The U.S. Department of Transportation reported yesterday that Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer highway miles in April of 2008 than in April of 2007. The report also said that this is the sixth consecutive month of declines and that Americans drove 400 million less miles in April than in March.
As gas prices rise, more Americans are realizing that driving a car isn’t always the best way to get around. They’re fleeing the suburbs, riding more buses and trains, and biking in record numbers.
But even with these changing behaviors, the U.S. DOT Secretary Mary Peters (who famously referred to bike lanes as not being “transportation infrastructure”) can only think of one thing — how to pay for more freeways.
In a statement released by the DOT, Peters said this decline in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) “highlights the need to find a more effective way to fund highway and construction maintenance.”
Instead of talking about how to accommodate this major shift in behavior — by, perhaps, encouraging more funding for non-automotive infrastructure or encouraging Americans to continue their energy-wise mobility choices — Peters’ comments instead treat this like a funding crisis and calls for “a more effective funding source than the gas tax.”
This report is sure to cause even more anxiety from the highway-building establishment. Their cash cow, the Highway Trust Fund is facing bankruptcy as gas tax revenue falls victim to not only decreasing VMT, but also to inflation and rising oil prices (which impacts the price of materials like asphalt).
Also in the statement, Secretary Peters seems to be in denial that people are driving less. She says, “past trends” have shown Americans will continue to drive despite high gas prices (but wait, didn’t this report just say that’s not happening?).
Peters also re-assured automakers by saying that people won’t drive less, they’ll just drive more fuel-efficient vehicles: “History shows that we’re going to continue to see congested roads while gas tax revenues decline even further.”
Peters’ concerns were echoed by Acting Federal Highway Administrator Jim Ray: “As positive as any move toward greater fuel efficiency is, we need to make sure we have the kind of sustainable funding measures in place to support needed highway and transit improvements well into the future.”
This drumbeat from federal bureaucrats will grow even louder in coming months as they position themselves to lobby for expanded highway funding in the upcoming Transportation Bill (set for reauthorization in 2009).
To delve further into the stats from the FHWA’s “Traffic Volume Trends” report, click here.