ostensibly due to the rising cost of gas

Not only are home purchases in remote suburban, or “exurban”, areas falling off more quickly than elsewhere, as we discussed a few days ago, but it looks now as though our highways are being used less too. Here’s a clip form “Business Week”:

For 20 years now, county workers in Palm Beach County, Fla., have been counting cars with sensors at strategic points along its 4,000 miles of roads. Nearly every year traffic volume has climbed at least 2%. But in 2007 there was a slight decline in the number of vehicles on the roads. This year traffic is down 7.5% through March. “We’re seeing a very significant change,” says county engineer George Webb. “We’re having a good time speculating why.”

It’s not just Palm Beach. Traffic levels are trending downward nationwide. Preliminary figures from the Federal Highway Administration show it falling 1.4% last year. Now, with nationwide gasoline prices having passed the inflation-adjusted record of $3.40 a gallon set back in 1981, the U.S. Energy Information Administration is predicting that gasoline consumption will actually fall 0.3% this year. That would be the first annual decline since 1991. Others believe the falloff in consumption is steeper than the government’s numbers show. “Our canaries out there tell us they are seeing demand drop much more considerably than the fraction the EIA is talking about,” says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, a Gaithersburg (Md.) market research firm…

As they point out in the article, it could also have something to do with the aging of the baby boomers, or our current recession, but most seem to think that the price of gas has a lot to do with it… Looking a few decades out, if we continue on this path, I’m wondering how a majority of Americans will feel having their tax dollars taken to keep up roads when they themselves can no longer afford to own or operate cars.

This entry was posted in Observations. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

4 Comments

  1. Posted April 26, 2008 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    What proportion of federal highway funds come from tax revenues NOT resulting from federal excise on gasoline and tires?

    I suspect that highway funds will become less as we drive less. By that argument, people will not be paying to maintain unused highways.

    Cars are going to quickly become more fuel efficient over the next few years. Additionally, alternative fuels are going to become more available. I don’t see the current downward trend in miles traveled continuing.

    Frankly, I think the current price of oil is a speculative bubble, much like housing was, and before that, dotcoms. There is currently sufficient supply of crude, worldwide. The price of oil is not explainable by supply and demand. Also the weak dollar is currently contributing, and I expect the dollar will begin strengthening as soon as the Fed stops lowering interest rates.

    The higher price of transportation fuels WILL drive a change in our habits. We might drive less. We will undoubtedly drive smarter (more efficiently). Hopefully, more mass transit alternative will become available to us, too.

  2. Posted April 27, 2008 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    John on Forest – you mention both declining gas tax revenues linked to declining use of highways but also an assertion that vehicle miles will recover as vehicles get more efficient. This is a big problem for the roads – more efficient vehicles means even less tax revenue, but the same amount of wear on the roads and perceived demand for new roads. (And woe to anyone who suggests raising the gas tax to make up for losses from increased efficiency.) This is actually a trend that’s been going on for years…

    You also mention mass transit alternatives, but these again cost money. It would be great if we could get more freight onto rail and off of roads, to reduce road wear, reduce congestion, save fuel, etc etc. But rail is incredibly expensive to build, and there’s really not that much unused capacity at the network chokepoints.

    It would also be great if we could get decent commuter/intercity transit set up – use our transportation spending to encourage compact, walkable communities around transit nodes rather than sprawling networks of roadways – but the money question comes up again. If everyone perceives their personal transportation spending as too high, and meanwhile sees the roads decaying, how much support will they give to the pricey start-up costs of new transit systems? (Wasn’t it only a year ago that the Sec’y of Transportation compared bicycle and pedestrian advocates to terrorists for diverting money away from roadway capital spending?)

    I certainly share your hopes for change in habits (they’re more or less what drove my career choice, after all), but I suppose I’m significantly more cautious in my optimism.

  3. Posted April 27, 2008 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Murph, Exactly. I’m not very optimistic about our needs for mass transit being fulfilled, either. Your analysis of declining revenues to fund highway maintenance in the face of increased traffic is a very big worry, too.

    My thoughts about the speculative bubble of oil prices is, by the way, only a short term view. Long term, world oil production IS going to decrease in the face of ever increasing demand. Oil is undoubtedly going to be more expensive.

    What we need, and sorely lack, is the political will and courage to address the problem. Perhaps some of it can actually be done bottom up. I am a systems engineer and I am a big proponent of top down thinking; but, in this case, there may be room from some local initiatives. Again, as you point out, money to fund these things is in short supply.

    But, in Ypsilanti for example, I’d like to see our city look at ways to encourage less individual driving. Can we enable walking/biking in Ypsilanti by providing some infrastructure? I can walk to Depot Town from where I live. Walking to the further reaches of downtown is less convenient for me and my family. It’s even less convenient if I have anything to carry either to or from there.

    As Water Street eventually gets developed and we have new businesses to cater our needs, and hopefully cater to people outside the city, as well, I think it would be great to have a local transportation system to shuttle people from WS to Depot Town, to Downtown, to Cross Street, EMU, and perhaps other locations. Water Street development will benefit our city more significantly if it causes more people to visit our other economic centers as well.

  4. Robert
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I was hoping that four wheel drive vehicles would have made roads obsolete by now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Connect

BUY LOCAL... or shop at Amazon through this link Banner Initiative Elkins banner