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Tolling Points

Two House Bills Together Are Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

By: 
Bill Cramer

Of the two House bills Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced earlier this week, the proposal to raise the gas tax and index it to inflation has received by far the most attention.

But the Road Usage Fee Pilot Program Act of 2013 is the measure that will take us farthest down the road to sustainable funding for the nation’s highway infrastructure. Building on experience with road user charging in Blumenauer’s home state, the bill would allow states to establish voluntary pilot programs to test vehicle miles traveled (VMT) charges in their own jurisdictions.

Both bills are courageous and timely. “IBTTA applauds Representative Blumenauer for stepping forward boldly to recognize the severity of the infrastructure funding crisis and define potential solutions,” said IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick Jones said in a December 4 news release.

But if the two bills were adopted in tandem, their combined impact would be greater than the sum of the parts. “I hope this is the last gas tax increase that Congress ever has to pass,” Blumenauer said. “I think we need to change the system.”

The Update, Promote, and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials Act of 2013 would raise the gas tax from 18.4 to 33.4 cents over the next few years, then index it to inflation. The short-term relief is more than welcome. It’s desperately needed. But the road user charging bill completes the picture in several important ways:

  • It counters the long-term decline in gas tax revenues, due to greater fuel efficiency and the transition to alternate-fuel vehicles, by enabling states to gain experience with a new method of funding transportation.
  • It gives states a choice. Like IBTTA’s recommendation that Congress end the ban on tolling existing interstate highways, Blumenauer’s bill is permissive, not proscriptive, opening the door for states to innovate when and as they see fit.
  • It gives drivers a choice. Like the Oregon pilot project, the VMT initiatives envisioned in the Blumenauer bill would be voluntary, giving customers the option of signing on to the new system or continuing to pay the gas tax.

This is precisely the right time for Rep. Earl Blumenauer to release this combination of legislative measures. “As we head into the 2014 Congressional debate over the next surface transportation reauthorization bill,” Jones stated, “IBTTA urges lawmakers to keep all funding options on the table, including lifting the federal ban on tolling existing lanes of interstate highways.”

photo credit: Phil Roeder via photopin cc