By Nick Giangreco:
Learning about what an MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) is, and how it works, has been incredibly fascinating. MPO members through a cooperative and collaborative process distribute federal dollars to a variety of needed transportation related projects; roadways and bridge repair, bicycle paths, and procurement of new buses, to name a few.
The GBNRTC has seven members – Erie & Niagara County, City of Buffalo, City of Niagara Falls, NFTA, NYSDOT, & NYS Thruway Authority. Federally aid eligible transportation projects are financed through the Highway Trust Fund, which in turn is funded by the federal gas tax. The federal gas tax is where problems arise.
The federal gas tax has been 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. As automobiles become amazingly gas efficient and the US becomes less gas dependent, revenue to the transportation fund declines. The GBNRTC as with other MPOs must find creative ways to fund transportation projects. Planning for new projects and maintaining current infrastructure is necessary for a prosperous future, not an option. Might it be resolved at the federal level, state and local level, or even within the private sector – “new money” needs to be found.
As we know, the US Federal Government is in tremendous debt. As citizens, respectively, we cannot encourage the government to continue spending – It is not fiscally responsible. With sincerity, it is up to the citizens and MPOs to figure out an answer to the question – How will we pay to sustain and improve our local infrastructure?
The State of Oregon has figured out a creative solution to this critical challenge. The solution is the establishment of a VMT fee (Vehicle Mileage Traveled). Simply put, you pay for every mile driven. In the case of Oregon, they have requested 1.56 cents per mile driven. To put it in prospective – If you drive 10,000 miles a year you will pay $156; 12,500 miles = $195; 20,000 miles = $312. The VMT fee could eliminate the federal gas tax, while lowering gas prices and creating a reliable collection. Inevitably, a program such as this raises concerns about personal privacy. Oregon has mapped out multiple plans for the collection of VMT, some less invasive than others.
The first two plans require a GPS tracking system. Since GPS is capable of tracking specific roads driven on, miles acquired on private roadways will not be charged. These options save you money – great! However, maybe you would like more privacy. Another option is the installation of a second odometer. It would record all miles driven including private and public roadways, therefore, payment of miles traveled on private roadways is applied. Lastly, you have an option to pay a flat fee that assumes monthly mileage. At the end of each month or year, the odometer is checked and the difference between miles paid and miles driven is reconciled.
The VMT fee would be a reliable source of funding that would help eliminate the federal gas tax, as well as state and local gas taxes. There are many options available to record miles driven, some less invasive than others, and will be decided according to personal preference. The new fee could help fund new infrastructure projects as well as sustain and improve old. Future transportation funding will likely come from multiple sources – both public and private. Localities and MPOs should not put all their eggs into one basket and continue to explore other sources of “new money”.