Gasoline Taxes and Bridge Collapses
a tragedy it was when the I-35 Bridge over the Mississippi River in
Minneapolis collapsed. Imagine the sheer terror experienced by the
motorists as the bridge they were driving on began to collapse into the
Mississippi River. In the 1800’s, bridge collapses were not unusual. In
fact, one year, shortly before construction on the Brooklyn Bridge was
approved by President Ulysses Grant in 1869, 40 bridges collapsed. The
reoccurring problem was design flaws. Engineers simply did not have the
design knowledge or the materials available to ensure that bridges would
withstand the weight of the trains and carriages they carried. But this
is more than 100 years later and bridges are not supposed to collapse.
We have the technology and the construction materials they didn’t have
in 1800’s. The investigation results are not in, but I would venture a
guess that it wasn’t a design failure which caused the Minneapolis
bridge to collapse, as was the case with the bridges built in the
1800’s. Quite likely, the cause of the collapse was a maintenance issue.
can’t help but wonder if the collapse of this bridge and the loss of so
many lives is not the direct result of what has happened to the use of
gasoline tax dollars (both state and federal) over the past 30 years.
don’t particularly care for taxes, but I always thought that gasoline
taxes at both the state and federal level came as close as possible to
being the ideal tax. When they were originally instituted many, many
years ago, the law stipulated that every dollar collected be spent
exclusively on highways – maintenance and construction. It was a great
concept, the people who paid gasoline taxes, who drove on the highways
and roads, paid for highway maintenance and construction. It was perhaps
the fairest tax ever instituted in the United States. This was the
policy followed by both states and the federal government regarding the
expenditure of gasoline taxes.
But, you see, you and I view
taxes in a very different way than politicians. Beyond certain
essentials, politicians view tax dollars as a means of getting
re-elected. The French historian, Alexis De Tocqueville, who traveled
the United States in 1831, observed that when American politicians
realized they could perpetuate themselves in power by taxing, spending
and electing, our democracy would be dead. Well, our democracy is not
dead, but when professional politicians, who now populate both political
parties, see the primary purpose of tax revenues as a means of getting
themselves re-elected, it damages all of us. The collapse of the bridge
in Minnesota is a sad example.
The politicians cheered
loudly when they finally broke the highway trust fund in Congress.
Actual cheering occurred because they had opened the door to spending
more money for pork barrel projects and mass transportation that would
generate votes in their home districts. They ignored common sense and
the remarkable fairness of a system that used highway taxes exclusively
to build and maintain highways. Shortly thereafter most states followed
suit and cannibalized gasoline tax revenues for their general treasury.
gasoline taxes, both state and federal, are spent entirely at the whim
of the politicians. Instead of devoting all gasoline tax dollars to
roads and bridges, they are spent on all sorts of silly things to cover
shortfalls in tax revenue caused by irresponsible spending at the state
and national level.
New highway construction could
eliminate much of our stop and go traffic and simultaneously clean
literal tons of pollution from our skies. Better bridge and tunnel
maintenance could eliminate bridge collapses and tunnel problems such as
those that occurred with the big dig. In short, spending gasoline tax
dollars exclusively on highway construction and maintenance would help
us breathe cleaner air and drive over safer bridges.
I’m afraid we will never be able to put that genie back in the bottle.
It’s a shame because congestion has never been worse, there is too much
pollution, and the safety of our bridges, highways, and tunnels has
never been in greater doubt. Much can be said about politicians,
Republican and Democrat, but they will never be accused of having too
much common sense.