Monday, February 20, 2012

Gas, Roads and Conspiracies

$4 a Gallon? It’ll be here before you know it.

Reports are coming to & fro about gas prices rising. In fact, they’re the highest they’ve ever been in February. There are lots of reasons for this, of course. Production haults due to nuclear production and the like. There are attacks on the non motorized vehicle related portions of the transportation bill, the transportation enhancements portion. There’s an amendment that would put some of that money back and maintain local control, as well.

There’s also the serious nuts who will tell you that all of this is an attack on their freedom. That it’s a U.N. conspiracy to take away our freedom. This is sad. And small. There are good people who think that 2% of all the money we spend on auto-focused transportation could be used to enhance our trails and provide alternatives to the sprawl that we’ve built up over the last sixty or seventy years (some of us are a two generations away from family who traveled by horse). A few percentage points of these billions of of dollars that will enhance our collective ability to get off our butts and move. Not a bad idea given our 30% obesity rate, putting us in the top (bottom?) 10 in the country. Take a moment to look at that link & see how in 1991 we were under a 10% obesity rate in 1991 and where we are some 21 years later. You think that has anything to do with our addiction to cars and stationary lifestyle owing to poorly built neighborhoods, too often lacking sidewalks and building schools that kids don’t walk to any longer?

But, all of that aside I think the root of the attack on transportation enhancements isn’t just the nuttiness of the Agenda 21 zombies. Rather it’s that the machine needs more money to feed the beast. Highways have long been largely funded by a tax on gasoline that’s been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon. It’s not news that the congress and the country’s are in no mood for a tax hike (those of us in Dogtown excluded) and that's probably a good thing. So, gas prices rise and people travel less. Fewer weekend trips, more strategic trips to the store, more use of public transportation (maybe not so much in Arkansas, but true nationwide) and lo and behold less gas tax collected.

Who suffers most? I submit to you it is rural America who suffers most. It’s simple logistics. They’re further away from goods and services. Often times rural communities are shrinking and thus have less revenue to keep up with infrastructure built for a greater population. And too often it’s these areas that are loudest in their protest against non-vehicle focused transportation. So in the end they’re the ones that will be hurt the most.

Gas isn’t going to stay cheap or more accurately moderately affordable forever. And as the price increases, we’re going to have to make some changes. We can’t start too soon. One way to start is to not spend 100% of our transportation funding roads.

1 comment:

  1. Can I move to Portland now? :P
    I would love to take public transportation, but when it takes longer and costs more than driving (for example, greyhound to Memphis), it's just not practical.