So with gasoline prices hovering around the $4 range the past few months, U.S. drivers are doing the responsible and sensible thing they're not driving as much as they used to. That's exactly what the federal government has been suggesting all along, right? Less dependence on fossil fuels = economic freedom from foreign oil suppliers. And the environmentalists have gotta love the reduction in oil consumption, which translates into fewer (and smaller) vehicles on the highways (safer roads) , cleaner air and less of a chance that global warming will melt the polar icecaps any time soon. People are sticking closer to home, which presumably means local economies will benefit rather than tourist traps. You'd think that, for once, the federal government would sit back and say, "Well done, citizens. You've done what we asked, and for that we are grateful."
Not a chance. Instead, the very fact that we AREN'T gassing up our SUVs like we used to means we're actually putting our national infrastructure at risk because, you see, the taxes we pay on gasoline are used to build and repair roads, bridges, overpasses and other. According to the Wall Street Journal, something like 25% of the bridges in the country are either "functionally obsolete" or "structurally deficient," neither of which sound very much like the kind of bridge I'd want to be driving on.
So, in the grand ol' tradition of robbing Peter to pay Paul, the feds and state governments have come up with a couple plans that'll fill their coffers back up. The obvious solution, of course, is to just tack on a few more pennies, nickels and dimes to the amount they're already taxing us on every gallon of gas. That plan, though, is hampered both by being rather inelegant as well as potentially suicidal for any career politician hoping to get reelected this year.
That leads us to Plan B, another oldie-but-a-goodie: toll roads. In this USA Today article, we learn that the next generation of toll roads is, ummmm, just down the road cashless, all-electronic highways equipped with overhead antennas that can neatly and sweetly ding your pre-paid accounts while you blithely motor on your way. What if you don't have a pre-paid account, you wonder. Ahhhh, that's where the sheer genius of this plan comes in. Thanks to cameras that capture your license plate number, the government will mail you a bill, along with a "small processing fee," which I guess is a new euphemism for "additional tax."
So, if and when these new tollroads are implemented, you'll no longer have to worry about scrounging for the right amount of change to toss into the toll baskets; now, you'll just have to worry about paying your toll fees promptly because if you don't, not only do you get to pay that "small processing fee" but you'll also be assessed an additional late fee (i.e., yet another tax). Or you can just dump a huge amount of your income into a pre-paid toll road account (no word on whether these accounts use pre-tax dollars). Or you can just take mass transit... except, as the WSJ article points out, some commutes have gotten so popular that you can't even squeeze onto the trains or buses any more.