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From the potholes in downtown Portland to the aging bridges and overpasses of our nation's interstate highway system, our country is facing a major challenge in how we maintain our transportation infrastructure.
In the past, the revenues from local, state, and federal gas taxes met the costs of building our nation's vast transportation system. But our roads, bridges, buses, and trains are getting older and more costly to maintain. In addition, more people are using them. From 1980 to 2006 the total number of automobile miles traveled increased 97% and truck mileage increased 106%. We've got many more vehicles traveling many more miles on deteriorating roadways and not enough money in the bank to maintain them.
The problem, however, is not simply insufficient investment. Our system is underpriced...All too often the prices paid by transportation system users are markedly less than the costs of providing the transportation services they use. - NSTIF Commission
Elected officials have recognized the problem and are beginning to act. President Obama's Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, recently called for replacing the federal gas tax with a more sustainable funding mechanism. In Oregon, Governor Kulongski is proposing a fundamental shift in how the state pays for maintaining and upgrading the transportation system. Congress also formed the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission to recommend the most effective methods for sustained transportation funding (here's the executive summary).
Interestingly, LaHood, Kulongski and the NSTIF Commission all recommend a vehicle mileage tax and a phase-out of the gas tax. Of course, the recommendations are not without controversy.
Orwellian government and inequitable tax burdens are some of the main concerns. Citing Rob Atkinson, president of the NSTIF Commission, the Daily Herald writes that "privacy concerns are based more on perception than any actual risk" because actual driving patterns are not tracked or recorded. The article also reports that higher rates could be charged to vehicles that are heavier, like trucks that put more stress on roadways.