A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Road use fee, a year away

Written June 24th, 2014 by Hasso Hering
Waiting at a red light even though there's no cross traffic at all.

Waiting at a red light even though there’s no cross traffic at all.

There’s always talk of increasing the federal gas tax because the Highway Trust Fund is running out of money. Maybe Congress could follow the lead of Oregon and experiment with road user fees instead of fuel taxes as a way of raising money to keep our highways and bridges in good repair.

Oregon’s own departure from relying mainly on fuel taxes is still very tentative. But it could prove instructive — if it works on a large scale.

The 2013 legislature authorized what ODOT calls the Road Usage Charge Program. It allows up to 5,000 motorists to volunteer — if they qualify — to pay a road fee of 1.5 cents a mile instead of the state fuel tax of 30 cents a gallon. If these people buy gas, they will still have to pay the tax, but then they will get a refund of the fuel tax they paid.

The bill passed last year was Senate Bill 810. It calls for the road user fee to be in place by July 1, 2015. So ODOT was given two years to prepare and now it has one year left.

Owners of passenger cars and pickups will be able to volunteer for the program if their vehicles are equipped with a method of reporting “metered use” of the public road system. Several options will be available, and under the law at least one “must not use vehicle location technology.” That’s to calm people’s fears of the government tracking them everywhere they go.

Of the 5,000 vehicle owners who can sign up, no more than 1,500 may have vehicles with a mileage rating of up to 17 miles per gallon, and up to another 1,500 may have a rating of between 17 and 22 mpg.

As long as the program is voluntary, it doesn’t seem to make much sense in terms of raising revenue. After all, which owner of an all-electric or hybrid car (an owner who now pays litte or no fuel tax for roads), would sign up and then have to pay a cent and a half per mile?

But the idea behind all this is that sooner or later, fuel taxes will be become useless as a revenue source for roads, and then a road user charge will have to become mandatory. Oregon seems to be looking ahead to that day, when all vehicles will be taxed based not on the amount of fuel they burn but on how far they go.

Whatever you think of all this, a charge based on distance traveled has at least one small upside: No longer would we be wasting tax money waiting at signals that turn red and stay red even when there’s absolutely no cross traffic at all, which is something that often happens at one particular signal on North Albany Road. (hh)

13 responses to “Road use fee, a year away”

  1. Theodore Salmons says:

    What could possibly go wrong? These fees would be set and monitored by the same space cadets that brought us Cover Oregon.

  2. Mike Reynolds says:

    So 1.5 cents per mile instead of 30 cents per gallon. So, if I get 40 miles per gallon I would pay 30 cents for that 40 miles, on the new system I would pay 60 cents. They sounds about right, give the gas guzzlers a break. Am I missing something?

    • Hasso Hering says:

      The idea is to start collecting revenue from high-mileage vehicles, especially the ones that get very, very high miles per gallon because they need no gas at all. This works only once the fee becomes mandatory for vehicles that get more than a certain number of miles per gallon. Or so it seems to me. (hh)

  3. Bill Kapaun says:

    Any road taxes should be based on vehicle weight, since heavier vehicles cause the most wear & tear on the roads.
    Paying by the gallon does this, since heavier vehicles get fewer MPG.
    What we really need is a high tax on studded tires, since they cause such a disproportionate amount of wear. Make the cost much higher and people would tend to not use them during the months that we really don’t expect snow & ice.

  4. Ray Kopczynski says:

    I emailed & asked for the opportunity to participate in the pilot-project. I was told I didn’t qualify as my old Saab[s] are not up-to-date enough with current electronic connections… (I knew there was another benefit to driving them,)

  5. Jim Engel says:

    Wow…tax any & every vehicle that uses the roads. That tax should also apply to bicycles! JE

  6. Bob Woods says:

    People need to realize that the issue is far more complex than they think. There are two key components:

    1) The amount of money necessary to perform routine and regular maintenance on roads, bridges and other right-of-way amenities to keep them operating into the future, and

    2) The money needed to catch up on decades of deferred maintenance to put those facilities into the shape needed so that a perpetual maintenance program can function.

    The gas tax no longer works. Weight/mile taxes are probably intrinsically more fair, but harder and more costly to administer.

    For newer cars it’s obvious that computerized transponders can be installed that could automatically report miles driven through road sensors. For older cars, bicyclists and walkers that’s a harder thing to do. Also, what about out-of-state drivers just passing through?

    The problems could be solved if people are willing to solve them. But they need to understand that it will cost them a lot more in the short run because of their nearsightedness in underfunding the real costs of their roads for years. For that you can blame the no-taxes-for-anything-no-matter-what crowd.

    “There ain’t no such thing as a FREE LUNCH.”

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “…the no-taxes-for-anything-no-matter-what crowd…”

      Correct. Regardless of the ramifications, if they have to do it – then it is DOA…

      • Hasso Hering says:

        Not so fast, guys. Who is this “no taxes for anything” crowd? Locally, the electorate has proved again and again that it will approve taxes for worthy projects. There was even a bond issue some years ago that paid for major street projects. The same goes for Oregon, where the gas tax has been increased to pay for specific highway projects. So the “no taxes” crowd has been losing. In Congress, Democrats had a majority and DeFazio was a subcommittee chairman and still did not pass gas tax increases to bolster the highway trust fund, even though DeFazio talked about it. Also, there’s been the perception that the more money the feds make available, the more highway projects cost, so there won’t ever be enough. Not only that, but federal highway money has been diverted to numerous projects only vaguely related to transportation instead of being spent to maintain bridges and build roads. (The original downtown Albany CALUTS was funded by a transportation grant, remember?) Opponents of raising the federal gas tax say they want the extra spending curbed first.

  7. Ray kopczynski says:

    All of what you say is true. However, I believe it boils down to your exact word of “perception.” That doesn’t make any decision by any party (at any level) right or wrong. There will *always* be folks who perceive the exact opposite…

  8. Jim Clausen says:

    Ray takes the time to prove he’s the epitome of an ever increasing political desire for tax money and fleecing the populace for pet projects.

    It’s not like the government doesn’t have enough money already. It’s not like they don’t waste millions and billions and trillions on things people don’t want (or need). It’s not like they aren’t continually asking for more of my hard earned money.

    But Ray, without regard to out of control rampant spending and unaccountable government waste, perpetuates the labeling of those who desire fiscal responsibility the “no-taxes-for-anything-no-matter-what crowd” – even while holding his hand out for yet more…

    Ray is a first class example of why people are so upset with government…

  9. Peg Richner says:

    May I refer everyone interested in this subject to:


    Roads do not have to be run by government, which is always the inefficient way to run anything!


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