Tim Kuzdrowski / Flickr

Despite what Standard & Poor's might suggest.

Standard & Poor's, that enabler of the subprime mortgage crisis, has now offered its standard poor assessment of the U.S. infrastructure crisis. In a new report, S&P submits that declining driving trends among Millennials are having a “profound effect” on America’s crumbling roads and bridges. Since snake people aren’t driving, according to this argument, they also aren’t contributing gas taxes to the Highway Trust Fund that pays for infrastructure maintenance.

Via the report:

This drop in funds available to construct and repair the country's infrastructure could, in Standard & Poor's Ratings Services' view, weigh on growth prospects for U.S. GDP, as well as states' economies, and, in some cases, where states and municipalities choose to replace the lost federal funds with locally derived revenues, could hurt credit quality.

The biggest problem with this outlook is that it misunderstands the very function of the gas tax. Simply put, fuel fees are a way to charge drivers for the wear and tear they inflict on interstates and major roads. If you aren’t driving on these roads, you aren’t causing the damage the gas tax is meant to cover. Except in the sense that Millennials are responsible for everything bad in this world, blaming them for poor roads isn’t quite fair.

There’s also the fact that most Millennials do, in fact, drive. While young people in big cities often rely on public transportation or bikes to get around, about four in five people aged 16 to 30 make most of their trips by car. Personal tastes may indeed influence Millennial driving patterns and could potentially alter their lifelong travel habits. But this mindset is arguably marginal, with larger forces like gas prices and job status playing a substantial role in car use—and it’s certainly beside the larger point, which is that metro areas must move beyond car-based planning regardless of one sub-population’s shifting preferences.

What’s really going on here—and which, to be fair, the S&P report does acknowledge once you get past the misleading title—is that America’s gas tax is busted. The federal fee hasn’t been raised in decades and lacks the flexibility of a per-mile driving charge to capture not only infrastructure damage, but also pollution and congestion costs. Gas tax specifics notwithstanding, too much money from the Highway Trust Fund is devoted to building new roads instead of maintaining old ones, creating a cycle of higher costs in the future.

If there’s a real lesson to be learned from the fact that some young people (and others) are driving less, it’s that there’s no need to build as many roads as we have in the past.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a striking Uber/Lyft driver
    Transportation

    Uber and Lyft Really Don’t Want California to Pass This Worker Rights Bill

    As California considers a gig-work bill to make ride-hailing drivers employees eligible for benefits and bargaining rights, Uber and Lyft ask for compromise.

  2. a screenshot of a video about Baltimore's Metro
    Transportation

    It’s Time to Celebrate Baltimore’s Much-Maligned Metro

    In 1987, the Maryland Transit Administration busted out a brass band to open a subway that never had a chance.

  3. a photo of yellow vest protesters in Paris, France.
    Equity

    To Understand American Political Anger, Look to ‘Peripheral France’

    French geographer Christophe Guilluy has a controversial diagnosis of working-class resentment in the age of Trump, Brexit, and the Yellow Vests.

  4. A rendering of a co-living building in San Jose.
    Life

    The Largest Co-Living Building in the World Is Coming to San Jose

    The startup Starcity plans to build an 800-unit, 18-story “dorm for adults” to help affordably house Silicon Valley’s booming workforce.

  5. A cat lays flat on a bench at a park on the outskirts of Tokyo.
    Life

    Why Don't Americans Use Their Parks At Night?

    Most cities aren’t fond of letting people use parks after dark. But there are good lifestyle, environmental, and safety reasons to reconsider.

×