Our nations roads, freeways and local streets are deteriorating at a rate faster than funding is available to repair them. According to a news report by the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that dropped earlier today (Feb. 24, 2015) the old system for repairs and road infrastructure improvements being funded by taxes on gasoline just isn’t working. Cars have gotten more fuel efficient overall since legislation was enacted to ensure that our nations vehicle fleet was in line with current CAFE standards. That plus the rising popularity of hybrids and all-electric vehicles means people are spending less on gas. This amounts to less funds available for states to fix roads. All this comes at a time when our roads are in desperate need of repair.
The upkeep and maintenance of old roads along with the continued expansion of existing roads is important to the vitality of our nation and individual state economies. Without adequate roads, goods and services fail to be exchanged in an efficient manner and everyone suffers down the chain. States such as Oregon and Nevada have already experimented with new ways to raise funds from raising the sales tax to the selling of bonds. They’ve also started pilot programs on a VMT (Vehicle Mileage Tax) to see how effective it can be and how people react. Now California joins those two states, launching their own pilot program in an undisclosed county sometime this week. A study done by SCAG (The Southern California Association of Governments) found through preliminary studies done by the aforementioned states that a five cent tax per mile could possibly raise billions for road repairs and new road construction.
Back in 2006, $19 billion was set aside under Proposition 1B strictly for transportation funding. Various other Southern California cities have also enacted their own increases in the sales tax to bolster coffers for road repairs. And much of Measure R’s funds are being used to construct better rail systems and expand some Southern California subways systems in a bid to get more cars off the road. Hasan Ikhrata, Associate Director of SCAG says that, “California faces nearly a $300 billion bill in the next 10 years just to bring its highways, freeways and bridges to an acceptable state of repair,” And depending on the success of this pilot program, Californians might be the ones to foot the bill.
Concerns about VMT include securing individual privacy. According to wikipedia, “The mileage would be monitored by a GPS receiver that matches the vehicle’s location to a map of the toll-road network embedded in the receiver. The meter stores location and toll information, and periodically communicates it to a central computer using the existing cellular wireless network.” In addition, many people see a VMT as disproportionately discriminating the middle class, whom often travel longer distances to work on a daily basis when compared to wealthier classes. VMT also discounts the fact that all locations aren’t distanced equally. A drive to the hospital for one resident may be 10 times longer compared to another resident. All in all, the VMT is a solution that very well come to fruition. Roads are a public good, and although we might have to live with a larger tax relative to how much we spend, everyone will be better off.