Is highway spending “conservative”?

April 9, 2008 at 8:41 pm 2 comments

(Jon) And is public transit spending “liberal”?

I’ve been working my way through “Suburban Nation,” and although I consider myself politically conservative, I find this pro-city, anti-sprawl book conversational and convincing. But I might be in the minority among my conservative brethren.

Critical reviews of “Suburban Nation” at call the authors “socialists,” “elitist” and “neo-liberal.” Ouch. But my question is: Why is it “conservative” for city dwellers to help subsidize highways for suburban dwellers, but “liberal” for suburban dwellers to help subsidize transit within the city?

Under the heading “The Automobile Subsidy,” the authors of “Suburban Nation” say:

“government subsidies for highways and parking alone amount to between 8 and 10 percent of our gross national product, the equivalent of a fuel tax of approximately $3.50 per gallon. … The cost of these subsidies — approximately $5,000 per car per year — is passed directly on to the American citizen in the form of increased prices for products or, more often, as income, property, and sales taxes. …

“Because they do not pay the full price of driving, most car owners choose to drive as much as possible.”

The authors compare our current situation to Stalin’s Gosplan,

“a Soviet agency that set arbitrary ‘correct’ prices for many consumer goods, irrespective (sic) of their cost of production, with unsurprising results.”

Can anyone point me to anything that would prove or disprove the authors’ contention that our highways are heavily subsidized way beyond what the government gathers in fuel taxes? Because if the authors are right, then who is conservative, and who is liberal?

— Photo of Markham Bridge in Portland, Ore., by Auraelius on Flickr


Entry filed under: Jon Swerens, Transportation, Urbanism. Tags: , , , , .

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  • 1. Michaelk  |  April 9, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    I love the irony of people who yell at me to “get off their street” when I’m riding my bike. Apparently they operate under the (common) misconception that if I don’t buy gas I don’t pay for the streets.

    Never mind that I also drive.

    It’s less a problem of conservative/liberal than it is of a destructively car-centric culture. It cannot be maintained.

  • 2. Kevin  |  April 11, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Well said. It’s two pretty simple equations for me: Density=conservation. Sprawl=waste.

    How have conservatives become so anti-conservation? Not that many liberals have been much better, at least here in Indiana.

    My favorite mayor in the state is Carmel’s Jim Brainard. He’s a big proponent of new urbanism for infill projects, and downtown Carmel has really thrived because of it. I also liked Indy’s mayor, but unfortunately he caught the brunt of an anti-incumbent sentiment, so now we have a much less progressive “accidental” mayor. Bloomington has also seen some nice new infill, but continues to sprawl on its outskirts.


But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

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