​Is a Road Maintenance Fee in California Drivers’ Future?​​​​​

Seeking a creative and long-term solution for financing highway and road construction and upkeep, a new commission kicked off its investigation of a “Road User Charge” as a possible replacement for the well-traveled gasoline tax.

Created by 2014 legislation and given the nod by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr, the Road User Charge Pilot Program Technical Advisory Committee kicked off its deliberations last week. Among its 15 members is Loren Kaye, president of the CalChamber-affiliated California Foundation for Commerce and Education, representing business and economic interests.

A confluence of forces continues to reduce the effectiveness of the gasoline tax as a stable revenue source for highways. Pegged to the amount of gasoline purchased, the tax could keep pace neither with inflation in construction costs or increased efficiency in automobile performance. CalTrans has estimated that inflation and improved vehicle efficiency has eroded more than 60 percent of the value of the gasoline tax since 1994.

And this is before the ambitious roll-out of electric, plug-in hybrid and fuels cell vehicles in the state – which use little or no gasoline and therefore are the quintessential “free riders.”

In his inaugural address, Gov. Brown spoke of the “importance in having the roads, highways and bridges in good enough shape to get people and commerce to where they need to go,” estimating that the state has deferred maintenance and upkeep needs of $59 billion. In calling for a bipartisan solution for transportation finance, the Governor did not single out a mileage fee, but this option is certainly deeply in the mix.

The Advisory Committee has an ambitious agenda: within one year it must recommend how the state’s Transportation Agency can launch a pilot program testing a Road User Charge in real world circumstances. The committee will examine technical feasibility, reliability, implication for privacy rights, data security, motorist compliance, and overhead costs.

California will probably not break new policy ground on this project. The states of Oregon and Washington are already examining mileage fee alternatives, with Oregon on the verge of implementing a pilot project with 5,000 volunteer motorists. Findings from these other West Coast states will be invaluable for California’s consideration.

For more information on this effort and on the Technical Advisory Committee, visit this website at the California Transportation Commission.

Staff Contact: Loren Kaye

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