This section of the book is from the "Introduction To Public Finance" book, by Carl Copping Plehn.
The building and maintenance of roads is a source of expenditure which well illustrates the general trend of development. Adam Smith regarded the maintenance of roads as an activity conferring so special a benefit on the individual user that he should bear the burden. Even Bastable places them among the "industries of the State."1 But the universal tendency is to make the maintenance of roads a common burden because conferring a common benefit. The care of the roads is generally a duty of the local governments, and in the United States the first taxes laid in the colonies were for this purpose. The Federal government stopped spending much for roads and canals after 1840. In the period from 1789-1882 the total expenditure was only $19,966,465. In the year 1890 the commonwealths and local governments spent $72,262,023 on roads, sewers, ditches, and bridges.
1 Pp. 193, 194.
The maintenance of waterways, roadsteads, harbours, rivers, canals, is also a public function. Canals, to be sure, have passed or are passing through the same development as roads, and in some respects harboursand rivers have also done so.1 In the United States the dredging and improvement of the facilities for navigation in rivers and harbours are the only important items of " internal improvement " that have been consistently held in the hands of the federal government. From 1789-1882 Congress spent $106,882,717 on rivers and harbours, and in 1890, $11,737,438 were spent thereon. In the same line is the maintenance of light-houses, signal-stations, the weather bureau, and life-saving stations. The latter is in some countries supported by private contributions; in the United States it costs $1,250,000. The construction of light-houses, beacons, and buoys cost from 1789-1882, $77,080,509. In 1894, the light-house service cost the United States $3,250,000.
1 Many of the harbour expenses of the port of San Francisco are treated as expenditure conferring a special benefit on ship-owners. But there is a movement on foot to throw more of these on the general revenues, on the ground that they confer a general benefit. See San Francisco daily papers November 9, 1895 ; also December 20, 1895.