On Saturday, a stretch of the legendary I-495 Beltway encircling Washington, DC will grow from eight lanes to twelve. But this modest expansion of the region’s famously inadequate transportation network isn’t designed to benefit everyone. With so many federal and state lawmakers terrified to raise taxes for the public good, the Beltway’s new “express lanes” will be paid for in a different way—specifically, by the wealthier drivers who can afford to buy their way out of the congested lanes (Kia Lanes, perhaps?), and into these heavily tolled, so-called Lexus Lanes.
AAA Mid-Atlantic initially opposed the new Lexus Lanes, since by definition they only work when the rest of the transportation system is failing. But an “acceptance of reality … about the sad state of transportation funding” led AAA to eventually change its mind and embrace the lanes on the grounds that they’re better than nothing.
Sad indeed. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) has shown that much of our nation’s transportation funding woes can be traced back to the short-sighted design of federal and state gas taxes, and that there are straightforward ways to fix these glaringly broken taxes. But raising and reforming the gas tax can be politically difficult, and thus here we are, with Band-Aid fixes like Lexus Lanes instead.