People have long drawn attention to the mismatch between “user fees” — i.e. the Federal and state gas excises — versus the construction and maintenance expenses of our national system of highways and bridges. Has anybody analyzed the operational costs of public roads?
In yesterday’s discussion about the purpose of empty buses, I mentioned that I’d someday like to shoot photos of empty Bay Area freeways, airports and publicly operated parking garages during off-peak hours as examples of government overspending.
Somebody responded that “comparing empty (or nearly empty) buses with empty freeways or parking lots is not at exact comparison: Highways and parking lots ‘just sit there’, while the bus has a driver collecting a paycheck and fuel that is being consumed.”
I don’t believe that’s entirely correct, though. International airports clearly have operational costs. San Jose International Airport, for example, spends $70 million annually on operations. To be fair, the lion’s share of that is paid for through user fees, with the balance coming from Federal grants. Even during off-peak somebody pays for those TSA agents, customs agents, tower personnel, airport noise management, and terminal security. I haven’t been able to find the airports electricity usage, but that fancy new parking garage by Terminal B consumes somewhere around 9 million kwH annually just by itself.
At the other end of the spectrum are publicly owned parking garages. The city of San Jose spends over $11 million each year for their downtown parking operations. Off-peak spending is used to keep the lights on overnight and probably to send a few security people around to keep an eye on skaters.
What about operational spending on highways? For the Bay Area, I listed the Highway Patrol, our freeway courtesy patrols, 911 dispatch centers (operated mostly by the CHP in the Bay Area for mobile calls), and traffic incident management centers that all continue running through the middle of of the night. Road lighting costs money, as does things like roadside landscaping and trash pickup. I also listed Calstar (the air ambulance service), but that’s an error – Calstar is a non-profit with private funding.
What other operational spending occurs at 3 AM on Bay Area freeways?