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COLUMN: KEEP OREGON MOVING

With gas tax revenue continually fading a better funding source is desperately needed.

No matter how we get around — whether by bike, truck, car, skateboard or feet — better roads mean a better trip. Better roads support a strong economy, healthier communities, lower costs, and even fewer injuries.

We know that Oregonians buy tens of thousands of new electric vehicles every year, and industry experts predict that number will grow significantly over the next few years, and eventually, most cars on the road will run on electricity. There's a big upside to switching to electric vehicles: cleaner air, quieter communities and a reduced carbon footprint.

BROUWERBut the maintenance of our roads is funded to a great extent by fuel taxes, and as cars use less fuel, that revenue will decline. Already, we're seeing this happen, and unless we take action, we'll see a decline in the funds available for basic road maintenance.

We need to face the future.

Oregon created the nation's first gas tax in 1919, but that revenue source is declining. Nationally, funding for transportation maintenance, highway improvements and construction hasn't kept pace with needs since the 1990s.

If we fail to maintain and improve our transportation system, communities suffer. Deliveries to stores slow down, commutes are longer, and home deliveries can't keep up with demand. Those using the Port of Portland to ship Oregon products around the world need to schedule freight haulers earlier and earlier.

The realization that the gas tax is fading led us to OReGO, Oregon's pay-per-mile system. With legislative direction, ODOT tested road usage charging for decades. The fully operational, voluntary system launched July 1, 2015, and we've been running it successfully ever since.

The program aligns with ODOT's goals set out in our Strategic Action Plan, which calls for sufficient and reliable funding to help us maintain a modern, equitable transportation system. It also aligns with our Statewide Transportation Strategy, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

Transportation and business leaders across the country recognize road usage charging as a good way to generate transportation funding and make sure all vehicles contribute to maintaining the system. Taking Oregon's lead, other states are considering charging by the mile, and members of Congress are exploring Oregon's approach.

OReGO demonstrates that road charging works for the state. ODOT pilot projects are underway in the Portland area to test how it would work at the local level to collect local fees and accurately distribute them to local governments. We're testing how to levy a per-mile fee within a defined area such as a city or county.

We see the impact of poorly maintained roads on many levels. First, of course, rough roads are less safe. Fleets suffer when rough roads cause costly damages to trucks. Bicyclists are less likely to get out of their cars to venture out onto rough roads. And rough roads decrease a vehicle's fuel efficiency, wear out tires more quickly, and require more repairs for things like alignments.

And let's remember that it's far cheaper and less work to maintain roads today than reconstruct them later.

Based on 6,300 miles a year, electric vehicles pay about $113 annually in road usage charges in Oregon, at 1.8 cents a mile. Those same vehicles pay about $380 annually for repairs and maintenance caused by bad roads. If all electric vehicle owners paid a road charge, funding for road maintenance would increase, damages caused by bad roads would decrease, and vehicle costs would decline.

A road usage charge lifts us out of the fossil fuel era and establishes a modern, technology-based foundation for maintaining roads and assessing drivers fairly for their road use. What's more, the OReGO system allows ODOT to address the problem of climate change by removing our funding from a fuel consumption model to one that is based on actual use of the road, not gallons of fuel. For climate benefits, road preservation and fairness, it's better to implement road charging now than later.


Travis Brouwer is ODOT's Assistant Director for Revenue, Finance and Compliance. Comments can be directed to 888-Ask-ODOT or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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