Sightline drew attention today to an article that points out that for an expensive stretch of road, the cost of building the road cannot be recovered from the gas taxes generated by traffic on that stretch of road. It’s kind of a specious argument since road funding is kind of like insurance where the cost and benefit are spread across the entire network so asking that every subset pay for itself is naive at best.

But the idea that gas taxes pay for roads is one that comes up frequently in discussions of transportation equity especially between car folks and bike folks. The argument is that people who primarily ride bikes aren’t entitled to use the road network because they don’t pay gas or vehicle taxes.

The fact is that while those revenue sources do contribute to road funding, they are far from the only source. Roads are funded from a complex array of sources. And the real kicker is that it’s different for every state.

Here in the northwest, if you look at funding sources for just local roads and streets you might be forgiven for believing that vehicle-related taxes pay for your roads. In Idaho, Montana, and Washington, 95-100% of local streets are paid for with vehicle and fuel taxes. In California, only 59% with the remainder coming from the general fund. In Oregon, only 47% of the funding comes from fuel and vehicle taxes with the remainder coming from federal sources.

However when you look at highway funding, you find that here in the Northwest less than 50% of funding comes from gas and vehicle taxes. The rest is made up from a melange of other sources: state general funds, bonds, local government funds, and especially federal funds.

What those sources of revenue have in common is that they predominantly come from the pockets of drivers, cyclists, walkers, and bus riders alike.