June 30, 1990
Hon. Norman Mineta
U. S. Congressional Representative
1245 South Winchester Boulevard, Suite 310
San Jose, California 95128-3963
Re: Reauthorization of the Federal Highway Act
Dear Congressman Mineta:
Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify, on behalf of the Modern Transit Society of San Jose, on this critical issue.
There are two extremely serious threats to the well-being of the United States and its people: economic and environmental. In both cases, the Federal Highway Act (FHA) can determine whether the outcome will be prosperity, or disaster.
First the economic issue: the U. S. economy is way out on a limb, sawing away at its own support through waste and short-sighted greed. Our automobile-dependent society causes a large part of the balance-of-payments problem, by buying foreign cars and importing oil. In addition, when the world's oil runs out in 30-40 years, our dependence on oil and the private automobile will result in unprecedented hardship. Nations that have had the foresight to prevent this obvious threat will come out on top. Highways, which one were thought to bring prosperity, are beginning to show their negative side. As we continue to pave over our most valuable open space, farmland, watershed, and most attractive living areas, we are moving closer and closer to having a top-heavy economy that will be seriously dependent on other countries for food and other resources, while the quality of our own lives will be below theirs!
This is not theoretical -- it has already happened! As of 1987, Japan became the richest country in the world. And the United Nations recently announced that Japan also had the highest quality of live in the world. The United States came in 17th! This is undoubtedly due in large part to Japan's greater reliance on walking, bicycling, and public transit (especially rail transit), which are much more economical than private cars and trucks.
But even more serious and acute are the environmental threats. The automobile is the single greatest threat in the U. S. to the stratospheric ozone layer that protects all life on this planet. It is responsible for the current epidemic of skin cancer in California. This is due mostly to auto air conditioners, which use and leak CFCs. The car is also the largest U. S. contributor to global warming, which is undoubtedly responsible for our current droughts, water shortage, and the extinction of species that is proceeding rapidly. The car is also the greatest generator of the air pollution that is making life in our cities unhealthful, and acid rain (in the West), which is already sterilizing remote natural areas. Addiction to the automobile is also killing our wildlife, partly through direct contact on the highway, and even more through the destruction and vitiation of scarce habitat through road construction into wildlife areas and building massive freeways that neither man nor animal can safely cross.
In spite of the magnitude of these problems, the solution is very simple: reduce the number (top priority) and length (second priority) of internal-combustion-vehicle trips. And the means is also simple: a large gas tax, increasing yearly until all of these problems have been resolved. The beauty of this solution is that it would automatically cause people to make the right decisions, without coercion and without discrimination. No government laws or officials would have to decide who could drive, when, how far, and by what means. Administrative costs would be almost zero.
Of course, the proceeds of the gas tax should not (ever!) be used to build more auto dependence into our society, e.g. by expanding the highway system, building parking, etc. To be beneficial, it would have to be used to reduce the national debt, balance the budget, build and operate rail transit systems, buy up all old (say, pre-1980) vehicles, or other environmentally responsible goals.
I hope you have the courage to stand up to the highway/business/developer lobby that is destroying our homeland, and do what is right. We can't afford to delay. Auto workers can do other work, but no one, not even Nature, can restore our environment, once we have degraded it.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.