BEND, OR -- Oregon’s Department of Transportation is trying to garner support for its new Road Usage Charge, scheduled to roll out on a limited basis in July. One of the program’s managers says Oregon is the first state in the country to create an alternative to the gas tax, which has declined in recent years due to more fuel-efficient vehicles.
She tells KBND the charge is in response to declining maintenance funds due to the popularity of more fuel-efficient vehicles. "Every state is dealing with a declining fuels tax and Oregon is the first to actually do something about it and to create an alternative system that might, in the long term, help us make up the gap in funding," ODOT's Michelle Godfrey told KBND. "In the very short term, we’re going to be short of funds to maintain our roads to the degree they need to be."
She says the Charge is designed to replace an outdated funding model. "Up until the early-1990s it was fair for everyone, because every vehicle pretty much got the same gas mileage. Now you have some vehicles that are getting 55 MPG, while others are averaging 15-20, so they’re paying a much different amount in gas tax to fund the roads than would be assessed under a Road Usage Charge, which would be equal for everyone based on how much they drive." She adds, "The Road Usage Charge was determined to be the most fair and most viable option for Oregon. Basically, you pay a charge per mile that you drive. So it’s an actual pay per use system. Whereas the gas tax is becoming more and more unfair because you have some very high fuel-efficient vehicles that aren’t using any gas, and some that are using a lot more gas, so there’s a big disparity now in who’s paying for the roads."
Godfrey was in Bend Tuesday to answer questions from local ODOT employees, many of whom are already getting calls from concerned drivers confused about how the program will work. She says many don't understand how the new charge will work with the current gas tax. "People would never pay both. You would pay either the Road Usage Charge or the gas tax. If you participate in the program then you’ll get a credit for all the fuels tax you paid. Now, if your vehicle uses more gas, and you end up paying more gas tax than you pay in Road Charge, you’d actually get a refund." However, Godfrey admits, those with more fuel-efficient cars could pay more on the new fee structure.
ODOT is asking for 5,000 Oregon drivers to sign up for the first phase of the program
. Participants would be charged 1.5-cents per mile driven on Oregon roads. Whether the usage fee becomes mandatory statewide is dependent on the state Legislature.
To listen to our full conversation with ODOT's Michelle Godfrey, visit our Podcast page