Two recent announcements make clear that the way California is funding road maintenance and improvements is in serious trouble.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced that Americans drove more in 2015 than in any other year in history, with California leading the national trend. The California Board of Equalization voted to cut the gas tax, which the state relies on heavily to repair roads and bridges and to expand our transportation corridors.
With gas prices bottoming out and federal and state policy encouraging more fuel-efficient cars, the gas tax is becoming an unreliable funding source. Essentially, Californians are using roads more than ever, but the fund we rely on to maintain them is decreasing.
While the Legislature grapples with a more permanent funding solution, a pilot program is testing a new financing model – charging motorists based on how many miles they drive. Californians who are interested in making sure our transportation infrastructure remains strong should consider signing up.
The states needs 5,000 volunteers from across California with different types of commutes. Don’t worry, the pilot program won’t be charging you for your road use. Instead, the program asks motorists to choose one of five mileage reporting methods that the state will track and study. Options include a paper permit for a fixed number of miles and smartphone apps.
Californians register 32 million vehicles a year, and drive 324 billion miles annually. According to the state transportation department, the state’s current gas tax is enough to fund only $2.3 billion of work, leaving $5.7 billion in unfunded repairs each year.
The road charge is a viable and sensible alternative where all drivers contribute to the upkeep and improvement of state roadways in proportion to the amount of driving they complete. Oregon and Washington state have embarked upon similar efforts.
The California Transportation Commission has likened this model to electricity or water: You pay for what you use. To take the next step, it needs to make sure the right data and feedback are collected from the public.
Brad Diede is executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies, California. He can be contacted at BDiede@acec-ca.org.