Due to many factors, road funding is declining. Yet, as our needs continue to grow, we must work to maintain the current roadway system.
In upcoming years, Nevada will be billions short in funding road construction and maintenance for the following reasons and others:
• Hybrid/electric vehicle use is increasing. While an important positive for our environment, these alternative vehicles pay limited fuel tax to support roadway construction and maintenance, but are still using the same highways.
• Vehicle fuel efficiency will increase to an average 35 miles a gallon by 2020. This leads to less road funding for vehicles that are traveling the same amount on our highways.
• Current funding for road construction, maintenance and operations comes from fuel taxes. Today, due to inflation, these fuel taxes cover less than half of the road construction and maintenance costs that they funded when last raised in 1992.
To potentially help overcome this, the Nevada Department of Transportation is embarking on a vehicle miles traveled fee study.
The study will evaluate vehicle miles traveled fees as a potential fuel tax replacement. In a VMT system, users are charged a fee based on the number of miles driven, and are not paying per-gallon fuel taxes. This is not an additional tax. It is a potential replacement for current taxes paid at the pump.
For the study, a sampling of volunteers will have their vehicles outfitted with systems to test these potential vehicle miles traveled fees. Conducted by University of Nevada, Reno and Las Vegas researchers, the study will look at privacy, policy, technology, administration and equitability. Is this the best system for Nevada? How will privacy be completely secured? How will taxes be equitably applied to all road users? These are just some of the questions that will be evaluated.
Similar tests have been conducted in other states. A study in Washington state showed a reduction in vehicle miles traveled and time spent driving for study participants, as well as a successful use of GPS and cellular technology.
In the end, what the study means is that should the fuel tax need to be replaced with another funding source in the future, Nevada is ready with an equitable and proven option that has been shown to work in this state.
Nevada has been funding highways from fuel taxes since Calvin Coolidge was president in the 1920s. Fuel taxes are not keeping pace as a viable mechanism for funding transportation needs and that is why NDOT has an obligation to explore other funding options. The vehicle miles traveled study is the first step in evaluating options to do just that.
Susan Martinovich is the Director of Nevada Department of Transportation.