Oil Addiction: Is Your State Working to Break It?

Gas prices vary across the country, but people in some states consistently shell out a greater percentage of their personal income on gas. According to our 5th annual look at gas price vulnerability across the nation, the people of Mississippi spent more than 7 percent of their personal income on gas last year. They’ve topped the list for 5 years running. Connecticut residents have been the least vulnerable for the past 5 years, spending less than 3 percent of their income on gas.

What’s helping protect the people of Connecticut (and other smart states) from gas price spikes are smart policies adopted by the state, such as strong investments in public transit, growth management policies that help cut down on drive times, greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles and low-carbon standards for fuels.

When the federal government doesn’t take the lead on setting transportation policy, it becomes even more crucial for states to find ways to break their residents out of the energy trap. Sadly, some states are literally missing the bus when it comes to transportation policy. Instead of finding ways to protect their residents from the rising cost of gas, they’re spending money to lock in that oil addiction.

WISPIRG recently released a report slamming Wisconsin governor Scott Walker for proposing to spend nearly $2 billion on highway expansion projects, while cutting back on much-needed road repair and transit (not to mention education, health care and other state services).

Wisconsin’s per capita spending on highways is already 24% higher than the national average. WISPIRG points out several reasons why these particular expansions are unjustified – one proposes widening a two-lane rural road through cabbage farms into a 4-lane highway – but the big picture is that Walker isn't alone in continuing to prioritize highway expansion over much needed road repairs and other oil-saving investments.

As Matt Dellinger points out in a post on Transportation Nation, several governors who, like Walker, have made headlines for turning down funding for high speed rail, are increasing funding levels for new highway construction.

Until the federal government fixes its outdated transportation policy, the burden rests on states to make smart use of transportation funds. First, states need to focus on fixing existing roads. (Wisconsin drivers spend an extra $281 each year on car repair due to poor road conditions.) Second, states need to give residents more transportation options by investing in public transit that give people a convenient, easy way to get where they need to go. And finally, states need to be smart about investments, particularly in these cash-strapped times. Hard-earned taxpayer money needs to go into projects that offer the greatest return on investment -- not just great headlines.