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A fairer, smarter way to pay for transportation

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

One of Congress’s more thoughtful voices on transportation matters is that of Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. Last week, he introduced legislation to advance a fairer and more reliable way to raise revenue for the nation’s creaking transportation system.

The bill would require the secretary of the treasury to make studies on the viability of a switch from taxes on gasoline to a fee for vehicle miles traveled.

blumBetter fuel efficiency has had the unintended consequence of sapping revenue from the Highway Trust Fund, forcing Congress to transfer $48 billion from the general fund in the past four years to keep the trust fund solvent.

“We must invest now in our nation’s roads, bridges, and public transit to prevent enormous costs in the future,” Mr. Blumenauer said in a news release. “With the Highway Trust Fund facing a 21 percent reduction revenue by 2040, based on current driving patterns and projected increases in fuel economy, we need innovative solutions to close this gap.”

In Mr. Blumenauer’s home state, a pilot program outfitted cars with transponders that record miles traveled and communicate with fueling stations to bill drivers. The devices can be even be programmed to increase the fee for miles traveled on congested roads during peak periods to encourage drivers to travel at off-peak times.

Some have raised privacy issues with such a system but its backers insist that the collected data can be protected.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also has embraced a VMT fee. But so far, the concept has gotten a cold shoulder from the Obama administration.

Here's a Post-Gazette report from 2010 on the issue.

Mr. Blumenauer offers the following on the costs of inadequate transportation funding;

•Congestion costs urban Americans 4.2 billion hours and 2.8 billion unnecessary gallons of fuel each year; expressed in dollar terms this is $87.2 billion, or $750 per traveler. By 2015, this cost is expected to increase to more than $900 per traveler.

•Roughly 40,000 people every year are killed on our streets and highways, with 2.5 million more injured, at a staggering annual economic cost to society.

•Higher transportation costs and higher inventory carrying costs – partially attributable to an unreliable transportation system – have pushed logistics costs to nearly 10% of GDP.

•Analysis by the American Society of Civil Engineers suggests that the cost of our failing transportation system could result in the loss of 876,000 jobs by 2020.

“Oregon and other states have successfully tested a Vehicle Miles Traveled fee, and it is time to test this model systematically, across the country,” Mr. Blumenauer said.

Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week that it would be impractical for the state to implement a miles-traveled fee on its own because of the complications of trying to bill out-of-state drivers. The system must be implemented nationally, he said.

On we go to the Barrel Report:

Inbound traffic on Route 28 will be restricted to one lane at times between the 40th Street Bridge and East Ohio Street starting at 8 p.m. weekdays through Jan. 10 as the construction project grinds on. Brief stoppages also are possible in both directions there. Restrictions end by 5 a.m. daily.

Restrictions also are planned for the area of the Parkway East Grant Street interchange this week. Everythings starts at 10 p.m. and ends by 5 a.m. On Monday and Tuesday, eastbound Fort Pitt Boulevard is down to one lane near the inbound parkway off-ramp to Grant, and the inbound parkway off-ramp to Grant is closed. On Tuesday and Wednesday the on-ramp from Grant to the inbound parkway is closed. On Wednesday, the inbound parkway is restricted to one lane in the “bathtub” section between Grant and the Fort Pitt Bridge.

Drilling and research for a proposed future project will cause periodic lane closures on the Parkway West between the eastern Business Loop 376 interchange (Exit 57) and the Beaver County line on weekdays starting Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. inbound and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. outbound and on weekdays and weekends in both directions from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. through late January.

Short-term lane closures are possible on Freeport and Hulton roads in the area of the Hulton Bridge from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday as crews make test borings for the upcoming bridge replacement project.

Drainage work will restrict East Carson Street to alternating one-way traffic between Becks Run Road and the Glenwood Bridge from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today (Monday).

Don’t be surprised if you run into a lane restriction on any of these byways from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. this week as overhead sign inspections continue: On Monday, Haymaker Road in Monroeville; Beechwood Boulevard on-ramp to the Parkway East; Route 8 on-ramp to Parkway East at Forest Hills. On Tuesday, Western Avenue near the West End Bridge, North Side, and on the West End Bridge. On Wednesday, Parkway North ramps at McKnight Road; Parkway North both ways in the area of the Perrysville interchange; inbound Parkway North approaching the for Duquesne Bridge. On Thursday, the ramp from West Carson Street to the inbound Fort Pitt Bridge; the ramp from the Liberty Bridge to Crosstown Boulevard. On Friday, the ramp from Business Route 22 to the inbound Parkway East in Churchill; the ramp from the outbound Parkway East to Braddock Avenue in Edgewood; and the Boulevard of the Allies near the Birmingham Bridge and ramps to Forbes Avenue and the outbound Parkway East.

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