Drivers in Delaware Dole Out the Most for Road Costs

  • January 08, 2014
  • By Daniel Vock
A motorist puts fuel in his car's gas tank at a service station in Springfield, Ill. in June. Gas taxes, tolls and other fees and taxes for motorists cover only half the cost of building and maintaining roads, according to the Tax Foundation, a research group in Washington, D.C. (AP)

Drivers in Delaware pay a bigger share of the state and local costs of keeping up roads than those in any other state, according to a new report from the Tax Foundation.

But even in Delaware, a state notorious among East Coast drivers for having a toll booth on its 23-mile stretch of Interstate 95, drivers come up short of paying the full bill.

Tolls, state gas taxes and fees for licenses and registrations covered 79 cents out of every dollar Delaware spent on roads in 2011, the latest year for which data is available. That is far more than the national average of slightly more than 50 cents per dollar.

Alaska's state and local user fees paid for barely more than a dime of every dollar of road expenses, the lowest rate in the country.

The Tax Foundation, a research and advocacy group in Washington, D.C., said states should make users pay for the roads they use.

“When road funding comes from a mix of tolls and gasoline taxes, the people that use the roads bear a sizeable portion of the cost,” wrote Joseph Henchman, the group's vice president of legal and state operations.

“By contrast, funding transportation out of general revenue makes roads ‘free,' and consequently, overused or congested — often the precise problem transportation spending programs are meant to solve,” he added.

The group said state and local user fees paid for $77 billion of the $153 billion states and localities spent on roads. Another $30 billion came from general funds, like those states get from income and sales taxes.

Road User Fees by State

The states that most heavily rely on user fees, such as gas taxes, tolls and registration fees, to fund roads are:

  1. Delaware (79 percent)
  2. Hawaii (77 percent)
  3. Florida (69 percent)
  4. California (64 percent)
  5. North Carolina (60 percent)

The states that rely least on user fees are:

  1. Alaska (11 percent)
  2. South Dakota (22 percent)
  3. Wyoming (25 percent)
  4. Louisiana (25 percent)
  5. Utah (29 percent)

Nationwide, user fees pay for a little more than 50 percent of road costs.

The group said state and local user fees paid for $77 billion of the $153 billion states and localities spent on roads. Another $30 billion came from general funds, like those states get from income and sales taxes.

The other major source was $46 billion in federal aid. Most of that came from federal gas tax revenues in 2011, but Congress has repeatedly had to use general funds to keep up with demand for road money. Without a hike in the gas tax or other new money, the federal Highway Trust Fund could be empty by next year.

The Tax Foundation's analysis did not categorize federal gas tax revenue as a user fee. Federal gas taxes collected in one state are not necessarily spent in that same state.

The report showed huge differences in the ways states funded their road spending.

Delaware relied the most heavily on tolls, which it imposes on the interstate and on a state road that runs along the beach towns that attract out-of-state tourists. Mike Williams, a spokesman for the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles, told Stateline the state's funding scheme is largely the result of Delaware's small population.

“Even if a state has a gas tax similar to Delaware's, (it has) more vehicles and more drivers and more revenue opportunities. Our total state population is still under 1 million,” he said. The small population also means Delaware gets little federal money compared to other states.

So Delaware looks to nonresidents to help with its bills. More than half of the vehicles on Delaware's stretch of Interstate 95 are from out of state, he said. On peak travel days, such as the Sunday after Thanksgiving, as many as 120,000 vehicles will use the interstate.

I-95 tolls are $4 per car on weekdays, compared to $1 on State Route 1, which is more popular with locals. Tolls and concessions from the interstate bring in $124 million a year, and tolls along the state route add another $48 million, Williams said.

Hawaii raised nearly half of the road money it spends with license taxes, the most of any state.

North Carolina, where gas tax rates normally change automatically in response to fuel prices, relied the most on fuel taxes. Those taxes provided 43 percent of the state's road spending. A law in effect this month will cap North Carolina's gas taxes at 37.5 cents per gallon until the middle of 2015.

Citing U.S. Census data, the Tax Foundation said user fees paid 83 percent of the costs of air transportation and 23 percent of mass transit, compared with 50 percent for roads.

The other major source was $46 billion in federal aid. Most of that came from federal gas tax revenues in 2011, but Congress has repeatedly had to use general funds to keep up with demand for road money. Without a hike in the gas tax or other new money, the federal Highway Trust Fund could be empty by next year.

The Tax Foundation’s analysis did not categorize federal gas tax revenue as a user fee. Federal gas taxes collected in one state are not necessarily spent in that same state.

The report showed huge differences in the ways states funded their road spending.

Delaware relied the most heavily on tolls, which it imposes on the interstate and on a state road that runs along the beach towns that attract out-of-state tourists. Mike Williams, a spokesman for the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles, told Stateline the state’s funding scheme is largely the result of Delaware’s small population.

“Even if a state has a gas tax similar to Delaware’s, (it has) more vehicles and more drivers and more revenue opportunities. Our total state population is still under 1 million,” he said. The small population also means Delaware gets little federal money compared to other states.

So Delaware looks to nonresidents to help with its bills. More than half of the vehicles on Delaware’s stretch of Interstate 95 are from out of state, he said. On peak travel days, such as the Sunday after Thanksgiving, as many as 120,000 vehicles will use the interstate.

I-95 tolls are $4 per car on weekdays, compared to $1 on State Route 1, which is more popular with locals. Tolls and concessions from the interstate bring in $124 million a year, and tolls along the state route add another $48 million, Williams said.

Hawaii raised nearly half of the road money it spends with license taxes, the most of any state.

North Carolina, where gas tax rates normally change automatically in response to fuel prices, relied the most on fuel taxes. Those taxes provided 43 percent of the state’s road spending. A law in effect this month will cap North Carolina’s gas taxes at 37.5 cents per gallon until the middle of 2015.

Citing U.S. Census data, the Tax Foundation said user fees paid 83 percent of the costs of air transportation and 23 percent of mass transit, compared with 50 percent for roads.