<em>Patt Morrison</em> is known for its innovative discussions of local politics and culture, as well as its presentation of the effects of national and world news on Southern California.
Hosted by

Will your Prius bankrupt our highways?

Cars congest the 10 Highway in Los Angeles, in this file photo.
Cars congest the 10 Highway in Los Angeles, in this file photo.
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Listen to story

Download this story 6MB

The money that funds America’s highways could completely run out by 2013. What’s the primary cause? In part, fuel efficient cars. Many owners of hybrid or electric cars, such as the Toyota Prius or the Chevy Volt, feel good about driving a modern fuel-efficient vehicle – supporting innovation, helping the environment, or reducing American dependence on foreign oil. However, what many hybrid drivers may not realize is that using a fuel efficient car could literally bankrupt the United States highway infrastructure.

Federal highways are directly funded by taxes paid at the fuel pump that go into a Highway Trust Fund, so the less fuel Americans use, the less money the Federal Highway Administration has to maintain public freeways. The fact that the tax has not been adjusted for inflation since 1993 isn’t helping matters and now the White House is pushing for fuel economy standards to require cars and light trucks to average 54.5 mpg by 2035, which is a much more ambitious plan than officials anticipated.

Some alternative funding systems that have been considered include taxing drivers based on how many miles they drive or tolling motorists who drive during peak hours, but Congress has yet to settle on a solid solution.


Should drivers of fuel efficient cars somehow be forced pay more for using federal highways? If the U.S. cannot raise enough funds to maintain highways through its fuel tax, how else can the necessary revenue be generated? Why is Congress dragging its feet to resolve this issue?


Joshua L. Schank, president, CEO, Eno Center for Transportation

Barry LePatner, author, “Too Big to Fall: America’s Failing Infrastructure and the Way Forward”