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Bill Would Setup VMT Pilot in Oregon

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Last week, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would fund a Vehicle Miles Traveled pilot program to examine a new source of funding that would help make up for the Highway Trust Fund deficit. The legislation calls on the Secretary of the Treasury to undertake a series of studies to demonstrate the viability of a VMT revenue source in every state, and it reflects a pilot program undertaken in Oregon.

“We must invest now in our nation’s roads, bridges, and public transit to prevent enormous costs in the future,” said Blumenauer. “With the Highway Trust Fund facing a 21% reduction in revenue by 2040, based on current driving patterns and projected increases in fuel economy, we need innovative solutions to close this gap.”

Over the past four years, Congress has transferred more than $48 billion from the General Fund into the Highway Trust Fund, Blumenauer notes. Estimates suggest that, when the current transportation authorization expires, the Trust Fund will require almost $15 billion a year in addition to current fuel tax receipts simply to maintain 2009 funding levels. As cars and trucks become more fuel efficient, as mandated by federal agencies, discussion over replacing the fuel tax with a tax based on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) continues to grow. While it may not seem like a complicated thing to do, highway users have reasons to believe it could open Pandora’s Box in terms of privacy and the overall relevancy of a federal infrastructure system.

Here in Oregon, the Department of Transportation is testing three privately manufactured devices. Two use GPS technology, including a smartphone app, while a third simply counts miles. Since 2006, two federally appointed panels have mentioned a vehicle miles traveled tax, or VMT, as a way to keep money going into the Highway Trust Fund as vehicles get more fuel efficient. In March 2011, the Congressional Budget Office released a report saying such a program is a “practical option” for raising new funds. Shortly afterward, the DOT proposed a study of the concept, but President Obama has resisted switching to a VMT fee.

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