John Stossel
"Tea party members don't think there's a federal role in transportation!" complained Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, last week, near the site of a $5.8 million highway project.

If only most tea party members were that radical.

While Brown and other big-government folks worry that Republicans will cut spending, Republicans debate adding another $10.5 billion to the Highway Trust Fund to keep it going another year -- without deciding how to reform it.

Now, there's no doubt some roads and bridges need work. But too little transportation money spent by government goes to building and repairing roads.

As Cato Institute transportation analyst Randal O'Toole points out, the construction of the nation's federal highways was largely complete in 1982, but instead of reducing the gas tax that helped pay for them, Congress raised the tax and spent much of the money on things like bicycle trails and "mass" transit.

"Building an interstate highway system," writes O'Toole, "has been replaced by a complex and often contradictory set of missions: maintaining infrastructure, enhancing mobility, reducing air pollution, discouraging driving, supporting transit, building expensive rail lines, promoting economic development, stimulating the economy, stopping climate change and ending urban sprawl, among others."

Then, when roads deteriorate, the federal government laments that it doesn't have enough money.

We should have known that an inevitable side effect of a distant central government spending these billions is that road construction isn't determined by local supply and demand. Often "mass" transit carries few passengers, while nearby roads are congested.

Urban planners, who work closely with government and distrust markets, are convinced that people will leave comfortable suburban homes and flock to dense urban areas with walkable streets, if government just pours money into mass transit.

But even after Congress spent billions on public transportation projects, even rebuilding the downtowns of some cities to make them more pedestrian-friendly, it turned out most Americans wanted to stay in their suburban homes.

Then urban planners assumed adults would relocate to cities once their kids left for college or jobs, but a recent Fannie Mae report found baby boomers are not doing that. The planners are surprised. They shouldn't be.

"After all," writes O'Toole, "baby boomers' parents overwhelmingly preferred to 'age in place' rather than move when their children left home; why should baby boomers be any different?"


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate