One of the elements that has blended into the background for many people when they stop at the gas pump is the matter of taxes.
Nothing more explicit than the phrase “including all taxes” may appear on price signs. A breakdown of what’s collected and for whom may require some digging.
According to data from the American Petroleum Institute, New York state ranks seventh in the nation when it comes to gas taxes collected at the pump, with 64.36 cents per gallon being added to the cost of the fuel. Connecticut is ranked in ninth place at 60.51 cents per gallon.
The highest gas tax is in California at 79.6 cents per gallon. Alaska has the lowest gas tax at 33.06 cents. Included in the numbers is 18.4 cents per gallon in federal tax.
Not all of the money winds up being spent on asphalt.
In New York, 38.5% went to pay for state operations, 24.6% for state debt service and 14.1% for local debt service on average from 2012 to 2019, according to state data. Only 22.7% was spent on capital projects.
“We think that state and local sales taxes should be dedicated to transportation, to road and bridge repair and construction,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., the manager of media relations for AAA Northeast. “Currently, that is not the case.”
Sinclair added that AAA is in favor of a modest increase in the federal gasoline tax. “That money is 100% dedicated in a locked box to transportation and road and bridge construction and repair,” he said.
Christopher Hart, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), told the Business Journal that he foresees a day when the federal and state governments will have to find other sources of revenue to replace gas taxes.
He was in the area for a speech at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens. Hart, who served on the board from 1990 to 1993 and 2009 to 2017, operates the transportation consulting company, Hart Solutions.
“With the electric car there’s going to be less (petroleum-based) fuel, so that’s going to reduce the tax revenue,” he said. “One of the things that I think is going to happen as cars become autonomous is that more will become electric, so that’s going to mean we’re going to have to find another source of revenue to replace that former revenue from gasoline sales.”
Without that, and other sources providing adequate revenue, money to pay for road and bridge maintenance and improvements will be increasingly hard to find.
According to a report released in September by the nonprofit TRIP, 13% of the 2,551 locally and state-maintained bridges in the Hudson Valley are rated poor/structurally deficient. They carry approximately 2.6 million vehicles each day.
For Connecticut, a 2018 study by TRIP showed that the state had 308 bridges classified as structurally deficient, representing 7.2% of the 4,270 bridges in the state.
Hart believes the annual death toll on the nation’s highways, approximately 40,000, amounts to what he called a “public health disaster.”
He recalled that at the NTSB, “What we saw was consistent with the sort of general learning that the infrastructure is long overdue for some serious maintenance.”
He suggested the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could show leadership in pressing for comprehensive work on highway infrastructure, but “I’m not seeing much political will to do that at this point in time.”
The NTSB, responsible for investigating all forms of transportation accidents, has examined its share of highway wrecks and bridge collapses, such as the Aug. 1, 2007 collapse of the eight-lane highway bridge that carried Interstate 35W across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis in which 13 were killed and 145 injured.
Hart suggested that the auto industry could learn a lot about adopting automation from the aviation industry.
“There’s a lot to be gained by eliminating driver input because experts say that 95 or 96% of highway crashes are due to human error,” he said.
“When I was at the NTSB, I remember we investigated a people mover accident at the Miami airport and the people mover was driverless and yet it crashed,” Hart added. “When we dug deeper, we found out that the reason it crashed was because of a maintenance error, so even if you eliminate all the drivers you’re not going to eliminate all of the fatalities, but you can bring that number way, way down.”