Brooke Wisdom | March 1, 2010
Mileage Fee System Possible By 2015 says RAND Report
– By Audrey Dutton, Washington Bureau, The Bond Buyer newspaper
A mileage-based revenue system to fund federally assisted transportation projects could be implemented within about five years, the RAND Corp. said in a report released online.
The 151-page report suggested there are three different systems for calculating vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, fees that could be ready to go by 2015: a global positioning system device, a cellular device connected to the vehicle, or a system of metering mileage based on fuel consumption.
“Many potential VMT metering and charging systems could, from a technical perspective, be implemented within a few years,” the report said.
However, “VMT fees face two significant policy obstacles: first, it is not apparent that initial efforts to institute VMT fees, or subsequent efforts to increase VMT fees to keep pace with inflation, will face less opposition than increasing fuel taxes; and second, the administration of VMT fees will almost certainly be more costly and burdensome than fuel tax collection.”
Transportation advocates and several commissions and reports have argued for moving toward a different revenue source than gas taxes. Most say the public sector should move toward a system of VMT fees, but there is no consensus on whether to move ahead with that change now, to proceed with pilot projects, or to delay a shift to VMT fees until the economy is stable.
But some states, such as Oregon, have already begun pilot projects to collect revenue based on mileage.
The RAND researchers looked at options that could be implemented by 2015, which would take less time than waiting for auto manufacturers to start putting metering equipment in all vehicles.
The report noted that “there are also significant uncertainties that make it difficult to determine the optimal configuration at this juncture.” But the upcoming multi-year transportation bill is “the opportunity” for lawmakers to test different methods and start the wheels turning on a VMT program that would begin in 2015, the report said.
The research comes as lawmakers in the Senate and the Obama administration push to delay decisions on the future of highway funding. Legislation that could be a starting point for a new funding mechanism has been stalled since last year in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, partly because the committee is awaiting revenue provisions from the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Senate jobs legislation that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has floated would further delay the process, extending the current program through the end of this year.
Gasoline and diesel fuel taxes currently provide most of the funding for federal and state transportation projects. Though tax rates per gallon of fuel have been periodically adjusted to help governments raise more revenue to pay for maintenance and construction, the current federal rates — 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel — are not pegged to inflation. In addition, hybrid cars and a decline in vehicle travel have eaten away at fuel-tax revenue.
The study was requested by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and was conducted as part of a National Cooperative Highway Research Program project that is supported by state departments of transportation.v
Editor’s Note: Bond Buyer is a SourceMedia publication. SourceMedia is owned by Investcorp, which also owns Randall-Reilly, the parent company of Better Roads.
Buffalo highways: Chicken or egg?
Writing on WNYmedia.net, blogger Brian Castner wonders aloud if the seemingly lost highway to revitalization for his hometown, Buffalo, N.Y., isn’t in fact a highway problem itself – or rather the misguided perception of a highway problem.
“There has been some debate, none of it new, on the chicken and the egg, and the relative importance to each. In this case, the chickens are large highways, and the egg is the perpetually under-developed downtown Buffalo. Is Buffalo under-developed because large highways are in the way? Do the highways need to be removed for Buffalo to prosper? How important are the stupid highways in the grand scheme of things?” ponders Castner.
Buffalo highways: Chicen or egg
“Which is more important: having great infrastructure, or how you use what you have? If you answered the second, why do we always seem to argue about the first?” he asks. “Since Buffalo doesn’t have $5 billion or $10 billion to start over, I think how we use what we’ve got is more important than arguing about what we wish would happen, or would have happened.
“Even the most cursory review shows that both flourishing and floundering cities have all manner of infrastructure,” writes Castner. “For every Vancouver touted for explosive growth with no highways in the urban core (though plenty of gridlock), there is Chicago, Milwaukee, Toronto, Portland and Seattle that are riddled with expressways. Few would say highways are the main feature holding back Detroit. And does Pittsburgh’s resurgence have more to do with renewed medical and education industries, or reclaiming a little parkland where three rivers come together? Portland has a Skyway interchange hanging over the Willamette River. Know what’s surrounding it? Filled-to-the-brim bike paths.”
And, we wonder also, what about Buffalo? v
A bold new face at Better Roads
Let me introduce you to Mike Anderson, our new Senior Editor.
Here’s a guy who jumped into journalism as a sports writer for a local radio station in his native Canada when he was in 11th grade and has never left it (or his fascination with sports). He studied journalism at college and worked in local newspapers in Ontario. Since 1996 he’s been deeply involved in covering the construction equipment industry in North America for various publications. This guy knows his stuff and adds some real power to our magazine, something I think you’ll see pretty quickly, and he shares our completely unbridled enthusiasm for what we do. Mike will cover our industry in feature stories and in his column, Mike Anderson’s American Iron (I think of him as the other Iron Mike) which starts this month on page 34. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org so feel free to exchange ideas with him.
This from the Dallas Morning News of February 15.
With up to a $16 billion budget shortfall facing the state next year, 41 percent of Texans said in a new poll they would make up some of the deficit by slicing highway spending.
The poll also offered voters a short list of five choices of how to raise money for roads. Most popular choice was tolling (21 percent) followed by raising the gas tax (16 percent), last raised in the Lone Star State in 1991.
Evidence continues to mount that the American public is hopelessly unaware of the reality and the necessity of highway funding. Check out our Kirk Landers on the subject on page 48 of this issue.
Tennessee is King of the Roads
Tennessee is home to the longest stretch of Interstate 40 in nation (455 miles) and
for the fourth straight year, the nation’s truckers have rated it the best stretch of roadway in America. Truck drivers also rated Tennessee’s overall road system third best in the country for the eleventh year in a row, according to a recent survey of truck owners and operators by Overdrive magazine, a sister publication to Better Roads. For the full survey, go to www.overdriveonline.com/the-good-the-bad-the-better/.
Overdrive polls more than 300 truck drivers across the nation each year asking them to rate the nation’s roads and drivers, state by state. The survey includes opinions about the quality of the roads, the smoothness of the riding surface, road markings, construction detour availability and more.
The best and the worst roads by state as ranked by Overdrive
BEST ROADS WORST ROADS
1. Florida 1. Pennsylvania
2. Texas 2. Michigan
3. Tennessee 3. New York and California (tie)
The best and the worst road segments as ranked in Overdrive:
BEST HIGHWAY SEGMENT WORST HIGHWAY SEGMENT
1. I-40 Tennessee 1. I-10 Louisiana
2. I-75 Florida 2. I-95 New York
3. I-10 Florida 3. I-40 Arkansas
Ontario bans hand helds, with exceptions. Over.
When one of North America’s largest jurisdictions banned hand-held use of cell phones and two-way radios by drivers, the Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA) kicked into advocacy high gear for highway workers.
“OGRA was triumphant in getting accommodation extended to municipal employees under Bill 118, an Act to Amend The Highway Traffic Act. This Act, which became law on Oct. 26,2009, made it illegal for motorists to use hand-held wireless communications devices or any hand-held electronic entertainment device while driving,” noted the February-released 2009 Annual Report of the OGRA, which represents 433 municipalities and 24 First Nations across a Canadian province larger in area than France and Spain combined. “Municipal employees were granted a three-year exemption to this law.”
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation approved an exemption, through Jan. 1, 2013, for both drivers of certified commercial vehicles and for drivers employed by or under contract to a “road authority” such as a municipality. To qualify for the first exemption to hold the microphone of a two-way radio while driving, a person must be operating the vehicle within the Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR) system and be carrying a CVOR certificate. To fit the latter group, the driver may likewise hold the microphone when they are engaged in road patrol, repair, maintenance or construction activities.
For commercial and maintenance drivers who do not qualify for either of the exemptions, the new law does permit a driver to push and hold the button on a two-way radio to talk and release to listen, as often as necessary to conduct a conversation.
Highway, transit purchasing power eroding
Spending by all levels of government on the nation’s highways and transit lines has increased substantially in recent years, but steep increases in construction costs have eroded the purchasing power of this investment, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which recently released its report documenting the conditions and performance of the nation’s transportation system.
The report, started in 2007 and released this month, was prepared using 2006 data to satisfy requirements for updates to Congress on the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure and future capital investment needs. (Given the size, complexity, and importance of the report, it has traditionally undergone an extensive review process prior to its release.)
Findings of the document, 2008 Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges, and Transit: Conditions and Performance, focus on changes in various indicators since 1997. That timeframe spans the TEA-21 authorization law era in its entirety — which was in effect between 1998 and 2003 — and the early period of SAFETEA-LU, which was signed into law in 2005, expired Sept. 30 2009, and has been temporarily extended as a new bill is being considered
“In nominal dollar terms, combined investment by all levels of government in highway and bridge infrastructure has increased sharply since TEA-21 was enacted,” according to the report. Those expenditures jumped 58 percent between 1997 and 2006.
Talk about work!
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