor states.  Thus, few states receive more money than they pay into the Trust Fund and the vast majority of states are injured by the continued movement of funds through the D.C. money-filter.  The value of money is not enhanced when it goes thru D.C.  A listing of the donor and recipient states based on RPPI’s 1996 research, along with their current representation in Congress is provided in Appendix B.

CONCLUSION – Notwithstanding, the Constitutional foundation, the historical evolution and the political promises, the trend toward higher levels of Federal waste, inefficiency and corruption should disturb all who care about good government.  This is exactly what the Polk veto of 1860 predicted, “The corrupting and seducing money influence exerted by the general government in carrying into effect a system of internal improvements might be perverted to increase and consolidate its own power to the detriment of the rights of the States.”

  • The Federal gasoline tax was created as a temporary tax to construct the Interstate Highway System.
  • The Federal gasoline tax has achieved it mission.
  • The Interstate Highway System was completed in 1982.
  • Since 1982 the number of “pork” projects has grown exponentially.
  • Continuation of the Federal gasoline tax is injuring transportation in at least 33 states.
  • The states injured by continuation of the Federal gasoline tax represent 88% of the U.S. House membership.
  • The Founders and several successor presidents stated that the U.S. Constitution does not delegate to the Federal government the authority to be involved in transportation improvements.
  • The Constitution has not been amended to allow Federal involvement in transportation.
  • All of the indirect claims of authority by Congress have been answered by the various presidential vetoes of proposed transportation legislation.
  • The warnings that ignoring the limits imposed by the Constitution would open the door to unbounded authority and centralization by Congress have come true.
  • The warning that money would become “corrupting and seducing” has come true.
  • The warning that ignoring the limits imposed by the Constitution would subjugate the states to Congress has come true.

State Departments of Transportation are sufficiently prepared to handle the added responsibility of prioritizing and managing their own transportation systems.  Devolving to the states responsibility for transportation is not only the right thing to do, but will result in improved fiscal efficiency and accountability.  After all, this is how the problem of the Cumberland Road was reconciled in 1835.  The era of massive transportation construction has ended.  The future challenge is to operate and maintain the world’s foremost transportation system with efficiency.  This cannot be achieved well with continuing top-down mandates.  Rather, devolution and liberalization of Federal restrictions will free those with the most innovative and creative leadership solutions to act.  There is a time to lead and a time to follow.  Less Federal involvement in transportation will facilitate more leadership in some, if not all 50, states, which will help America to be more competitive in this time of global competition for markets and jobs.  We owe it to the future to devolve transportation responsibilities to the states where they rightfully belong.












Reference Location

Link to Reference Location



Dec. 2 1806

Senate Journal


H.R. 29

March 3, 1817

House Journal


H.R 50

May 4, 1822

House Journal


May 4, 1822

Veto Supplement Not in Congressional




S. 27

May 31, 1830

Senate Journal


H.R. 285

May 27, 1830

House Journal



Dec. 7, 1830

House Journal


S. 97

Dec. 2, 1834

Senate Journal


H.R. 203

June 11, 1844

House Journal



Jan. 28, 1845


No veto message.  Tyler’s previous veto on constitutional grounds infers that this bill might have been vetoed on similar grounds.



Aug. 3, 1846

House Journal



Dec. 15, 1847

House Journal


H.R. 392

Aug. 4, 1854

House Journal


H.R. 595

Mar. 3, 1855

House Journal


S. 1

May 19, 1856

Senate Journal


S. 2

May 22, 1856

Senate Journal


S. 14

May 19, 1856

Senate Journal


S. 53

Aug. 14, 1856

Senate Journal


H.R. 12

Aug. 11, 1856

House Journal


S. 321

Feb. 2, 1860

Senate Journal


H.R. 6242

Aug. 1, 1882

13 Cong. Reg. 6758




















Congressional Votes



Alabama Donor



Alaska Recipient



Arizona Donor



Arkansas Donor



California Donor



Colorado Donor



Connecticut Recipient



Delaware Recipient



Florida Donor



Georgia Donor



Hawaii Recipient



Idaho Recipient



Illinois Donor



Indiana Donor



Iowa Donor



Kansas Donor



Kentucky Donor



Louisiana Donor



Maine Donor



Maryland Recipient



Massachusetts Recipient



Michigan Donor



Minnesota Donor



Mississippi Donor



Missouri Donor



Montana Recipient



Nebraska Donor



Nevada Recipient



New Hampshire Donor



New Jersey Donor



New Mexico Donor



New York Donor



North Carolina Donor



North Dakota Recipient



Ohio Donor



Oklahoma Donor



Oregon Donor



Pennsylvania Donor



Rhode Island Recipient



South Carolina Donor



South Dakota Recipient



Tennessee Donor



Texas Donor



Utah Recipient



Vermont Recipient



Virginia Donor



Washington Recipient



West Virginia Recipient



Wisconsin Donor



Wyoming Recipient






17 Recipient States



33 Donor States



[1] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.[2] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.[3] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.[4] See Appendix A for a link.[5] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.[6] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.[7] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.[8] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.[9] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.[10] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.[11] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.

[12] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.

[13] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.

[14] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.

[15] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.

[16] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.

[17] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.

[18] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.

[19] See Appendix A for a link to the Congressional Record.

[20] See Appendix A for a link.



Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill
What is wrong with this picture?

Traffic congestion is the worst ever and is worsening. Congestion imposes costs that exceed the cost to eliminate it. Half of the gas tax goes to the Federal government, which neither owns nor operates any highways, railroads, airports or transit facilities. Congress increasingly uses transportation revenues for non-transportation purposes and imposes rules that make it difficult for states to solve problems.

One could conclude that Congress wishes to damage both the mobility and economic well-being of America. Instead, Congress’ motivation is merely a quenchless thirst for more power, control, and self-gratification.

It is said “spending to politicians is like drugs to addicts.” There may be no better proof than Federal Transportation legislation. Even though there is no longer a national transportation policy, taxpayers spend $40 billion per year to fund it.

The Federal government was slow to involve itself in transportation, because the U.S. Constitution clearly identified “internal improvements” as outside Federal domain enumerated in Article 1, Section 8. At least nine presidents issued no less than 20 vetoes of transportation legislation as “unconstitutional.” The importance of mobility to the outcome of World War II provided the rationale for ignoring the Constitutional limitation.

The Federal gas tax, implemented in 1956, would finance construction of the 40,000 mile “National Defense Highway System.” Scheduled to expire in 1972, the tax was repeatedly extended and increased. The prohibition against Congress designating specific projects in transportation bills ended in 1982, coincidently (or not) the same year Interstate construction was finished. Reagan vetoed the bill because it contained 152 “earmarks.”

The current reauthorization was debated for over 2 years as Congress contemplated the amount of pork and the extent to inhibit state leadership in transportation. The prospect of a Bush veto was a beacon of hope for those wishful of enlightened or less damaging policy.

The veto threat ended talk of a tax increase and reduced spending to $286.4 billion. H.R.-3 passed both houses with veto-proof margins, increasing “earmarks” to 6,371. Freshman Oklahoma U.S. Senator, Tom Coburn, in his book “Breach of Trust” writes about his tenure as a U.S. Representative during the 1998 reauthorization, “Representative Largent accused the Transportation Committee of trying to buy his vote. Largent said the committee asked him where he wanted to spend $15 million in his district. A disgusted Largent said, ‘My vote is not for sale.'”

This practice continues and explains the bipartisan veto-proof majorities in both houses. It also explains the coincidence that four of Colorado’s seven U.S. House Districts are “earmarked” for $16 million each. Committee members and leadership receive more “earmarks.” This is why Alaska’s per capita “take” is over 10 times that of second place, Washington State. The 92 percent return of taxes to Colorado is an improvement. It means Colorado taxpayers lose only about $350 million.

The behavior of Congress has become so outrageous that scholars from both the left and the right now advocate that the Federal gas tax should be delegated to the states. In a recent lecture, Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institution suggested, “It is time to seriously look at the possibility that we need to devolve all transportation funding out of Washington.”

Congress prefers more power, control and ego-gratification, not less. The reauthorization had included the creation of the Transportation Finance Corporation. Fortunately the Bush-veto threat helped to kill TFC. TFC would have used the gas tax to finance debt for more spending. As with the slippery slope of earmarks, the concept would have begun small at $30 billion. Taken to the extreme the $40 billion annual revenue might eventually add another trillion to the national debt, rapidly nearing $8 trillion. TFC spending would serve as an obstacle to devolving the tax to the states. To the extent that debt is wise, the decision is better-made by the respective states.

There is no example in history of a corrupt political institution reforming itself. At Runnymede, under threat of death King John reluctantly signed Magna Carta. Amazingly tolerant of Congressional abuses, citizens patiently await reform. Understandably fearful of being denied their states’ rightful funds, state legislators are cowed. Yet hope for leadership persists. In 2003 Colorado overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan resolution (97-3) asking that the Federal gas tax be devolved. Arizona passed a similar resolution in 2004. How outrageous does Congressional behavior have to be before this corruption ends?

Abe Lincoln wisely commented, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill
The wealth Americans enjoy depends upon the efficient movement of goods and services.

When the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, trip time halved. Suppliers suddenly had twice as many people to sell to. Consumers had twice as many purchasing options. Efficient transportation yielded benefits to both suppliers and consumers.

The same benefits accrue at the micro-level, proportionately smaller in scale. A new traffic signal that hastens traffic flow produces economic benefits. Similarly, one that hinders more than hastens, cause economic damage.

America’s transportation system is the envy of the world. Yet, managers have failed to keep pace with growth. The inevitable result, growing traffic congestion, imposes economic cost many times greater than the cost to eliminate it.

Users seem paradoxical in their willingness to pay for better service and in their simultaneous resistance to higher taxes. This apparent conflict frustrates political leaders who fail to recognize the consistency in the paradox. A coherent new policy has yet to crystallize.

Scholars from both the political left and right have been in agreement for at least two decades that transportation must move to market-based financing. Resistance to change is centered in the most powerful of special interest groups: the political class. Empowerment of markets or consumers means less power for politicians.

The Federal gas tax, scheduled to expire in 1972, was introduced in 1956 to finance construction of the Interstate Highway system. The Federal tax is currently at $0.184 per gallon. State taxes range from Georgia’s $0.075 to Wisconsin’s $0.321 with Colorado at $0.22.

This generates 40 billion Federal dollars annually and most of this money eventually finds its way back to the states in some form. There are no federally-owned highways, airports, railroads or transit systems. Colorado gets about 1.275%, but about 1/3 is diverted.

Since completion of interstate highway construction in 1982, Congress has turned the Federal gas tax into the nation’s most outrageous pork program. Reagan vetoed the 1982 transportation bill because it contained 10 earmarks. Historically, specific project designations in federal legislation were prohibited. There are currently 3,248 earmarks.

Colorado gasoline taxes fund the Highway User Trust Fund. HUTF revenues are shared between CDOT and nearly 400 Colorado local governments with roads. Three intractable trends are shrinking HUTF revenues: fuel economy, inflation, and diversion. Their combined effect may exceed 5% per year. This halves the HUTF every 15 years. The politician who advocates doubling taxes will have a short career. A different finance system is inevitable. The challenge is to conceive one that works better than the gas tax.

Gas tax user fees have two fatal flaws. Centralization of funds creates a target for special interest groups and political interests. More significantly, paying at the pump conveys the perception that system-use is free, causing a tragedy of the commons. That is, disproportionate numbers try to use the system at the same time, rush hour, resulting in system failure known as traffic congestion. This, in turn, motivates infrastructure to be unnecessarily enlarged. A close look at traffic count data reveals that the most congested roads are capable of moving twice as many vehicles.

Electronic toll collection has made tollbooths obsolete and facilitates variable tolls. ETC eliminates tollbooth accidents and reduces collection costs. Variable tolls vary with demand insuring that a lane is never congested. Never-congested lanes move more vehicles during peak periods than do congested lanes. Moving traffic consumes less fuel per mile traveled, reducing emissions. Excess revenue generation is a signal that more infrastructure may be needed and provides a funding source.

Prior to 1956 Eisenhower, who favored tolls and McDonald, his highway chief, who favored the gas tax, struggled to decide the future of transportation finance. The gas tax accelerated rapid development of a four million mile roadway network. A finance system that helps operate and maintain the existing system is now appropriate for the future.

Tolls are inevitable. Enlightened political leadership will work to educate the general public of the benefits by strategically located demonstration projects. As dependence on the gas tax decreases, those revenues can be reassigned to local governments to help address their funding shortfalls.

Dennis Polhill is a former City Public Works Manager, a Consulting Transportation Engineer and a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute.

Issue Paper

By Dennis Polhill

By using the power of the market to help the T-REX project, congestion-free, free-flow traffic travel can be made available to both carpoolers and single occupant drivers. Further, $600 million can be pocketed by the state. By contrast, a decision to forego over a half billion dollars of desperately-needed transportation revenues will doom travelers to sit again in traffic congestion in the not-too-distant future.


T-REX, the transportation improvement to I-25 through the Denver Technological Center, is due to be completed in 2006 and will provide the long overdue capacity enhancement to the corridor.

Before T-REX, three traffic lanes in each direction served the area. The project is currently estimated at $1.7 billion(1), with the construction cost split roughly equally(2) between adding one traffic lane and light rail in each direction. T-REX will improve 19.7 miles of corridor.

1999 Election

The two transportation modes were implicitly joined by the November 1999 election. Voters authorized light rail construction contingent upon the Regional Transportation District’s promise that the Federal government would cover at least 60 percent of the rail cost.

Entire Paper – It’s Not Too Late: To Avoid Congestion After T-REX (PDF)

1 “TREX Budget Tops $1.7 Billion,” by Kevin Flynn, Rocky Mountain News, April 21, 2003.
2 “RTD estimates that the total cost of the rail project will be about $874 million.” Quoted directly from the 1999 voter guide, as written by RTD.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill, Tiffany Dovey

Anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of traveling on I-25, or rather, of
sitting in the parking lot otherwise known as Interstate-25, knows that as
you head from downtown to the Tech Center things go from bad to worse.
T-REX will add capacity. But, will the improvements increase mobility?

Before T-REX, three traffic lanes in each direction served I-25 through
the Tech Center. T-REX improvements add one traffic lane and light rail in
each direction for $1.7 billion. The November 1999 election authorized
rail on the condition that at least 60% of the cost be borne by the
Federal government. The highway portion is financed by debt called
Transportation Revenue Anticipation Notes (TRANS). By exhausting future
revenues for immediate projects, Colorado’s ability to address future
transportation needs has been hampered.

Will Tyrannosaurus Rex, the dinosaur predator, gobble up gridlock or feast
on taxpayers?

Colorado’s Highway Users Tax Fund gets 22 cents per gallon of gasoline to
finance the state’s 85,412 roadway miles. Another 18.4 cents goes to the
Federal government to finance Interstate highway construction. Since
completion of construction over a decade ago, Congress has used the funds
for items increasingly unrelated to the stated purpose. The remainder,
about 62%, eventually finds its way back to Colorado, but with strings.
Penalties are assigned for failure to adhere to Federal mandates, like the
$50,000,000 against Colorado for not lowering DUI blood alcohol limits to
0.08 percent.

Fuel economy and diversion of funds to projects that do not significantly
enhance mobility increasingly erode the ability of the gasoline tax to
finance transportation. HUTF strength will probably diminish by one-half
to three-quarters over the next 20 years. Politicians who advocate
comparable increases will quickly be out of office. What to do?

Is there an alternative to tax increases? Gas tax dependence should be
phased out and replaced with a better, more market-oriented user fee:
tolls. Because construction of the interstate system is finished, enormous
resource transfers between states is unneeded. The Federal gas tax can be
quickly and significantly reduced or reassigned to the states.

Rush hour traffic jams prove that the system has more value at some times
and flat rate tolls are inadequate. Variable rate tolls are effective at
allocating the scarce resource of available capacity. Before T-REX,
traffic counts show that 43% of the capacity was unused. The most
congested road in Colorado could have served nearly twice as many
vehicles. Adding one lane to three lanes increases capacity by 33%.
Because most light rail users are former bus riders, light rail does not
significantly help congestion. Given that I-25 traffic increases 2.6
percent per annum, growth will consume most of the new capacity before
T-REX opens.

How can variable tolls help? By making the new lane a restricted lane it
can be shared by high occupancy vehicles (HOV), bus rapid transit (BRT)
and others willing to pay a toll (thus, the term “high occupancy toll” or
HOT lane). As demand on the system changes, a variable toll rate is
displayed on a message board, allowing drivers to weigh the urgency of
their travel against the current toll. Varying the toll with demand,
insures that the road never becomes congested.

Tolls are a better user-fee than the gas tax because individuals
experience the cost for service at the time benefits are delivered. Under
the collectivist gasoline tax users who consume more of the system gain
disproportionate benefits at the expense of others. This phenomenon, known
as the “tragedy of the commons,” is avoided with variable tolls.

“Let Those Who Receive the Benefits Pay the Costs,” Independence Institute
Issue Paper 13-99 by Stephen R. Mueller and Dennis Polhill exhaustively
evaluated 22 possible configurations for I-25. The scenario being
constructed in T-REX would generate about $600 million after operating
expenses, if the new lane were a HOT lane.

By using the power of the market, congestion-free, free-flow travel is
also available to both carpoolers and single occupant drivers.

So, what are the options? Colorado can either proceed accepting that the
corridor will soon return to gridlock, or the new lane can be changed to a
restricted lane before it is opened. The restricted lane insures that
corridor users benefit because they will forever have a free-flow travel
option; Colorado gains a windfall of millions of dollars; and the corridor
benefits by moving more people more efficiently. Only in the political
world could this decision be tough.

Is the political control of transportation more important than allowing
users choice and providing higher service at lower cost?

Copyright 2003 The Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank.
It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax
exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic
growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and
Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute. Tiffany
Dovey is a graduate of the University of Washington and a summer intern at
the Independence Institute. This opinion editorial is a summary of a more
extensive discussion in Issue Backgrounder, soon to be posted on our

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the
views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any
election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted
provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

Issue Backgrounder

By Dennis Polhill, Matthew Edgar

The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) recently updated its Metro Vision 2020 Regional Transportation Plan. Although their transportation agenda is not directly stated, hints are revealed in their rhetoric. One stated mission is to offer a ‘variety of travel opportunities.’ As with all rhetoric this is a nice and non-agitating statement that no one would readily disagree with. But what does it really mean? A close look at their report reveals facts seen by few and understood by fewer.

Travel Demand

(Person Trips)

DRCOG predicts a 48% increase in travel demand by 2020 in the Denver Metro area:
increase in travel demand by 2020 in the Denver Metro area
Source: DRCOG Metro Vision 2020, Regional Transportation Plan, page 107

Transportation Investment

(Billions of Dollars)

DRCOG inventoried all sources and applications of transportation funding through 2020 and discovered that $9.63 billion of $16.93 billion (58.9%) will go to mass transit (buses and light rail). The rest of DRCOG’s money will go to all other forms of transportation, including, among other things, roads, bike paths, and sidewalks.
sources and applications of transportation funding through 2020
Source: DRCOG Metro Vision 2020, Regional Transportation Plan, page 107

Market Share


DRCOG predicts that mass transit’s share of all trips will grow from 1.53% to 2.23% in 2020, meaning that transit will accommodate just 4.04% of the new trips. Thus, if DRCOG’s numbers are accurate the benefit of applying 59% of transportation funding to mass transit will be a 0.7% increase in mass transit’s market share.
0.7% increase in mass transit’s market share
Source: DRCOG Metro Vision 2020, Regional Transportation Plan, page 101.

Summary and Conclusion

DRCOG’s ‘transit plan’ will nearly double severe freeway congestion by 2020. How can such a plan be acceptable? Is it because DRCOG dictates a single view, as NO information is provided in their plan about costs, benefits, or critical analysis of potential competing alternatives that might offer more mobility at less expense? DRCOG’s approach is like saying, ‘I like blue.’ The statement reveals nothing about green, yellow, or red.

DRCOG’s failure to offer analysis of other alternatives, which can compete with each other on the basis of costs and benefits, raises serious doubts about DRCOG’s objectivity, allowing pro-transit ideologues and pro-transit lobbyists to use the power of government to force their preconceived (and ill-conceived) agenda upon others and upon the political process.[1]

Copyright 2002, Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

DENNIS POLHILL is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute.

MATTHEW EDGAR is a Research Associate with the Independence Institute.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES on this subject can be found at:

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

[1] Additional detail is available in Independence Institute Opinion Editorial, ‘Colorado’s Anti-Transportation Policy’, by Dennis Polhill, September 20, 2000

Copies of DRCOG’s MetroVision 2020 report are available from DRCOG, 2480 W. 26th Ave., Suite 200B, Denver, CO 80211.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

The failed monorail proposal contained interesting aspects, one of them being the absurdity of its discussion as a viable proposal.  Voters wisely recognized the dubious and speculative nature of the exaggerated technological and economic claims.  Even if the monorail could have worked at any price, then how would this massive capital outlay ever do anything to address traffic congestion?  To succeed, the monorail would have to absorb all future as well as some of the pre-existing trip demand.  When expectations transcend the unlikely and range to the impossible, advocates engage in delusional fantasy.

The November 2001 election was friendly to most ballot measures across the nation.  Odd-year elections typically do not address many issues.  Nationwide there were four statewide initiatives and 29 referred measures in five states.  Thirty-one of the 33 passed.  The only other item to fail was a referred measure that would have allowed Washington state funds to be invested in the stock market.  It received eight percent more yes votes than did the monorail.  The Colorado monorail might arguably have been the 2001 elections stupidest idea in America.

Die-hard supporters hold firm in their view of monorails viability.  If its viable, they should not be deprived of the opportunity to profit by offering this service in the free market.  The fact that advocates opted for the awkward, slow, inefficient and maddening politics of a government-sponsored project suggests that they do not truly believe its viability.

Non-viable projects require the coercive force of government to extract support from unwilling taxpayers.  Therefore, all capital-intensive proposals brought for a vote should be suspect.  The current orgy of collectivist coercion threatens the very foundation of self-government, free markets and freedom.  Well intended, but unenlightened, zealots seek to impose their view of a better life upon all.  Provided privately, the monorail would empower every individual to choose whether its benefits were worth the outlay.  This is how good decisions are made: at the grocery store; when going to dinner, plays or movies; in buying cars, houses or vacations.  Choice is the American way.

Yet there is no shortage of ideas unabashedly requiring coercive imposition: sports stadiums, convention centers, light rail, T-REX, and monorail.  The reasoning is always the same.  The huge cost is small if imposed on large numbers of people.  The first bite of the monorail apple would cost each person in Colorado only $19.  Its assumed that people will not perceive the next bite, which is to be 80 times bigger.  Instead of doing its critical tasks well, government is intruding into all forms of activities, subverting rather than augmenting markets.

James Buchanan earned the 1986 Nobel Prize in Economics for the development of Public Choice Theory.  The theory asserts that the behavior of political actors is predictable on economic grounds.  That is, special interests succeed most when benefits are concentrated and costs are distributed widely. After being defunded by statewide vote of the people in 1993, the Colorado Tourism Board was refunded in 1999 by the state legislature.  Legislators are effectively powerless when confronted with enormous pro-spend testimony and minimal anti-spend testimony.  It is not economically rational for citizens to incur the time, expense and hassle to testify against special-interest legislation when their individual cost is small.

An Independence Institute Issue Paper by Dr. Barry Fagin, “Who Testifies and Why <> discovered that before the Colorado Senate Finance Committee chances are 96% that a witness is a beneficiary.  Another study finds that before the U.S. Congress, witnesses favor more spending 145 to 1 and senior legislators are more inclined to support special interests.

Because parasitic interest groups prefer a more favorable audience, the ballot is their instrument of last resort.  Indeed, monorail advocates were rejected by the legislature prior to their decision to go to the ballot.

Spending money frivolously is a right each individual enjoys.  There are as many ways to do it as there are personalities.  People work hard and save in order to maximize this right.  Its exercise relieves stress and enriches.  Intellect and individualism become more pronounced.  Outlays offer new business opportunities and elevate the wealth of other individuals.

But extended to the collective, frivolous expenditure is not a right.  It is collectivist tyranny.  To the minority being imposed upon, the fact that the frivolous spending decision was made by either 51 or 99 percent is cold comfort.  To preserve freedom and choice, Americans must learn that many government transportation proposals are boondoggles that consume more resources than they create.

Under the collectivist abuse model, each free person is impoverished ever so slightly each time a non-viable activity is funded.  It is the torturous death by one thousand cuts.  All Americans owe it to themselves and to their grandchildren to give deep and serious consideration to the implications of offering support to collectivist endeavors.


Copyright 2001, Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

DENNIS POLHILL is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES on this subject can be found at:

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Usually a terrorist is an extremist hijacking an airliner and holding innocent passengers hostage.  Currently the FTA (Federal Transit Agency) is holding mobility hostage to extort Colorado citizens.

In 1991, an intergovernmental agreement was developed between the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation District, the City of Denver and the FTA to add lanes on I-25 north of central Denver. Assuming that more people could be moved, new multiple-occupant vehicle lanes designed for High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) were added at a cost of $222 million. The FTA contributed $71 million (32%).  Construction was $16 million per lane-mile.  By contrast, today’s proposal to double-deck I-70 to DIA is $10 million per lane-mile and a comparable California highway project recently came in at $3 million per lane-mile.  Did I-25 need to be so expensive?

Currently, though, utility is more important than money already expended.  The pertinent questions are: Can a minor donor like FTA dictate that service potential be wasted?  Isn’t CDOT responsible for efficient operation and for maximizing service to users?  The older general-purpose lanes remain congested. The HOV lanes never move more than 30% of their possible vehicle capacity. During hours open, use averages 16%; over 24 hours, use is less than 9%.  If taxpayer dollars were “real money,” there might be a problem with 84% of $222 million going to waste.

In 1991, the Oklahoma Turnpike became the first state agency in the U.S. to use electronic toll collection. Collection costs declined 91% and tollbooth accidents ceased. Technology and applications improved. This technology permits variable pricing, recognizing the reality that units of highway space and time are neither free nor equal in value. This reality reveals fatal flaws in the gasoline tax as a user fee.

One creative application of electronic toll collection is HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes.  Not only can HOT lanes self-finance new capacity and move more users over the same infrastructure, wasted HOV lane capacity can be captured at NO injury to HOVs. Surplus HOV lane capacity is sold to willing buyers. Price varies to ensure no adverse affect on free flow of traffic.

Recognizing the potential, Senator John Andrews successfully sponsored SB-1999-88.  It mandated that CDOT convert one HOV lane to HOT as a demonstration.  CDOT wisely requested a due date extension to July 1, 2001. Delaying provided the opportunity to evaluate alternatives, quantify conversion costs, estimate revenues, and help others understand the concept.  A $400,000 consultant study concluded that

I-25 would be Colorado’s best demonstration; conversion costs would be $3 million and users would reimburse conversion costs in six years.  Because some traffic will be removed from the free lanes, all I-25 users would benefit.

The FTA opposes this experiment.  A March 8, 2001 letter dictated that the demonstration project could not advance without full reimbursement of the FTA’s original contribution of $71 million.  The FTA stipulated that “general traffic [on HOV lanes] during peak traffic hours shall constitute a breach” of the original 1991 agreement. The FTA correctly asserts that general-purpose traffic might jeopardize the HOV character of the new multiple-occupancy lane. But general-purpose traffic is NOT the proposal.  HOT traffic is controlled via pricing to ensure free flow. Although FTA did not claim that CDOT might mismanage the HOT lanes by under-pricing tolls and attracting too many vehicles, such mismanagement would be counter to CDOT’s interests.  By claiming the project is other than it is, FTA has proven itself to be either ignorant or deceptive.

For those honestly interested in improving mobility and traffic flow, the I-25 HOT lane demonstration project offers small risks and potentially large benefits. FTA’s blocking attempt seems negatively motivated. A failed demonstration would revert to the former condition.  Therefore, they must fear success.  If the latter is true, then the FTA is a demagogue with a pre-defined political agenda, rather than a government agency committed to efficient service for its constituents.

The issue of Federalism (the division of responsibilities between federal and state governments) has become unclear regarding transportation; the U.S. Constitution was never amended to allow a federal role. Several presidents vetoed Congressional attempts to intrude into the state domain of transportation.  The federal share of the gasoline tax was a temporary tax for construction of interstate highways and was created under the guise of national defense to circumvent the Constitutional prohibition.  The same Constitutional limitation is the reason there are no federally-owned highways.  Federal involvement in mass transit as a protection against foreign invasion is preposterous and federal dictation of operations is a dangerous precedent to concede.

“Full use” of taxpayer-funded facilities is reasonable.  CDOT has an obligation to move forward. No objective observer would agree with the FTA’s indefensible stand.  With no injury to the original purpose, FTA’s suggestion of a payoff is extortion. Do Colorado leaders have the courage to stand up to the cowardly and criminal FTA?

Senior Fellow Dennis Polhill wrote this article for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Golden;

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

A century ago, with the exception of railroads, transportation in the United States was by dirt road. Similar to growing demand for mobility in today’s third world economies, the push to get America out of the mud in the early twentieth century was led by bicycle enthusiasts. Automobile ownership was a novelty. But when rising personal wealth met declining automobile costs–thanks to Henry Fords assembly line for the Model T–more and more people began to enjoy automobile ownership. The trend is irreversible.

Visionaries foresaw superhighways. The first plan was finalized in the 1930s. Planning for highway construction was accelerated during World War II–partly to ensure that ex-soldiers would have jobs when the war ended. Planners also saw the mobility advantage that the Autobahns gave to the German army, as forces could be moved rapidly from one part of the country to the other.

Financing was a problem because automobile ownership was still relatively small, war debt was high, and highway use and requisite support systems were still in their infancy.

The U.S. Constitution was also a problem. Nowhere did the Constitution give Congress authority over transportation. Three of the greatest presidents — Madison, Monroe, and Jackson — had vetoed as unconstitutional efforts by Congress to intrude into transportation, such as by creating national roads.

In 1956, Congress found a way to circumvent the Constitution. Federal road-building would fly under the banner of the “National Defense Highway Act.” Congress did have authority over national defense, and highways did help national defense. All Interstate highways would be owned and operated by the states. The user-fee debate was decided in favor of the gasoline tax over tolls. A critical consideration was that tolls would discourage increased car use and greater car use was needed to aid financing. The “temporary” 4 cents per gallon Federal gasoline tax would cease when the 40,000 mile network was competed.

Every dollar spent on construction yielded five dollars in direct economic benefits. Travel time between cities such Pittsburgh and Philadelphia plunged. It became easier and cheaper to transport goods between producers and markets. One cause of the prosperity of the 1960s was the increased wealth and efficiency generated by the new interstate highway system–the Internet of its time.

The years went by. Construction was completed before 1985. The Federal gasoline tax grew to 18.4 cents. The Constitutional issue was forgotten. Use grew, further augmenting revenues. Special interests began tapping into the Highway Trust Fund. The gas tax has been perverted into a general funding source for airports, waterways, buses, Amtrak, the Coast Guard, light rail, and the national debt. Two-thirds of the states put more money into the Highway Fund than they get back. Money recovered is subject to innumerable conditions and delays.

Colorados transportation philosophy has been a victim of the schizophrenic attitude toward population growth. Over the long term, Colorado has experienced growth at about 2% per year. When growth is less, there is concern; when growth is more, exclusionists call for less. The anti-growth assumption is that if transportation were less efficient, fewer people would move here.

Special interests have succeeded at politicizing transportation. DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments) recently updated its Metro Vision 2020, Regional Transportation Plan. Variety of travel opportunities is weighted more heavily than meeting the needs of taxpayers. Perhaps DRCOG, as a vestige of the outmoded Central Planning era, has outlived its usefulness.

Of the $16.34 billion available in the Denver Region to address transportation, nearly 60%, or $9.63 billion, are for government transit. This funding will increase light and commuter rail by 1400% and highway capacity by 24.5%–even though travel demand is projected to rise 48%. The 23.5% highway deficiency (48% minus 24.5%) is a measure of how much worse Colorado highways are going to get.  Government transit gets the lion’s share of funding, but  picks up only 4.04% of the additional demand. DRCOG predicts, accurately, that “severe congestion will increase significantly.”

If Colorado’s anti-transportation policy is not soon reversed, the consequences will be dire.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden,

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)

Copyright 2000

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Elementary school students learn the opposite of politics. The Scientific Method, both used in school and required in Science Fair projects, mandates that a proposition, idea, question or assertion be proven. The notion is that facts are verifiable and repeatable. That June 21 has more daylight than any other day of the year can be proven by observing, measuring, and verifying with other research. It is an indisputable scientific fact.

The search for fact-based knowledge is not easy. T.C. Chamberlin seems in regular cycle to be forgotten and rediscovered. Chamberlin was a geologist and President of the University of Wisconsin in 1890 when he wrote his most important work. He observed that even objectively motivated and well-disciplined scientists fell victim to the phenomenon of “premature conclusion.” He wrote, “The central psychological fault is intellectual affection The vitality of study quickly disappears when the object sought is a mere collocation of dead, unmeaning facts A working hypothesis may with the utmost ease degenerate into a ruling theory.” The scientific method breaks down and is corrupted when scientists become biased toward a particular conclusion. Eagerness to reach conclusion, interferes with the ability to challenge veracity. Ultimately, bad science will fail the test of time.

If it is this difficult to for those honestly seeking truth to hold focus, then how successful can the political process be when interests work complex strategies with the sole intent of achieving a preconceived outcome? Truth is less important than victory. Failure has no consequence, because taxpayers are forever burdened to make the best of the situation.

The federally required Environmental Impact Statement process was originally designed to identify and quantify truths. However, the EIS has become a tool of interests to advance political agendas.

National experts have observed the Colorado Southeast Corridor EIS as particularly flawed. This is the study that is supposed to justify Light Rail along I-25. Blatantly false statements in the Major Investment Study should have caused an objective Colorado Department of Transportation to disqualify the offending consultant from consideration to perform the EIS. That company’s business goal of building its light rail resume might also have been sufficient cause to select another.

The Independence Institute produced a 30 page footnoted comprehensive research paper with 38 pages of involved spreadsheets showing that improvements other than light rail would provide more mobility, less congestion and less environmental impact, while assigning most costs to those who directly benefit. Submitted for the public record, the research was summarily dismissed in a 5 page discussion by individuals apparently unable to comprehend the analysis.

Just as Socrates was condemned to death in 399 B.C. for revealing truths that a tyrannical state wished undisclosed, the EIS process has become an enemy of truth. Statements such as, “No light rail system has reduced traffic congestion,” are verifiable.

For the first time, Colorado voters approved use of tax dollars to construct light rail. Whether the Regional Transportation District’s prior outlay of over $300 million was an illegal use of public funds is a subject for another time. Referred Measure 4A was approved with a 65% “yes” vote. But 4A was “joined at the hip” with Referred Measure A, TRANS, which authorized the state to accelerate construction of 28 highways projects by incurring $1.7 billion in debt. TRANS received 62% yes. The “joined at the hip” message was that both projects had to be approved for voters to get either one. In other words, anti-automobile people were obliged to vote for highways in order to get light rail and pro-automobile folks were compelled to vote “yes” on light rail to get highways.

Since November 1999 politicians have rushed to declare the election result a mandate to construct rail. RTD is spending millions for MIS studies in every direction, a monorail to Vail was suggested and light rail in Colorado Springs, Greeley, Fort Collins and paralleling I-25 to Wyoming have been proposed, as if a single centralized technology could solve a decentralized transportation problem.

Voters have defeated every light rail tax increase until appended to desperately needed and long withheld highway improvements. As Chamberlin said, “If our vision is narrowed by a preconceived theory as to what will happen, we are almost certain to misinterpret the facts and to misjudge the issue.”

Not only is there no mandate to build rail, there is no factual basis to conclude that Denver will record the first ever light rail success. The Transportation Industrial Complex uses misperceptions, including the phony EIS process, to sustain and grow itself.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow in Transportation Policy at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden,

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)
Copyright 2000 I2I

An analysis of the Colorado state government’s flawed plan for I-25

Issue Paper

By Stephen R. Mueller, P. E. and Dennis Polhill, P. E.


This report presents a detailed analysis and critique of the Southeast Corridor plan for Interstate 25 through Denver. The authors spent nearly six months gathering the baseline data and developing the methodology and new analysis tools contained in the report.

It is a timely report for two reasons:

1) The public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was still open at the time the full report was published. The report was submitted into the official record to show that there is a better way to analyze a project’s impacts on the public than was presented in the DEIS.

2) The November 1999 ballot contains two measures directly relating to the information contained in this report. Referendum “A”; a statewide ballot issue, is seeking voter approval to bond future federal highway revenues. In the Denver metropolitan area, voters are being asked to allow the Regional Transportation District (RTD) to bond their tax revenues.

Findings of Importance Contained in the Report:
“The goal must be to create a transportation system that offers congestion free driving, better environmental outcomes, and lower taxpayer costs.”


The “official” documents relating to the proposed “improvements” on Interstate 25 show light rail will have no impact on traffic congestion. The conclusion isn’t clearly stated, but is hidden in the numbers and tables contained in the documents.

Proponents of 4A, the more light rail boondoggle proposal, shout that the plan will “take 17,000 cars off the road.” Not only is the statement preposterous, it is NOT a measurement of the traffic congestion that will exist on the freeway. All of the official documents show numerous areas throughout the project and on surrounding facilities where the projected level of service will be rated “F” -which means a completely congested, gridlock condition. Forget the rest of the rhetoric, light rail will NOT solve the problem. It is in the official documents, and finding is further supported in the analysis provided in this report.

Special Interests, particularly in the Southeast Corridor and downtown Denver, have made large contributions to the campaign to build light rail to the Denver Technological Center (DTC) under the mistaken impression that traffic will flow more smoothly if enough people ride the new trolley. There will only be a maximum of eight trolleys per hour running to the DTC, and the 1997 Major Investment Study (MIS) supporting a “light rail only” solution projected that ridership would increase from 1.8% of DTC employees to 3.2%. Even if RTD was able to increase their market share by this amount, it is simply not enough people to have any impact on the highway. Normal traffic growth and latent demand will prevail, and the highway will gridlock.


This report shows that the DEIS recommended “preferred alternative,” which does not involve user pricing, would result in zero improvement in traffic congestion over the 1996 condition the on the very day it opens. Again, there are lots of “Level of Service F” ratings contained in the DEIS. The ever-increasing traffic growth, combined with latent demand (as explained in the complete report), indicate that the CDOT’s new road will be gridlocked on the day it opens.

Under the plan presented by CDOT and RTD, motorists are stuck in gridlocked traffic today, they will be stuck in gridlocked traffic during construction, but what is worse is that they will be doomed to gridlocked traffic on the day this new project opens and forever into the future. Motorists who have survived the construction process will not be pleased.


This report clearly shows that in order to achieve congestion free driving on I-25, a pricing mechanism must be implemented. This report recommends that the existing three free lanes on I-25 be supplemented with new High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes. High occupancy vehicles, such as buses, vanpools, company carpools, and taxicabs would be guaranteed access into the new lanes. The remaining capacity is then sold to people in single occupant automobiles who are willing to pay a toll to use the facility. The price of the toll is variable, depending on the amount of traffic in the HOT lanes. HOT lanes are currently being successfully used in California and Texas, so the technology and benefits of this system has already been proven. People would still be able to choose the free lanes – and the traffic flow in the free lanes will be improved as a result of people who are willing to pay a toll to drive even faster.

HOT lanes offer a future of congestion free driving, and those who receive this benefit will be the ones who pay the costs of the highway improvements. HOT lanes offer far more choices to people than fixed-guideway mass transit systems, and they are environmentally superior and more tax-payer friendly than either light rail or new free lanes.


Many people are being misled about the Environmental Impact Statement process: Public policy is being driven awry by the threat of lawsuit. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has NO AUTHORITY to dictate a specific transportation technology. It is simply not true that if the voters turn down light rail, as it has been in the past, that the highway can’t be widened.

What is true, however, is that any new plan will have to demonstrate “conformity” with the EPA approved air quality plans. The HOT lane proposal contained in this document should easily meet the EPA criteria. This report indicates that HOT lanes offer the ability to achieve a 29% larger reduction in mobile emissions than the plan presented in the DEIS. This plan, therefore, is more environmentally friendly than the DEIS. The official models, however, would still have to be run, which could delay construction for another year. The question voters should ask themselves is “Am I willing to wait a year for a new plan to be developed if I can save myself THREE BILLION DOLLARS?” – Any new plan will include additional highway lanes on I-25. We the People demand it!


Light Rail is hardly rapid transit. The current LRT system speed in Denver is between 15′ and 20 miles per hour. Because the proposed SE corridor light rail would have to merge into this system, it can’t operate at an average speed that is much faster. The travel time from Park Meadows to Downtown Denver will approach a full hour on the new trolley. HOT lanes, offering congestion free driving for most of the distance at 55 miles per hour, will get people downtown in a fraction of the time.


The planning process has been manipulated by special interests, even to the point that blatant mistruths were included in early versions of “official” documents. The MIS and DEIS are hardly more than propaganda pieces intended to rationalize the view favoring light rail transit (LRT). A number of flaws in the DEIS for the I-25 southeast corridor are presented in the report:

A) Failure to adequately scope and analyze the available alternatives.
B) Predetermined LRT placement precludes adequate analysis in the DEIS.
C} Predetermined LRT placement will result in tremendous unaccounted-for future costs to upgrade I-25 in order to resolve future traffic congestion problems.
D) Failure of the DEIS to adequately address the costs and benefits of the various configurations for potential use of the ROW.
E) Traffic growth projections in the DEIS are limited and weakly analyzed.
F} Latent Demand has not been adequately addressed in the document.
G) Impulse driving impacts on congestion were not considered due to limitations in the scoping process.
H) The counting methodology for automobiles versus LRT boardings is inherently flawed.
I) There was inadequate discussion of the potential costs of obtaining additional ROW or providing an alternative engineering solution in several bottleneck areas north of I-225.
J) HOT lanes, given no mention in the DEIS, have been shown to be a substantially superior solution in this report.


Governor Owens and the Colorado Transportation Commission have declared that the majority of the bonds would be used to finance the project analyzed in this report. The measure itself, however, does not specify the actual projects that would be advanced or added if the referendum passes.

In order to construct the HOT lanes, however, it will be necessary to issue bonds. The toll revenues, rather than general tax dollars, will be used to pay off the bonds. This would allow the bond money authorized by Referendum A to be used on other projects throughout Colorado, as designated by the Transportation Commission.


It is clear from this report that the plans to place LRT in the SE Corridor must be stopped. The ROW is needed in order to achieve the socially optimal usage for this transportation facility. RTD should instead plan to invest in additional buses that can use the congestion free HOT lanes, and operate at higher speeds than can be achieved by- LRT. LRT will doom the Denver metro area to subsidies and future tax increases, and a decreasing proportion of people riding mass transit. The increases in the local costs already presented the LRT’s ever changing cost estimates should outrage voters. The greatest cost, however, will be the future need to double-deck I-25 — wasting literally billions of tax dollars that can be saved by using the ROW now. LRT is not financially, environmentally, or functionally justifiable for the I-25 Southeast Corridor. HOT lanes fulfill all the criteria, and those who receive the benefits will pay the costs.

Entire Paper: Let Those Who Receive The Benefits Pay the Costs (PDF)

Copyright (C) 1999 – Independence Institute

Issue Backgrounder

By Dennis Polhill
Synopsis — High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes use electronic toll collection technology to collect tolls at full speed. Surplus HOV lane capacity can be utilized, traffic congestion can be reduced and revenues are generated to offset transportation costs. Transportation constituencies all over the U.S. are finding common ground in supporting this free-market application.

S.B. 99-88 —Senate Bill 1999-88 is similar to a 1998 CDOT sponsored bill. The HOT lane provision was deleted from the 1998 bill because of the assertion that only the rich would benefit. The 1999 bill authorizes and directs CDOT to convert an existing HOV lane project to HOT lanes.

Congestion assessment —The cost of traffic congestion greatly exceeds the cost of eliminating it. Time wasted in traffic jams is a major loss to the Denver metro economy. At the same time it should be pointed out that fewer than 10% of highways are ever congested; and congested roads are not congested most of the time. It would be theoretically possible to move 10 times as many vehicles through the existing highway infrastructure, if someone would just tell people when they could use it.

Problem definition —The traffic congestion problem is that too many people are trying to use the same system at the same time.

Solution theory —Because the problem is related to scarcity of resources, a system to allocate, prioritize or ration the resources must be invented. Fortunately, Adam Smith and other great thinkers have done the hard work of inventing capitalism. Contemporary policy advocates share the benefit of over 200 years of real world experience with Smiths ideas. Allocation of scarce resources is done most efficiently by empowering individual consumers to exercise choice through pricing systems.

Private sector experience —All Americans experience the power of markets every day. The same product often costs more when demand is high: like long distance telephone service. Rates are highest during business hours and are lowest when most people are sleeping. Other examples are airline tickets, hotel rooms, roses (more expensive around Valentines Day), and movie tickets.

User fees —Historically the most efficient user fee to finance transportation has been the gasoline tax. Everyone paid the gas tax and everyone used the roads. The more people used, the more they paid. But technology has improved and it is now possible to assign user fees directly to those using the system at the time they are using it.

Technological advances —In 1991 the Oklahoma Turnpike implemented electronic toll collection (ETC). E-470 uses the same technology. A transponder (an audio cassette size radio frequency transmitter) fixed on the windshield is read at full travel speed and tolls are charged to the users account. Both Oklahoma and E-470 are fixed toll facilities, where all users always pay the same toll. California took the technology to the next level in 1995 by applying it to just 2 of 6 lanes in each direction on the 91 Freeway in Orange County. These are called High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. The remaining 4 lanes continue to be “free” lanes. Tolls in the HOT lanes vary to insure that traffic flow is never congested. Thus, drivers can choose as their individual needs dictate.

Choice —The “choice” point cannot be overstated. Everyone has some emergencies in their life that justify paying extra for a higher level of service: a medical emergencies, meeting an airplane, getting to a daughters soccer game, or avoiding a late fee. Nearly half of those who use the California 91 Freeway HOT lanes use them only once per week.

“Lexus Lanes” — The California Polytechnic Institute recently released a 4 year study of the California 91 Freeway HOT lanes. It found that the demographics of those who use the 91 Freeway HOT lanes are nearly identical to those who use the “free” lanes. Clearly the pejorative “Lexus Lane” term is false and is designed by HOT lane opponents to mislead.

Taxpayer benefits —Because users are paying tolls, a revenue stream is available to offset some construction costs. Thus, less money is needed from general taxation for roads.

Benefits to nonusers of HOT lanes — Because some vehicles are removed from the adjacent “free” lanes, traffic congestion also decreases in the “free” lanes. The CalPoly study found that 52% of those people who never used the California 91 Freeway HOT lanes favored them. Trip times in the “free” lanes are typically about 10 minutes faster.

Environmental benefits —The California Air Resources Board determined that air pollution emissions are 250% higher under congested conditions than during free-flowing traffic. So when traffic congestion exists, not only are people frustrated by not getting where they need to go, but they cause additional air pollution by not getting there. Clearly, HOT lanes reduce air pollution by reducing traffic congestion. Because HOT lanes also reduce traffic congestion in “free” lanes, they also help reduce air pollution emissions in the “free” lanes. Led by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Oregon Environmental Council, environmental groups all over the country have come to endorse HOT lanes. Many others, like the Sierra Club and the EPA, endorse the broader and related concept of congestion pricing.

High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) —The theory of HOVs is that vehicles with more than one person receive preference (in the form of dedicated special purpose HOV lanes) as an incentive to carpool. When the HOV lanes are full and free-flowing, they move more people than a general purpose lane. In November the state of New Jersey fueled a growing nationwide controversy by opening some HOV lanes to general traffic because they were not full with HOVs.

In spite of the availability of dedicated HOV lanes, car pooling is on the decline.

But even where HOVs work, they can be a victim of their own success. When HOV lanes become congested with HOVs, the typical operational response is to restrict HOV lane use to vehicles with 3 rather than 2 passengers per vehicle. This decision always results in moving fewer people quickly with some HOV lane capacity wasted. HOT lane technology provides the capability to use surplus capacity with no injury to HOVs.

HOVs in the California 91 Freeway HOT lanes were initially charged no toll, but are now paying a 50% toll. Eventually the HOT lane operator will cease subsidizing HOVs and all will pay tolls equally. To the extent that HOVs merit subsidy, it can be provided via other methods.

–Dennis Polhill, Senior Fellow in Transportation Policy, Independence Institute

By Dennis Polhill

Few people dispute the importance of efficient transportation in an open and free society. As individuals gain in personal affluence, they willingly allocate a portion of their new wealth to increased mobility and freedom. As long as the wealth of society increases (both collectively and on a per capita basis), demand for transportation that efficiently responds to the individual needs of people will increase.

Until the creation of the gasoline tax in 1956, government was unable to respond to the demand for paved roads. The gasoline tax provided appropriate user fee financing. The access to land and the mobility that paved highways offered caused real estate to escalate in value. Free movement of goods and services provided greater access to a wider variety of options and increased market competition helped to lower costs to consumers. The direct benefit to the economy of construction of the 40,000 mile interstate highway system was at least five dollars for each dollar spent on construction. Highway construction adds value via mobility to existing economic generators. When highways are constructed where there are no preexisting economic generators, no economic development benefits result because there are no markets or resources to access. This is a reasonable test for the viability of transportation projects. If mobility and access are improved, the benefits of the project can be balanced against the costs.

The advent of the gasoline tax was simultaneous with the Federal Highway Trust Fund. As interstate highway construction progressed and the power of the gasoline tax was recognized, use of the trust fund was expanded. Federal matching share increased. Funds became more readily available for appurtenances, relocations, environmental, archeological, safety, and other project considerations. Subsequently, trust fund moneys became available for an expanded federal aid system, off-system projects, and maintenance. The trust fund has also been accessed to subsidize other transportation modes: mass transit, aviation, railroads, waterways, and bike paths. Last, but not least, the gasoline tax user fee has been accessed by Congress to finance a portion of the national debt. So the original concept of a user fee for transportation has been greatly expanded and co-opted. The gas tax has become part user fee and part tax based on consumption.

Currently the Colorado tax is $.22 per gallon and the federal tax is $.183 per gallon for a total of slightly over $.40 per gallon. If an average vehicle gets 20 miles per gallon, the user fee is $.02 per mile. However, users have a degree of control over their tax rate. Some own vehicles that get 40 miles per gallon and thus pay only $.O1 per mile user fee. Some get less than 10 miles per gallon and pay $.04 per mile user fee. Advocates of other-than-auto transportation quickly point to subsidies from other sources that go to highways. The Brookings Institution estimates these subsidies at about $22 billion per year nationwide, slightly less than $.O1 per mile. Rush hour traffic congestion points to the fact that not all vehicle-miles traveled are equal. A rush hour vehicle-mile is more valuable than a non-rush hour vehicle-mile.

Heavy vehicles do not pay their fair share of highway costs as measured by structural damage to the facility. A vehicle that weighs twice as much produces 16 times as much road damage (2 to the 4th power). Similarly, due to the fee structure, there is little incentive to avoid overloads, unbalanced loads, or to configure vehicles to mitigate damage. Conversely, truckers argue that autos do not pay their fair share of the highways since they are few compared to the many that consume the capacity of the system.

Mass transit advocates argue that highway taxes should pay for mass transit because congestion is relieved when commuters ride mass transit. Because transportation economics has been contorted by the distortions of subsidies, it is difficult to rationalize logically the role of mass transit in the entire picture. Without massive public subsidies to mass transit, it could not survive. Mass transit ridership nationwide continues to decline in spite of massive subsidies. Currently, ridership is less than 5 % of all commuters. Roughly 5 % of commuters walk to work and 15 % use carpools. It is unlikely that a system of fixed routes and fixed schedules can meet the needs of an increasingly diverse, mobile, affluent, and unconstrained population. It is, however, clear that economic distortions and subsidies to highways work to the disadvantage of viable mass transit. A public policy that subsidizes highways to the detriment of mass transit and then requires additional taxpayer subsidies to mass transit to offset the damage is not rational.

Transportation is a private good, wherein the benefits accrue primarily to an individual. Thus, transportation is a service that receives public subsidy inappropriately. Historically, it has been virtually impossible for aspects of transportation to recover their costs in user fees. However, recent technological advances make it feasible to assign the true cost of transportation services more directly to those who benefit.

The gas tax as a user fee may be inadequate and obsolete. ISTEA (the 1991 Federal Transportation Act) liberalizes the use of congestion pricing, weight-distance
fees and toll roads. As society moves in the direction of free market governance, such fees can be expected to evolve into common usage. The sooner Colorado comes to recognize the future condition, the sooner Colorado can capture the benefits that a more liberal free market approach can yield.

The Colorado Leader October 10, 1992 … also published in the Haxtun Herald, Haxtun, CO on Oct. 14, 1992

MAC: What’s the bottom line?

By Dennis Polhill

An upcoming vote by the Denver Regional Council of Governments will determine whether the Denver Metro area, spends hundreds of millions of dollars on a failed idea, or if a policy of fiscal responsibility will guide our transportation dollar.

The Metro Area Connection, or MAC, is a light rail system that the Regional Transportation District desires more than anything else. The initial cost for the Five Points to Auraria MAC demonstration line is $100,000,000, and will be paid for by a use tax windfall. RTD’s idea that light rail is the key to Denver future is at best naively optimistic.

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal stated, “Anyone who still thinks that fixed rails…to be navigated by public-employee crews paid premium wages is the most effective means of circulation in a modern city gets an “F” in urban planning.”

Typically, there would be dozens of questions that would have to be answered before such a project gets started. Amazingly enough, the opinions from transportation professionals have barely registered a blip on the debate radar screen.

Before we jump head first into what could very well be a bottomless pit of government spending, perhaps we should have a few items analyzed.

First, if the purpose of developing a mass transit system is to decrease traffic jams, isn’t it foolish to consider a project that the RTD admits will not relieve traffic congestion during peak commuting periods”?

Second, the proposed MAC vehicles may be able to achieve speeds of 65 mph, however, the distance between stations will only allow an average operating speed of 18 mph. Not exactly a convenience when you calculate all of the time you spend getting to the fixed-rail, and the distance you have to cover once you get dropped off.

Third, the proposal claims air quality gains, but other cities have found essentially no environmental benefits with their fixed rail systems. Any possible air quality improvements can be achieved through different and much less expensive means.

Fourth, experiences in other cities which have developed rail systems since 1970 demonstrate an alarming trend of high cost overruns which require additional tax dollars to keep the system operating. And with an estimated operating cost of $8.75 per ride, our local government will have to do a lot of subsidizing!

Fifth, the MAC demonstration won’t accurately demonstrate demand for the system because there will be no direct charge to the rider. Commuter choices are based on comparisons of cost and convenience, not on abstract values. How then will the RTD be able to determine the how, when, where, and why questions about expansion?

Finally, the $100,000,000, as mentioned before, comes from a use tax that as levied on products purchased outside the RTD boundaries, but used primarily within the district. Is light rail the best use of this money? These dollars could provide better bus services, they could fund the development of other critical transportation needs (E-470 or the northwest parkway), they could finance more carpool lanes, better highways, and other projects metro wide. Instead,’ RTD has decided to pour all of it into a fixed rail system that accesses a little used corridor. They have failed to realize that increased highway use is an indication of the need for them, not a sign of their failure.

If we’ve learned one thing during this year’s election cycle, it’s that the voters in this state, as well as the nation, demand the most bang for their buck. The $100,000,000 in taxes collected by the RTD is money that has been taken out of the local economy for a project that can best be described as a white elephant. Denver Mayor Wellington Webb has even speculated that downtown companies would suffer due to the extensive construction. If, in fact, this money is burning a hole in the pocket of RTD bureaucrats and light rail is merely a way to get rid of it, I strongly encourage them to consider the other transportation needs in the metro area, or give a rebate of $5 to every man, woman and child in the district. My guess is that the citizens will spend it wiser than the RTD.

Mr. Polhill is Chairman of the infrastructure Task Force at the Independence Institute, a Golden based think tank.

Willard Price
PhD School of Business and Public Administration
University of the Pacific

Dennis Polhill
MPW Pavement Management Systems Denver

Presented at
the 1990 Regional IX Conference of the American Society for Public Administration Honolulu, Hawaii
October 8, 1990

For submission to
the Journal Public Productivity and Management Review
October 1991

The objective of this research is to examine methods for public works maintenance investment decisions. Beyond initial capital choices using benefit-cost analysis, this paper explores performance measures to observe the physical condition and performance levels over the life of infrastructure systems. Given adequate information, alternative investment policies or maintenance strategies (prevention, rehabilitation and reconstruction) can be compared using performance levels and costs.

A general approach is presented for examining infrastructure systems and maintenance investment choices, with an example drawn from pavements. A discussion of the analytical process of maintenance management systems is provided in terms of required information, decision rules and optimization models Since public works managers are inundated by consultants with computer packages purporting to assist with infrastructure policy making, this article provides managers with a basis for criticizing maintenance management packages and their role in investment decisions.

Infrastructure Maintenance Investment: Beyond the Benefit-Cost Analysis
Today the word infrastructure is the popular usage for what has been known for most of our history as public works. While these two terms can be used interchangeably, conceptually a distinction will be drawn between infrastructure as the physical
platforms used to serve our communities and public works as the public agencies which own and deliver services at all three levels of governments. Infrastructure systems are normally owned by public agencies, often operated as public enterprises with
some degree of independence from parent governments. A portion of these systems are owned and/or operated privately, some water and transit agencies and almost all electrical distribution even though power systems are also provided by federal or local
government enterprises.

Examples of these physical infrastructure systems include:

  • Highways, streets, sidewalks, lighting and curbs and gutters
  • Water resource systems, water supply and sewage treatment
  • Flood control systems, storm drains, channels and dams
  • Solid waste systems, collection and disposal resources
  • Transport systems, airports, seaports, mass transit, and tunnels
  • Public buildings, grounds and parks
  • Equipment, vehicles, pumps, treatment facilities
  • Electrical, natural gas and telecommunication networks

These are systems that are widely available to the general public, although similar systems are developed by the military and many private industries on their own property and at their production plants and facilities. the focus here are those public works wholly owned by governments and planned, delivered and financed through public institutions.

Public works has historical connotations of public investment for the wrong reasons, that is “pork barrel” rewards by elected representatives to local constituents, for political tradeoffs among legislative members or as employment patronage. Such negative images of public works have clearly been overblown and have overshadowed the massive contribution that public works investment has provided for urban, regional and national growth, for the public health, safety and convenience.

The goal of this research is to focus on the management tasks of professional engineers and managers who deliver desirable and necessary public works platforms for commerce and public activity. The maintenance investment levels these managers recommend, not for the traditional capital decisions on new facilities, but for continuing repair, rehabilitation or reconstruction, are the policy decisions in question. These ought to be reviewed as economic investments decisions as is any infrastructure expenditure in the private sector.

Public works facilities have grown significantly during the last 40 years, with investment financed by local/state government debt, by federal/state grants to local agencies and by economic growth and general taxation of urban and suburban communities. This growth was strong during the period of 1950-1975, with almost all governments having the fiscal capacity to finance the infrastructure developments and adequately cope with maintenance burdens. Investment was justified by cheap debt, legal debt capacity, federal largesse and the ability of local/regional governments to realize increased property/sales tax revenue, sufficient to pay for debt retirement, the local share of capital costs and a lifetime of maintenance costs.

Now we are faced with a new reality, the results of drastic shifts in the environment of government. Economic stress caused by an oil crisis, massive inflation, unfathomable tax increases and a political reversal that found a welcome audience for a decreased role of the public sector in the lives of citizens. The impact on public works was a dual threat created by an aging infrastructure, some originally built 100 years ago, and a maintenance budget neglect stimulated by financial scarcity and deliberate cutbacks in the expenditures of governments in the 1970s and 1980s.(1)

Deferred maintenance is politically and physically acceptable because an immediate effect is not felt: Yet this neglect is insidious. As these facilities age they physically decay and provide less capacity and service to users and slowly but surely the public is faced with an increased risk of failure, delay, accident and injury. The stress of competing priorities has left public works agencies with “hypofunding” at exactly the wrong time in their life cycle.

Traditional Public Works Investment Decisions
While public works investment decisions are the choices of government leadership based on the recommendations of public works managers, political preferences as well as concepts of economics have impacted investment. Since the 1930s, investment decisions for new public works facilities have sought to base budgeting decisions on the technique of benefit-cost analysis. Considered by engineers, managers and legislators alike to be an appropriate method for comparing projects, benefit-cost has the neutral objective of maximizing the net payoff of benefits and costs that can be measured in dollars.

It is an intoxicating method, for the initial understanding of the analysis easily convinces one the investment decision that chooses the highest present value of the net cash flow is surely the most rational act for public decision making. Given the acceptability of the benefit-cost logic, the method has been mandated by some federal statutes for federal program projects as well as categorical/project grants to state/local governments. Of course, analysis of a flood control or transportation project does not always insure projects across all public works functions are compared or insist certain areas/regions be neglected if their benefit-cost ratios were low or less than one. Obviously, imbalances between highways and flood control development would not be practicable solely on the basis of the highest benefit-cost projects for all infrastructure, let alone other public programs. Government is not simply maximizing total wealth as a private enterprise would do, but instead it is required to Provide a set of infrastructure necessary for community life
whether or not the best investment return is realized. But given limited resources, the goal of economic rationality may become more desirable for public investment.

In spite of the inference above, it is not the intention of this paper to challenge the use of benefit-cost analysis in infrastructure capital development. None-the-less, there are
both strengths as well as potential in such economic analysis.(2)

Arguments that justify benefit-cost:

  1. Utility of benefits and costs are compared as dollars
  2. Time value of money is expressed by present values
  3. Discount rate is chosen as the best opportunity rate for alternative use of the resources
  4. Net present value calculations can compare projects and determine whether projects should be funded at all

In sum, the analysis can take the capriciousness out of decisions.

Dangers that decrease the value of benefit-cost, even create risk with its use:

  1. Benefits must be reduced to dollars, neglecting some utility that cannot be measured easily with dollars
  2. Benefit calculations are often implied and can be exaggerated
  3. Possible alternative actions are easily neglected
  4. Discount rates affect results of the analysis, slower rates can help justify investments

In sum, the analysis can be misused to support predetermined preferences.

Another issue in capital decisions is how maintenance costs and choices are included in the analysis of public works projects? Commonly an estimated cost for maintenance is included in the benefit-cost calculations over the life of the project. There is some doubt as to whether a serious understanding of maintenance burdens over the life of the facility is developed at the time the capital decision was made. More likely a simple estimate is developed with little thought of alternative maintenance strategies or alternative designs that affect maintenance requirements and costs over time.

In benefit-cost analysis, cost estimates are thought to be more accurate and honest than benefit data. Benefit measurements may well be implied or imputed and contain data which is often subjective and uncertain. For maintenance costs, inaccuracy and uncertainty may creep into the analysis because a serious exploration of the maintenance management task has not been attempted at the early stage of new facility development.

In spite of new infrastructure construction in may parts of the nation, for the most part of public works task is shifting from capital development to maintenance of a decaying infrastructure where planned useful lives of many facilities are being exceeded. As systems decay, capacities are decreased and failures become more frequent. The result is a public not able to finance the necessary rehabilitation to protect their interests and decrease their risks.

Infrastructure Management Today
A thoughtful essay prepared by Royce Hanson entitled “The Next Generation in the Management of Public Works” challenges us to recognize a generation of public works management where the “management of the capital stock will be more important than
adding to it.” He admonishes public works managers:

“Engineers and public works directors think of themselves as builders, not maintainers and managers. They live capital-intensive fantasy lives. Replacing the ‘edifice complex’ with a passion for management will require major changes in the education and acculturation of those who lead public works organization and those who educate them.”(3)

A premise of this research is that the task of maintenance management has not been well developed in the field of public works management. Hanson explains the maintenance immaturity as follows:

“Maintenance has fared poorly in public management for several reasons. There are no well-defined standards …it is hard to measure the impact of preventive and regular maintenance programs-construction has a strong constituency… maintenance has weak public support. The effects of poor maintenance are insidious but slow to become obvious… maintenance is usually supported from general operating revenues and must compete with other higher visibility services… it is, therefore, an easy budget item to cut or constrain …since the effects …are unlikely to show for several years.”(4)

Given this challenge, the purpose here is to comprehend the maintenance management task facing public works managers, to address the methods of analysis used by those at the cutting edge of maintenance technology and to prepare managers for the consultants trying to assist agencies with the management needs for more sophistication in infrastructure maintenance decisions.

Public Works managers have significant choices as they commit resources to maintenance of existing facilities. Several maintenance strategies are available and the management task is to determine which strategy should be applied with what frequency throughout the life of infrastructure systems. A simple set of alternative interventions is listed below, from routine and repetitive preventive maintenance to major and infrequent reconstruction:

  1. Preventive maintenance and inspection of facilities: cleaning, clearing, protecting
  2. Periodic repair of weaknesses or failures: patching, filling, correcting
  3. Rehabilitate or to refurbish: overlay, reline, or reapply
  4. Reconstruct part or all of the system: remove and reconstruct or replace

Managers normally rely on their past practices and intuition with these systems to decide which maintenance strategies are appropriate for each budget cycle. They are faced with political pressure to select particular segments of the infrastructure network for immediate attention, while they have a professional obligation to uniformly and fairly serve user needs. In either event they may not choose an optimal allocation of resources in economic terms or by any other performance standard. A simple economic analysis may not consider the actual utility of system performance to the jurisdiction, because such performance measures can go beyond dollar benefits to more elaborate measures of capacity/convenience, safety/injuries and strength/failure risk which are not easily measured in dollars.

If works managers seek a more sophisticated method, then a “maintenance management system” which includes a technical evaluation of infrastructure performance history, a prediction of system performance under different maintenance strategies and costs can allow a more optimal allocation of maintenance dollars. This does not mean managers’ intuitive should not enter the investment decisions. The collective experience, knowledge and judgment of public works maintenance manager can be captured via “expert systems” and used as input to investment decisions. The ultimate decision ought to be made after seeing the evidence of a maintenance management which can integrate an expert system into the analysis.

The following description captures the momentum of academics, consultants and practitioners who are already engaged in maintenance management systems.

Maintenance Management Systems(MMS)
Public works will need a maintenance management perspective to meld with a capital investment plan. Non-growth communities as well as those cities with aging infrastructure are increasingly obligated maintenance and rehabilitation. Royce Hanson suggests the opportunity for public works managers:

“Faced with less money to replace facilities, managers have begun to perfect their maintenance regimes …with the availability of analysis units, computers and other advanced technology, managers are moving from 2nd generation preventive maintenance programs, based on regular cycles of inspection to condition-based systems that can target maintenance efforts more precisely to areas of greatest need. A number of jurisdictions are also developing guidelines based on analysis of levels of risk to set work priorities and to improve on targeted systems”(5)

A comprehensive MMS allows questions to be fully and analytically examined. What is the best combination of alternative maintenance strategies? Does increased preventive maintenance decrease the frequency of periodic repair? Will more frequent rehabilitation extend the life of the facility and lower the life time cost to the owner? Are minimum performance standards being met regarding capacity, safety and structural integrity? What is the expenditure required each year to obtain the minimum life cycle cost for the desired system performance?

Given accurate initial costs, coupled with life cycle maintenance expenses, public works managers can provide rational recommendations for needed infrastructure investment.

Yet design choices also affect maintenance decisions. Decisions in the design process may reduce the overall maintenance cost or may suggest different maintenance
interventions than expected or traditionally performed by public works managers. It may be better to increase capital costs to save in the long term, defensible only with more elaborate analysis.

MMS goes beyond minimizing cost to include measurement of infrastructure system performance expected with maintenance intervention. Over the last decade an approach to maintenance management has evolved that replaces simple dollar measures of infrastructure benefits. A comprehensive measure of condition and performance can be chosen and observed over time. Engineering studies will predict performance decay rates under usage and maintenance choices. Analysis can then compare maintenance polices to maximize performance for a minimum cost or a predetermined budget.

The following procedure details a generic method for conducting a MMS. It can be applied to any infrastructure system, be it roadways, embankments/levees, channels, pipes,
buildings or equipment. A specific discussion of pavements will be introduced later since roadways have received the most frequent application of MMS methods to date.

A General Maintenance Management Procedure

  1. Assuming the physical system is in place, gather relevant information on its layout and characteristics. Also identify maintenance assumptions in design regarding expected life and planned usage.
  2. Define service parameters for any infrastructure system. Multiple variables can be chosen and integrated into a comprehensive effectiveness measure. Selected parameters may include capacity, comfort, safety and structural integrity. These variables should represent the utility of performance as preferred by the owner jurisdiction, influenced by professional standards. These performance measurers may evolve over time and may include more complex engineering analysis. Generally, an integrated performance measure will be a simple multiple attribute model as shown:


    Where Xi are parameters for quality of the service and Wi are weightings or coefficients chosen by the agency in concert with engineering analysis.

  3. Observe the current condition of the system in terms of the performance parameters. Ideally a history is available to help predict future performance with a particular maintenance strategy for the actual system under its unique environmental and usage conditions.
  4. If an agency’s own performance history is not available because they have not kept necessary records or have not tested their systems with alternative maintenance configurations, they must rely upon research studies which have tested comparable systems under similar environmental situations and demands.(6) Then engineering analysis allows a prediction of performance with different maintenance choices. A conceptual model for expected performance decay and maintenance interventions with minimum standards is demonstrated below:(7)
  5. Given the performance variables and the predicted performance of maintenance programs, it is possible to make choices as to maintenance investments in the short term and long term. The method of selecting projects or areas of your network for interventions can range from a simple ranking procedure to a complex optimization technique. A representation of this analytical continuum follows:
    a) List all projects needed to achieve minimum acceptable performance levels and select by least cost or a heuristic criterion
    b) Rank projects by total performance achieved over time (area under performance curve) and accept all those within the budget
    c) Rank cost effectiveness or total performance area divided by cost for all projects and select within budget limits
    d) Select optimal combination of projects based on performance area and costs, using a mathematical model
  6. Implement the desired investment policy over several years through a work scheduling and control system. Establish an information system to record data on the resources expended on maintenance projects (actual costs of equipment, labor and materials), including productivity data. Conduct surveys on facility condition to verify predicted performance. This validation step also provides information to revise the methodology in subsequent years.

Measurement of Present Serviceability

Applying Maintenance Management to Pavements
Pavements are a common usage of MMS because they exist everywhere, in highways, bridges, streets, airports/seaports and parking lots. Pavements represent a large portion of public works investment than any other pubic facility. Pavements provide direct, immediate economic benefit to the concern unity, thus they receive the fist and most attention.

It is relatively easily to observe and feel the physical conditions of pavements and the public may demand quick fixes to the potholes, cracks and rough surfaces. Many research and professional organizations have done much on pavement maintenance strategies but this research has received minimal development and application. Public works mangers need to learn how to put these ideas and research results into practice.(8)

To begin a pavement management system(PMS) the search for performance measure is the initial step. The research have established a very similar integrated performance measure or present serviceability index(PSI).(9) This approach integrates several parameters into an overall performance measure. For instance:

PSI = f(riding comfort, skid resistance, structural strength, visual condition)

Riding quality or comfort had correlate well with PSI according to AASHO highway research.(10)


Major Types of Pavement Outputs

These individual parameters can be weighted according to the choice of agency. To some managers the strength parameter is more important to their decision making.

On the bases of engineering research pavement serviceability can be related to technical design measurements. Without presenting the precision mathematical expression, the following function has been developed empirically:(11)

PSI = f(pavement structure, regional climate factor, soil support value, number of design axle loads)

Agencies must find the commitment to observe the chosen parameters over the usage history of their pavements. While this is a task they ought to be able to conduct themselves, most will need to be trained. Some smaller communities may continually need assistance.(12)

Predicting performance of a pavement under environmental conditions and usage is essential, yet by far the most technically demanding part of PMS. It is beyond this paper to capture the engineering research and analysis involved in establishing the relationship with pavement overlays, patching, seal coating or reconstruction and the expected performance over time after maintenance actions. This is a critical part of this method and will depend on an engineering analysis and past research results. Significant research has been conducted and agencies, together with consultants in PMS, will need to rely on the work of the Army Corps of Engineering and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.(13)

To help comprehend the analysis involved in pavement management investment choices, a simplified example from the book by Haas and Hudson is presented.(14) Performance curves and cost calculations are shown on the figures which follow. The example proposes 3 alternative rehabilitation strategies, essentially using different pavement overlay thickness. The performance profiles in the first figure displays the rates of performance decay expected, which would be based on surveys and research information.

Analysis of Pavement Management Investment Choices

Summary of Cost Calculations for Three Sample Alternative Pavement Rehabilitation Strategies

In this example the utility of serviceability has been converted to reduced costs to users. These benefits or cost savings are different for the 3 alternative strategies. This approach requires the agency or their consultant to convert improvements to reduced costs. But the credibility of this conversion remains questionable and further work must be done to develop adequate information to convince managers and political leadership. All agency and user costs are then discounted to present values, very much like a benefit-cost approach. While the figures demonstrate the cost analysis, the risk of faulty calculations of user costs remains.A preferred approach because of the weakness of benefit or cost savings calculation would not assign dollar values to pavement performance but would maximize the level of PSI over the life of the facility, choosing the strategy with the largest area under the PSI curve.(15)

In this case, the objective would be the maximum performance for the minimum cost over some period of time. This could be achieved analytically by ranked comparison of the performance-cost ratios for a finite number of alternative maintenance treatments within a given budget: A more elaborate approach could use an optimization model like linear programming to provide the maximum performance for a mix of projects within a budget constraint or another version of a LP model would minimize total cost over time, constrained by required minimum serviceability levels across part of all of the network.

Choices for conducting a PMS and its required engineering studies and management analyses are the responsibility of the public works manager. Before making a budget recommendation, each manager ought to comprehend methods, data requirements, performance variables, research inputs and determine the staff and computer resources needed to complete the process.

Critical Questions for Maintenance System Managers
From the perspective of the public works manager, several questions and related policy issues are addressed. The following arguments are ordered according to the generic MM procedure introduced before.

  1. How is the agency’s infrastructure system performance being measured? Let it be a conscious choice of the management and not simply an acceptance of an engineering text or computer program. Of course, for any performance measures chosen, it must be possible to relate maintenance strategies and to decay of the system serviceability over time.
  2. Historical records of infrastructure systems provide a necessary start toward understanding MMS and achieving an analysis which is rational. Given the technical sophistication and an era of privatization, most will need to hire a consultant to survey systems, train staff and conduct analysis. While taking advantage of the consultant’s experience, can public works agencies develop the internal skills to gather information, comprehend the approach and the analysis and build the computer data bases needed?
  3. Since the most difficult part of the process in the determination of performance decay rates for systems under different maintenance applications, most agencies will need to rely on research of others and use consultants to develop these relationships. Managers can become technical critics at this stage, using their engineering and administrative staff to insure understanding and prevent domination by technicians and consultants.
  4. Decisions about the economic or analytical methods used to finally choose a set of maintenance projects is the burden of public works managers. In reality, many agencies will choose a simple ranking of projects by cost, possibly with some heuristic rule for selecting projects within the budget constraint. A simple approach results for a variety of reasons. First simplicity readily allows political input: second, managers may not understand the methods: third, data availability may limited analysis and, finally, the cost of elaborate analysis is often unacceptable? Managers need to recognize their obligation to choose the method used to select projects when they enter into an agreement with a consultant.
  5. Project cost control is always desirable for budget responsibility, but a valuable payoff of a comprehensive cost accounting record goes beyond fiduciary control. Such data is essential to provide information to validate MMS decisions. Were the costs predicted in design or in the maintenance decision stage accurate? This same control system can include observation of infrastructure facility serviceability, also critical to validation of the MMS methodology.

An Inundation of Consultants
At every turn, public works managers have opportunities to acquire a consultant’s service to assist them with a MMS, for almost every infrastructure system they manage. The APWA package called PAVER can be an alternative to consultants. (16) During the preparation of this article, MMS consultants contacted were quite hesitant to share information about their methods and computer packages. They do consider the information proprietary and welcome the purchase of services to get access to their computer program.

An argument for open sharing of computer packages is not being made. Since most public works organizations could not accomplish maintenance management without consultant assistance, the availability of consultant services and their price will affect usage. Since wider use is encouraged, some means need to be developed to distribute the potential of MMS to the broader public works community at a reasonable cost. Hopefully, this manuscript will contribute to that end.

Nonetheless, there are some issues to be raised as practitioners are considering consultant packages. Managers who consider consultant services are acquiring both a method of determining maintenance investment, as well as a computer package for handling data, conducting analysis and producing reports.

To begin, any computer package ought to be judged by at least these criteria:

  1. What hardware storage capacity and processing speed is needed?
  2. How does the program interface or network with existing information systems and formats in your organization?
  3. Is the program user friendly, does it contain menus for clear options and ease of execution?
  4. Is the personnel training required kept to a minimum, are manuals available?
  5. Is technical assistance readily available and at what cost?
  6. Does the program accomplish the needed tasks you had predetermined?

As important as these initial questions, there are further issues managers face with MMS:

  1. onsidering the balance between the agency’s own efforts and those of the consultant, can the agency minimize costs with certain tasks completed by agency staff? Field testing, data collection and even report generation may be done in house, serving to increase the knowledge of the agency and reduce costs.
  2. Can the agency adapt the program to fit special needs and existing information systems? It is acceptable if the agency’s present project, work schedule and cost accounting record systems must be recreated in the format of the consultants’ computer package?
  3. Are there options used for comparing performance and costs when selecting maintenance strategies and work projects? This critical part of maintenance investment recommendations is often not considered seriously by public works managers.

It is not expected that all agencies and computer packages will achieve sophisticated methods of analysis. While there may be little additional payoff compared to less sophisticated methods, even a small marginal benefit can save millions of dollars over the life of these expensive capital projects. Also the cost rises when computer packages are more complex and demand better hardware capacity, speed and processing. Many users of computer services are not ready to comprehend high sophistication in analysis, so there is a tendency by managers and consultants alike to choose a method that is understandable by all actors in the policy making process. The goal of optimality in maintenance investment decision making remains an issue to be recognized by managers as they embark on a MMS.

In general, a consultant can do it all for you. For most agencies, asking the above questions will cause them to take actions to save consulting dollars and enhance their ability to
eventually more of the work themselves.

Conclusion and Opportunities
MMS provides a focus on infrastructure and public works management at the right time and brings the right solution to a national problem. With aging facilities and maintenance neglect, public managers have the opportunity to address the political lethargy. If they develop management systems, gather data, conduct analyses, they can offer public works investment recommendations that convincingly argue for getting beyond the infrastructure crisis.

No other path seems possible: that is, in absence of the management methods presented here, no progress on infrastructure seems likely and the public will continue to be placed at increasing risk when using our public works. More use of private consultants will likely result in acceleration of change and technological innovation in public works.

MMS have been installed by many communities in this nation whose managers have been willing to pursue an innovative approach. The large number of consultants could not survive if many public works managers were not taking the leap. How these managers are actually using MMS should be the focus of substantial research by all academics concerned with infrastructure as well as APWA, the professional association of public works managers. Civil engineering and public management disciplines ought to join together to raise the national consciousness about infrastructure condition and the methods and criteria used to make these public policy decisions.(17)

No doubt there will not be sufficient funds forthcoming to bring infrastructure conditions up to ideal standards any time some. Therefore, it is even more critical that the best decision models are available to the policy process to seek the maximum performance for limited dollars and to create the most convincing case in this national political neglect.

There has been much written to suggest new institutional, financial and managerial innovations to address the infrastructure issue. This presentation offers an approach, an innovation for many public works organizations, that can improve public policy making without demanding significant additional workers or management resources. No new administrative units, no structural change in government or new legislation is proposed. Rather the message is simply concerned with the managerial method of making budget recommendations for public works maintenance expenditures.

None-the-less, this approach to maintenance management may surface the need for increased budget dollars to achieve the minimum standard of infrastructure performance, let alone to achieve the optimal long term performance-cost. In addition, this analysis of total life cycle costs will suggest the need to reconsider design standards and assumptions. It will focus managers and policy makers on the main policy issues and make the need for infrastructure investment more manageable. Whether or not increased funding is received in the short term to begin to overcome weak performance, all this research asks is that the condition of infrastructure and the consequences of investment be made clear and open to public debate.


  1. Pat Choate-and Susan Walter, America in Ruins, Council of Planning Agencies, 1981
  2. See the critique of benefit-cost in “The Economics of Planning and Managing Public Investments”, Ch.4, Vaughn and Pollard, Rebuilding America, Vol. 1, 1984
  3. Royce Hanson, The Next Generation in the Management of Public Works, National Academy of Public Administration, Washington DC, November 4, 1987, p. 40
  4. Ibid, p. 21
  5. Ibid, p. 26
  7. Ralph Haas and W. Ronald Hudson, Pavement Management Systems, Krieger, 1978, p. 264
  8. TRB, NSF, FHWA, NCHRP, State DOTS and APWA . . . .(PAVER)
  9. Ibid: and Pavement Management Guide, Roads and Transportation Association of Canada, 1977
  10. AASHO tests at UI
  11. Hass, p. 76 R. Yoder and Witsak, Principles of Pavement Design, John Wiley, NY, 2nd edition, p. 508
  12. Haas and Hudson, p. 51
  13. AASHO Road Test etc.
  14. Ibid, pp. 223-226
  15. Pavement Management Guide, p. 3.14
  16. Contact the American Public Works Association’s Research Foundation, Chicago, for information on PAVER
  17. A network of public works management academics have been formed, including faculty from eleven graduate programs in Public Works management recognized by the American Public Works Association. One author, Willard Price, chairs the network. See Graduate Education in Public Works Management: Comparing Recognized Programs, addressing the Maturation of the Field, a report to the American Public Works Association, Graduate Education Committee, September 1990, by Willard Price.

Trends in the National Transportation Policy
by Dennis Polhill
C.E. 170 Transportation Characteristics
Instructor: Professor Athol
December 22, 1975

Table of Contents

I. Setting the Stage
1. Tradition
2. The First Legislation
3. The First Real Effort
4. Decline
5. The Federal Role
6. The “Good Roads” Movement

II. The New Era
1. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1916
2. The Federal Highway Act of 1921
3. The Hayden-Cartwright Act
4. Toll Roads
5. Interregional Highways
6. The War Years
7. The Federal Highway Act of 1944
8. A Financing Problem
9. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956
10. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1958
11. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1961
12. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962
13. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1966
14. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968
15. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1970
16. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973

Long Distance Telephone interviews

I. Setting the Stage

1. Tradition

In early England monasteries were largely responsible for the maintenance of roadways. After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries (1536-1539) the roads rapidly deteriorated. In 1555 the Parliament instituted “Statute Labor” which required four days work per year upon the roads by every parishioner. This is the source of the common law concept which has carried through to the American system. The effectiveness of this system was identified early in the history of the United States and adjustments were proposed.. In 1785 George Washington proposed abandonment of county- controlled statute labor in favor of contract work directed by a central authority. Governor Livingston of Pennsylvania in 1791 proposed that each county establish its own maintenance force to be paid by county taxes to “work faithfully instead of the ridiculous frolic of a number of idlers.”

2. The First Legislation

The first American road legislation was passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1632. The Act was three lines and provided merely that roadways should be built.

The second action was taken in 1639 by the colony of Massachusetts. It was significant in that it was the first to mention right-of-way widths. In 1664 New York passed roadway legislation which specified standards (i.e., ten foot roadway width, stumps cut close to ground, and bridged). In 1704 the Maryland colony passed a law similar to New York’s with the addition of roadway markings (notches in trees).

In 1743 a charter was granted to the Ohio Company (private enterprise) to make a road across the mountains to the confluence of the Monongahela and Kanawha Rivers. This was the road which was used by General Braddock in 1755 during the French and Indian War. In 1758 General John Forbes made another road through Bedford and Ligonier for his successful assault on Ft. Duquesne in Pittsburgh. In 1775 the Transylvania Company was chartered with the purpose of making the wilderness road through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. Most American roads at the time of the revolution were mere pack trails. A few, mostly those mentioned above, were wide enough for wagons. Pounded stone was not implemented until 1832 and wood planks were not used until 1835.

3. The First Real Effort

After the Revolutionary war the federal government was interested in the development of roads for the purpose of maintaining the unity of the nation. As a carry-over from English common law local authorities were responsible for road repair. Local agencies demanded help from the States. The States were unable to help due to their war debts. Therefore, state governments met the challenge by chartering private turnpike companies with the authority to build roads and charge user tolls. Virginia granted the first such charter in 1785 but Pennsylvania rapidly became the leader in 1791 by adopting a statewide transportation plan for 68 road and navigation improvements. In 1808 the Secretary of the Treasury reported to Congress that Connecticut had 50 turnpike companies and 770 miles of road, and New York had 67 companies and 3,110 miles of road. Some turnpike companies were subsidized by the States through stock purchased on tax exemptions. Many were able to profit up to 15 percent per year, the maximum legal limit.

Four main transmountain roads were built to meet the demand for westward migration. The Lancaster Pike was ex-tended to Pittsburgh. In New York a road was built from Massachusetts to Lake Erie. The Cumberland Road was built. from the Head of Navigation on the Potomac River (Cumberland,

Maryland) to the Head of Navigation on the Ohio River (Wheeling, West Virginia), The Northwest Turnpike was built from Winchester, Virginia to a point on the Ohio River.

4. Decline

The Railroads came into the picture about 1830. By 1850 only a few turnpike companies and transportation companies had not yet gone bankrupt due to competition from the railroads. The growth of roadways, had reached a peak.

Turnpike companies stopped maintenance. Travelers refused to pay tolls because of the condition of the roads. Responsibility for roadways fell back to state and local agencies who were able to do little. The period from 1850 to 1900 has been labeled the “dark age of the rural road.” Basically the only new roads built during this period under federal subsidy were military wagon roads built by the Army Corps of Engineers primarily in the territories.

5. The Federal Role

In 1796, Colonel Ebenezer Zane chose his revolutionary war veteran bounty land warrant at the juncture of the Muskingum, Hockhoeking, and Scioto Rivers. He received special permission from Congress to make a post road from Limestone, Kentucky (now Maysville) to Wheeling, West Virginia. This was the first instance of subsidy by the federal government for roads. Zane’s trace, like the others started out as a pack trail, but its economic significance was rapidly identifiable. Heavy traffic caused Zane’s road to be chopped out wide enough for wagons by 1803.

In 1803 Congress passed the 5 per cent law. A fund was established in-which 5 per cent of revenues generated from the sale of federally owned public lands was deposited. Three per cent was granted to the States upon admission to the Union for roads, canals, levees, river improvements and schools. Two per cent was used for constructing roads “to and through” the west. -All 33 states admitted between 1820 and 1910 were subject to this law except Texas and West Virginia,”-which had no federal lands.

The two per cent is the interesting part. In 1806 Congress authorized these funds to be used for the construction of the Cumberland road, one of the four transmountain roads. Bitter debate developed in and out of Congress..

Strict constructionists to the constitution denied that the federal government had the authority to build roads, except in territories. Article X of the Bill of Rights, “The Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Proponents of federal road building prevailed by citing the “General Welfare” clause of the Constitution. By 1813 the Cumberland road was open from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia. The road became so heavily used that appropriated funds were not sufficient for maintenance. Congress took action by authorizing tolls in 1822. President Monroe vetoes the act stating that collection of tolls implied a power of jurisdiction which Was-not granted to the federal government by the Constitution. In 1835 the Army Corps of Engineers conducted major repair and rebuilding after which the road was turned over to the States for operation as a toll facility.

In 1823 Congress granted Ohio a 120 foot R.O.W. and one mile of public land on each side to finance a road from eastern Lake Erie to the Western Reserve. In 1827 Congress subsidized a toll turnpike in Ohio from Columbus to Sandusky.

In 1827 Indiana used its land grant money to build the “Michigan Road” from Lake Michigan to Indianapolis and then to Madison.

In 1830 President Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill funding the Mayville turnpike in Kentucky stating and set-ting the national policy that “Internal improvements of a purely local character are not of national importance.” This reasoning negates the claim of highway proponents under the “General Welfare” clause leaving the “police powers” (State’s Rights) clause to prevail.

All subsequent federal legislation, even during the heavily liberal periods before World War I and during the depression, have been very careful not to challenge the precedents set by these two presidential vetoes. It will be interesting to-see what, if anything, evolves as a result of the 1974 Federal-Aid Highway Amendments signed into law by President Ford, January 5, 1975, which open the Highway Trust Fund to off-system projects.

6. The “Good Roads” Movement

The interest in good roads was revitalized in the 1880’s through the lobbying power of the League of American Wheelmen and other cyclist groups. In 1893 Congress established the office of Road Inquiry. The office had a budget of $10,000, one agent, and one clerk; was organized under the Department of Agriculture; and was to “make investigations in regard to the best methods of road making, (and) to prepare publications….suitable for…. disseminating information on this subject.”

Briefly, the Office of Road inquiry became the office of Public Road Inquiry in 1899, the office of Public Roads in 1905, the office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering in 1915, the Bureau of Public Roads in 1919. In 1939 the Bureau of Public Roads became the Public Roads Administration under the Federal Works Agency. In 1949 the Federal Works Agency was abolished. The Public Roads Administration became the Bureau of Public Roads again, temporarily under the General Services Administration (7/1/49 – 8/20/4.9) and finally under the Department of Commerce. In 1966.the Department of Transportation was established. The Bureau of Public Roads was transferred under this consolidation move and became the Federal Highway Administration.

In 1895, four passenger cars were registered in the United States. By 1900, 8,000 were on the roads. By 1910 there were 458,000. In 1904 the first complete inventory of public road mileage was conducted by the office of Public Road Inquiry. The United States had 2,151,570 miles of road.

Only 153,662 miles were improved with stone, gravel, or sand- clay surfaces. (A few were even better: the first brick street was constructed in Charleston, West Virginia in 1872; the first rock asphalt street was constructed in Newark, New Jersey in 1870; the first sheet asphalt street was constructed in Washington, D.C, in 1879.1 Not included in the total was 1,101 miles of stone surface toll roads in Pennsylvania and 497 miles of toll roads in Maryland. Ninety-three per cent of the nation’s roads were dirt paths. In 1891 New Jersey was the first state to pass a State-Aid Bill. It was also the first state to allow local governments to utilize debt services for road projects. By 1917 all states had adopted State-Aid legislation for roads. Roy Stone, first Head of the Office of Road Inquiry recommended that “object lesson roads” (experimental/demonstration) be constructed. Stone got approval but his budget remained at $10,000. He was forced to go to private and local sources for funds. Stone resigned in 1893. Martin Dodge, the new Director continued the demonstration road program. The “object lesson” concept was successful. Once it became widely known that “good roads” were a potential reality, the clamor increased. Congress would have to do something.

Even the railroads, secure in their position as the backbone of the American transportation system, got on the good roads bandwagon. The railroads had learned a hard economic lesson by yielding to pressures to build spur routes and duplicate parallel routes which never provided profits. The railroads were anxious to provide service to those unprofitable tributary routes through other means.

Finally, in 1912 Congress authorized $500,000 for an experimental program of rural post-road construction. It is interesting to note at this late date how cautious Congress is with regard to the precedents set by the vetoes of Presidents Monroe and Jackson. Under Article I, Section 8, Para-graph 7 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress is specifically delegated responsibility for postal roads. In fact, the appropriation was made through the Post Office Appropriation Act and States were required to come-up with two-thirds of the project costs. Only 17 states took advantage of the program. This was the only one of 60 federal monetary aid bills to pass in 1912. Consequently a Joint Congressional Committee was appointed to determine if and how federal funds could be used to aid highway construction. The report was submitted in 1915 and resulted in the passage of the Shackleford Good Roads Bill.

II. The New Era

1. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1916

In 1916 Congress parsed the Shackleford Good Roads Bill, better known as the Federal Aid Road Act. This Legislation was revolutionary in concept and established the be-ginning of a new era in transportation. The Act circumvented established precedents by making the program optional to the States on the basis-of a 50 – 50 matching funds relationship. Each State was required to establish a state highway department capable of administering the funds. States received apportionments on the basis of formulas weighted by area, population, and rural mail route mileage (still relying on the post-road responsibility of Congress). The States retained the initiative and prerogative in proposing roads and types of improvements, the responsibility for surveys, plans, specifications, right-of–way acquisition, and contract administration. No tolls could be charged. Ownership and maintenance responsibility remained with the State. This act set the pattern for all highway legislation of the future.

The century long debate over the nature and intent of the Federal-State relationship had,~ in all practicality, been resolved. During conservative periods attempts have been made to swing back to the transitional “Federalism:” late 1920’s Eisenhower administration, Nixon administration; but it is unlikely that this will ever be successful.

The traditional interpretation of federalism as a strict division of responsibilities between the Federal and State Governments had been adjusted to, but not yet labeled, the “New Federalism.” The “New Federalism” is difficult to define but is generally described as a mixture of responsibilities, similar to a marble cake.

2. The Federal Highway Act of 1921

The Federal-Aid Road Act of 1916 authorized $5,000,000; $10,000,000; $15,000,000; $20,000,000; $25,000,000 for fiscal .,years 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920 and 1921 respectively. The pro-gram was an astounding success. However, in 1917 the United

States found itself in the midst of World War I. It was quickly discovered that the railroads were not capable of handling the increased demand for transport of war material. The trucking-industry was born. In one year the number of trucks in the country doubled. There were no load limits and during the spring thaw of 1918 even the best roads deteriorated. The poor condition of the roads and fuel restrictions helped trucking for hire to thrive.

After the war, road builders and truck manufacturers agreed on a truck capacity of 7 1/2 tons. The post office appropriation act of 1920 authorized $200,000,000 of additional funding for the 1916 road act. Also $139,000,000 worth of surplus war material and equipment was distributed among the State Highway Departments. The railroads were helped back on their feet by the Transportation Act of 1920. The Federal-Aid Highway Act was about to lapse. Another highway act was necessary to continue the program. The Federal Highway Act of 1921 was passed. A major provision of this act was the requirement that all State Highway Departments designate a system of principal roads which would be eligible for federal aid funds. The “Federal-Aid System” was limited to seven per cent of the total mileage in each state and subject to approval of the Bureau of Public Roads (to assure continuity between states). Congress appropriated $75,000,000 for fiscal 1922.

3. The Hayden-Cartwright Act

The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1934, better known as the Hayden-Cartwright Act, is significant in that it allowed the use of federal matching funds up to one and a-half per cent for surveys, plans, and engineering investigation. Highway planning was born. During the next two years, 1934 and 1935, Herbert S. Fairbank, Deputy Commissioner for Research of the Bureau of Public Roads became a strong and outspoken advocate of “Planning for Planning.” He is called the Father of Highway Planning. His recommended inventories required a great deal of man power. Under the National Recovery Act, manpower was made available for both highway work and planning. Requirements for state matching funds were temporarily lifted so that work could continue.

It was estimated that for each person working on the highways two other people were employed in the manufacture and trans-port of needed material and equipment. With the inclusion-of “WPA” funds, appropriations during the ’30’s went as high as $1.2 billion per year.

4. Toll Roads

During the 1930’s the Pennsylvania Turnpike was constructed between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. It was planned and built by special state authorities, which used private engineering firms and financed the project with revenue bonds. During World War I2, heavy military use of the road proved valuable both to the turnpike authorities and the military. Increased traffic allowed the revenue bonds to be retired early and expeditions movement of war goods aided the military. This, with the increase in traffic after World War II stimulated growth of toll roads in several states.

5. Interregional Highways

The value of the Pennsylvania Turnpike was recognized before the war. In 1938 Congress directed the Bureau of Public Roads to study the feasibility of a toll-financed system of six superhighways. The report, “Toll Roads and Free Roads” was presented to Congress in 1939. The report stated that a 14,000 mile toll road system as suggested by Congress would not be self-supporting. The report went on to document the need-for a system of interregional super-highways with connections through and around cities. A 26,700 mile system was proposed with the suggestion that the federal government contribute more than the traditional 50 per cent federal share. In 1941 President Roosevelt appointed a National Interregional Highway Committee headed by Thomas MacDonald, Commissioner of Public Roads to look more closely at the concept. The value of the Hayden-Cartwright Act and Herbert Fairbank’s inventory of data for planning was realized. -In addition, Congress in 1943 requested the Bureau of Public Roads to make a study of the need for a nationwide expressway system. In 1944 a single joint report was submitted to Congress entitled “Interregional Highways.” The study considered many alternatives and recommended a 39,000 mile optimum network. The report called for “high standards of geometric design” and full access control. No cost estimate was made, but a $750,000,000 per year post war expenditure was suggested.

6. The War Years

A Federal Highway Act was passed in 1940 but little of the apportioned funds were utilized due to World War II.

In 1941 (less than three weeks before Pearl Harbor) Congress passed the Defense Highway Act. It authorized 75 per cent participation by the federal government but approved only projects on a designated strategic highway network. Roads which provided access to military establishments were subject to 100 per cent participation. In 1943 Congress amended the

Defense Highway Act so as to authorize expenditure of funds still remaining under the 1940 Highway Act. For the first time federal funds were allowed for right-of-way acquisition. The funds were used only for PS & E (plans, specifications and estimates) and for R.O.W. acquisition for two reasons: (a) critical material was needed for the war effort, and (b) Congress wanted to generate a reservoir of plans in order to start highway construction immediately after the war.

7. The Federal Highway Act of 1944

The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944 required the designation of a “National System of Interstate Highways” not to exceed 40,000 miles. The Act also authorized $500,000,000 per year for the first three years after the war. The funds were restricted to a 45:30:25 ratio for primary, secondary and urban extensions, respectively. This distribution was later labeled the “ABC Program” and the ratio remained until-1973. The Act retained the provision which allowed the use of federal funds for right-of-way acquisition and established as a prerequisite to federal aid that traffic control devices must conform with uniform standards. The indirect or passive nature of this last requirement reflects the continued reluctance of Congress to confront the constitutional question of State’s rights. No funds were specifically designated for interstate construction.

On August 2, 1947, selection of the general locations of the interstate routes was announced. Much discussion between theStates, the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Public Roads had gone into the selections. A total of 37,700 miles was recommended. The remaining 2,300 miles authorized by Congress was reserved for auxiliary urban routes.

8. A Financing Problem

In 1952 the Federal Aid Highway Act authorized $25,000,000 specifically for the interstate system and equal amounts for 1954 and 1955. The 1954 Federal Aid Highway Act authorized $175,000,000 for 1956 and 1957 respectively. for the interstate system at 60 per cent participation. The program was ineffective. Federal authorizations were too small and States were unable to finance their portion. The first interstate highway cost estimate was $11.3 billion in 1949. At this rate, the interstate system would never have been completed. The cost estimate was increasing faster than the system was being built.

In 1953 the House Subcommittee on Roads conducted hearings and published the “National Highway Study.” The automobile manufacturer’s association had just completed a study which indicated that unsafe and inadequate highways were costing the nation’s motorists at least 3 billion dollars per year. In 1954 President Eisenhower described a “properly articulate highway system” in his message to the Governors’ Conference. In response the Governors’ Conference directed its Committee on Highways to prepare a special report to the President. The Kennon Committee Report went to the President with the message that the national government should assume primary responsibility for financing the interstate system. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1954 directed the Bureau of Public Roads to make several extensive studies. One of these was the “Needs of the Highway System, 1955 – 1984” (March 1955) estimated the cost of the interstate system at $23.2 billion. Another was “Process and Feasibility of Toll Roads and their Relation to the Federal Aid Program” (April 1955). This report indicated that 6,700 miles could be financed by tolls; but that widespread interest in toll roads would soon end.

After the report from the Kennon Committee, Eisenhower” appointed the Advisory Committee on a national highway program, better known as the Clay Committee for its chairman. The Committee report “A 10-year National Highway Program” was presented to Congress in February 1955. This report set the estimate at $27 billion and recommended a 90 per cent ($25 billion) share for the federal government. The interstate system was to be constructed over a 10 year period and was to be financed by $20 billion of long-term bonds-which would have been-.repaid over a 32 year period from the existing 2-cent federal motor-fuel tax. Congress was not happy with the report: (a) the proposal placed a 32 year ceiling on ABC programs; (b) it would cost $12 billion in bond interest, and, (c) it removed fiscal control of the program from the hands of Congress.

Early in 1955 bills were introduced into both the House and Senate, but no legislation resulted. Although nearly all factions were in favor of the interstate programs, there was lack of agreement and compromise.

9. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956

By the time Congress returned in 1956 pressure of public opinion had increased. Differing factions were ready for compromise. The pay-as-you-go concept was agreed upon.

A house bill was passed 4/17. It was amended and passed in the Senate 5/29. A compromise bill was developed by 6/25 and passed both houses on 6/26 by overwhelming majorities. President Eisenhower signed the bill 6/29. The National System of Interstate and Defense Highways was born. This Act is actually two acts. Title I is the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Title II is the Highway Revenue Act of 1956.

Title z directs the Secretary of Commerce to cooperate with State Highway-Departments in the establishment of design standards (AASHO and BPR had already begun. The standards were completed and adopted by July 1956). Title I authorized 41,000 miles of interstate. Inclusion of existing toll roads in the interstate system was permitted (federal funds could not be applied to toll roads and the toll roads must be opened to free travel once the bonds are paid off). The Act limited vehicle weights and widths by adopting the AASHO limits or those of the respective state, whichever was higher. The Act expanded on a provision of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1950 which established the requirement for public hearings when by-passing or going through a city. Advanced acquisition of right-of-way was permitted. The federal share was 90 percent. A generous ABC program was continued. The apportionment formula as applied to the interstate was to be changed, effective 1959. Subsequent apportionments would be on the basis of need, so that the entire system would be completed at the same time.

Title II created the funding mechanism which would make the interstate system possible. It created the Highway Trust Fund which is the source of federal matching funds.

Creation of the Trust Fund required several amendments to the Internal Revenue Code. Previously highway funding was taken out of the general budget. Similarly, highway revenues went into the general treasury. The idea behind the fund is simply to separate the highway money from the regular federal budget to require the highway users to pay for the highways. Highway. user taxes were increased for the period 7/1/56 to 6/30/72. The taxes are deposited in the Trust Fund and are administered by the Secretary of the Treasury. If a balance should accrue in the Trust Fund, the money was to be loaned to the general treasury under the same conditions as, but in place of, outside money. By 1969 over $160 million had been generated from interest on the Trust Fund balance. The highway user taxes and the Trust Fund have been one of the most popular taxes ever devised.

10. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1958

In January of 1958, as required by the Act of 1956, the Bureau of Public Roads submitted its first periodic estimate of the cost of completing the interstate system. Over a million man-hours went into preparation of the estimate. This was the first detailed estimate of the entire 41,000 mile system. It came to $37.6 billion (the $10 billion increase was due to four factors: traffic projections, $1.3 billion; local needs (dictated by congressional action), $3.8 billion; construction prices, $4.1 billion; and miscellaneous, $.8 billion). In addition, 1958 was a time of recession. Congress decided to accelerate the highway program as a cure for the economy. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1958 was passed. It increased interstate authorizations from $2 billion to $2.2 billion for fiscal 1959 and to $2.5 billion for each of fiscal 1960 and 1961. To avoid depletion of the Trust Fund the highway user taxes had to be raised in 1959.

11. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1961

The second periodic estimate of the cost of completing the interstate system was presented to Congress in January 1961. Over two million man-hours went into its preparation. $33 billion would be required to complete the system. It confirmed the estimate of 1958. The “Highway Cost Allocation Study” undertaken in 1956 was also presented to Congress in January 1961. The purpose of this study was to recommend a system. of equity by which costs and benefits to highway uses would be matched. The Federal-Aid Highway. Act of 1961 was passed, raising certain highway user taxes, establishing equity among users, and putting the Trust Fund back on a sound basis.

12. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962

The need for an integrated transportation program and in-depth planning became apparent in 1962. AASHO, NACO, and AMA (National League of Cities) launched their “Action Program” which advocated urban transportation planning.

The National Committee on Urban Transportation had been advocating such transportation planning since its creation in 1954 by AMA, ICMA, ASPO, NIMLO, APWA, and MFOA. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962 required a continuous planning program and called for greater cooperation among all levels of government. The Act stipulated that after 7/65 projects would not be approved unless they were based on continuous, comprehensive, and cooperative transportation planning. Congress repeated itself in regard to transportation planning in the Housing Act of 1961 and the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964. There was no question as to the position of Congress in regard to comprehensive, in depth planning, the integration of transportation systems, and cooperation between governments. The 1962 Act also required state highway departments to furnish satisfactory relocation advisory assistance to families displaced by the new interstates.

13. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1966

Four acts of significance to the highway system were passed in 1966. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act identified the necessity “to establish motor vehicle safety standards.” The Highway Safety Act attempted to establish a “coordinated national highway safety program.” It required states to establish an approved highway safety program. The Federal-Aid Highway Act merely appropriated revenues ($3:6 billion each for fiscal 1968 and 1969). The Transportation Act created the Department of Transportation.

14. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968 created the “Traffic Operations Program to increase capacity and safety” (topics). There was $400 million authorized under topics on a 50 – 50 matching basis. Most states added 25 per cent for local governments making the local government share only 25 per cent. The 1968 Act also established appropriations for fiscal 1970 and 1971 of $4 billion each.

15. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1970

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1970 repeated the relocation assistance requirements of the 1962 Act. The relocation requirements were repeated again and expanded to all federal-aid projects by the uniform Relocation

Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act of 1970. Another redundancy appeared on the environmental front.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 establishing the E.I.S. (environmental impact statement) was passed.

The 1970 Highway Act repeated the environmental concern. The 1970 Act changed the participation ratio to 70 per cent federal for ABC programs. Topics was continued. The Trust Fund was extended to 1977 and $4 billion was appropriated for each of fiscal 1972, 1973 and 1974. The Highway Safety. Act was extended as Title II of the 1970 Highway Act. It is interesting to note that the Highway Trust Fund had proved so successful and so popular that in 1970 the Airport and Airway Development Act and the Airport and Airway Revenue Act were passed creating the Airway Trust Fund.

16. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973

The 1973 Highway Act symbolizes the trend of changing priorities as the completion of the interstate system approaches and as the need for integrated transportation is recognized. Appropriations had peaked. The 1973 Act authorized only $3.25 billion each for fiscals 1975 and 1976.

The topics program was discontinued. In place of topics section 230 authorized off-system projects to eliminate safety hazards. Section 301 increased the appropriation under the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 from $3.1 billion to $6.1 billion with 80 per cent federal participation from the Trust Fund. Section 124 opened the Trust Fund for bikeways and walkways: “sums appropriated …. shall be available for bicycle projects and pedestrian walkways…..”

The ABC (45:30:25) ratio was changed and federal participation on ABC projects was increased to 90 per cent.

The major change under the Federal-Aid Highway Amendments of 1974 was an additional provision for off-system projects. “These new funds may be used on any rural road or bridge which is toll free and not on a federal-aid system, and which is under the jurisdiction of and maintained by a public authority and open to public travel. The funds may not be used within the boundaries of any urban area with a population of more than 50,000.”

In the colonial period the emphasis was; against roads.

Roads could be used by the Indians and, therefore, were a liability. Most of the first roads were made by Armies as a necessity for making attacks. As the Indian threat decreased and as the population increased, crude roads, often only pack-trails were established. After the Revolutionary War there was a strong movement to provide roads and canals in an effort to tie the nation together, promote westward growth, and strengthen the economy through internal flow of goods. These roads were primary provided by creating private turnpike companies. With the development of the railroads about 1830 both the roads and the canals declined. The railroads maintained total dominance of the transportation picture until after 1900. The clamor for good roads by cyclists and the development of the automobile caused Congress to act. Legislation was passed in 1916 which allowed federal aid for highways without infringing on states rights. During World War I the importance of the automobile was realized and the highway program was accelerated. During the depression the highway program was accelerated even more in an effort to revive the economy. The highway system was doing so well that some thoughts were given to higher ideas such as planning and a nationwide system of superhighways. After World War II highway development was accelerated to provide the transition from war economy to peace economy. In-depth studies were conducted into the feasibility of an interstate system. In 1956 the Highway .Trust Fund was created and the interstate system was under way, top priority. The interstate system can be,attributed much of the credit for the booming economy of the 1960’s. The interstate produced a cost/benefit ratio of 2.9 on the basis of direct savings to uses along.

The peak has passed. The interstate is 87 per cent complete. Appropriations for highways has begun to decrease. What is in store, as evidenced by the planning requirements of the 1962 Highway Act and the increasing diversity of allowable applications of Trust Fund money by the 1970, 1973, and 1974 Highway Acts, for the future is a less concentrated, more general, integrated transportation policy. .


“Highways to Nowhere” by Richard Hebert, 1972.

“Mankind on the Move” by Christy Borth, 1969.

“Transportation Geography” by Michael Hurst, 1974.

“Future Highways and Urban Growth” by Wilbur Smith and Associates, 2/61.

“American Highway Policy” by Charles L. Dearing, 1941.

“Road to Ruin” by A.Q. Mowbray, 1969.

“Transportation Century” by George Mott, 1966.

“Locational Analysis” by Curtis C. Harris, Jr. and Frank E. Hopkins, 1972.

“The Urban Economies, 1985” by Curtis C. Harris, Jr., 1973.

“National Transportation Policy in Transition” by Herman Mentins, Jr., 1972.

“The Freeway in the-City” by the Committee of Urban Advisors for the FHWA, 1968.

“Traffic Operations Program to Increase Capacity and Safety (TOPICS): A Policy Evaluation” (Masters Thesis) by David Wright, 1969.

“Quarterly Report on the Federal-Aid Highway Program” by Norbert T. Tiemann, Administrator, FHWA, U.S. DOT, June 30, 1975 (released August 27, 1975).

“The Benefits of Interstate Highways”. by FHWA, U.S. DOT, 6/70.

“Social and Economic Effects of Highways” by the Socio Economic Studies Division, Office of Program and Policy Planning, FHWA, U.S. DOT, 1974; and the 1975 Supplement Thereto

“Highway Planning Technical Report – Financing Federal-Aid Highways – An Amplification” 7/74 by FHWA, U.S. DOT.

“The 1974 National Highway Needs Report” 1/31/75, by FFiWA, U . S . DOT. I

“Regional Decision Making: New Strategies for Substate Districts”. Volume I of Substate Regionalism and the Federal System, October, 1973, by the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

“The History and Development of Road Building in the United States” by. Thomas H. MacDonald, October 6, 1926, paper #16-85, A.S.C.E. Transactions.

“United States Government Organization Manual” 1974,

-by The Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Service, Governor Services Administration.

“Highway Statistics Charts” 1973, FHWA, U.S. DOT.

“DOT News” (U.S. Roadway Summary & Distribution) , released 12/31/74, FHWA, U.S. DOT. .

“Federal-Aid Highway Project Procedures” 9/18/74, FHWA,U.S. DOT.

“New ederal Funds for Rural Roads – The Off-System Federal-Aid Highway. Program” 5/75,” FHWA, U.S. DOT.

“The Federal-Aid Highway Program and Federal-State ; Relation ship” 1/75, FHWA, U.S. DOT.

“The- Administration of Federal-Aid for Highways” 1/57,by The Bureau of Public Roads, U.S. Department of Commerce. “Acquiring Your Real Property for Federal-Aid Highways” 8/75 Office of Right-of-Way, FHWA, U.S. DOT.

“History of Public Works in the United States” 1976, E(prepublication draft of Chapters 3 and 4) by APWA.

“The Federal Union” 1964, by Hicks, Mowry, Burke.

“The American Nation” 1965, by Hicks, Mowry, and Burke.

“The Policy Setting: Analysis of Federal-Aid Policy Alternatives” by Richard P. Nathan, Brookings Institute for the U. S. Congress Joint Economic Committee.

“The Highway Trust Fund” 5/69, The American Road Builder, by E. M. Cope (Chief, Highway Statistics Division, Bureau of Public Roads).

“Development of the Interstate Highway System” 8/64, by The Bureau of Public Roads, U.S. Department of Commerce.

“A Brief History of the Federal-Aid Secondary Road Program” 1972, by FHWA, U.S. DOT.

“Pending Legislation Affecting Federal-Aid Highway Programs” 11/?5, APWA Reporter, by Daniel J. Hanson, Sr. (Executive Vice President, American Road Builders Association). .

“Public Roads of the Past.- Historic American Highways” by American Association of State Highway Officials.

“Development of Roads in the United States” by The Bureau of Public Roads.

“Federal-Aid Highway Funding” 5/75, FHWA, U.S. DOT.

“Laws Relating to Federal-Aid in Construction of Roads” 1971, Compiled by The Office of the Federal Register.

Long Distance Telephone interviews

11/6 Management Information Systems, FHWA

11/6 John Sharp, Program Coordinator for Historical Development, FHWA

11/6 Mr. Burdell, Chief of Federal-Aid Division, FHWA

11/6 Richard Wineburg (an Aide to Mr. Burdell)

11/6 DOT Library Information Desk

11/6 Mr. Maloney, Part-Time Historical Consultant, FHWA

11/6 Mrs. Feldman, Public Affairs Office, FHWA

11/6 Mr, Highland, Public Affairs office, FHWA

11/7 Mrs. Ritter, Works for Mr. Maloney

11/10 Dr. Suelleri Hoy, Executive Secretary of American Public Works Association Bicentennial Commission

12/1 Ellis Armstrong, Chairman, APWA Bicentennial Commission

12/9 Mr. Moss, Legislative Aide for Representative Goodloe E. Byron