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Mileage Based User Fees Use as you cruise—alternative funding to the fuel tax

February 4, 2013 Comments off

Mileage Based User Fees Use as you cruise—alternative funding to the fuel tax (PDF)

Source: Xerox

It’s a simple – and a very American – idea: Pay for what you use. Leaders today see mileage based user fees playing a role in future funding for surface transportation.

In 1903, Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson became the first person to cross the United States by automobile. The trip took the Vermont physician 65 days in a 20-horsepower Winton, raising dry clouds of dust and chugging through axle-deep mud on mostly unpaved roads. Not until the 1930s could a vehicle cross the nation coast-to-coast on paved highways.

Today, the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways comprises nearly 50,000 miles of paved multilane highways, bridges, tunnels and toll roads. As the largest highway network in the world and one of the greatest public works projects in human history, the system symbolizes America’s finest qualities: Innovation. Ingenuity. Inexorable progress.

But hello Houston (and Atlanta, L.A., D.C. and most everywhere else), we have a problem. As fast as the highway system has grown, cities have grown even faster. Today, transportation routes too often symbolize not America’s progress but its modern problems: congestion, fuel waste, crumbling infrastructure. Before our very eyes, the world’s finest surface transportation network, a great stimulant of American economic growth, suddenly appears as if it’s becoming a barrier to progress.

The greatest risk to the nation’s surface transportation system? Funding.

For decades, we paid for highway repairs and improvements through fuel taxes, at the pump. Every time we filled the tank, part of the bill paid for asphalt and concrete and steel and planning for our highway system. Today, fuel taxes no longer cover the costs of maintaining existing highways … never mind meeting the needs for new ones. Improved vehicle efficiency, alternative fuel use, higher construction costs, and less buying power per fuel tax dollar render the fuel tax funding model insufficient … and wallop the wallets of federal, state and local transportation agencies. What to do? Few policymakers want to raise taxes. Few businesses or commuters want to give up transportation freedom.

We arrive at a crossroads question: Is it time to look at a new, more sustainable, way of paying for highways?

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