Attendance for the most recent mileage-based user fee (MBUF) conference nearly doubled from last year, signaling growing interest in what many proponents admit could be years, if not decades, before implementation. MBUFs, also known as vehicle-miles-traveled fees, are viewed as a promising approach to replace the current way transportation projects are funded. Instead of relying on an unsustainable gasoline tax to pay for road construction, motorists would be charged more directly for the amount they drive.
More than 250 people attended the Symposium on Mileage-Based User Fees and Transportation Finance in New Jersey this spring, sponsored by the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) originated the symposium with the University of Minnesota in 2009 and was a conference partner for this year’s event.
“More and more people are talking about this topic as they realize that the gasoline tax is not adequate to meet our long-term needs,” says TTI Mobility Management Division Head Ginger Goodin, who was a panel discussion member at the symposium. “Even though we have been researching this topic for more than five years, the political and pubic resistance remains strong.” (Read a recent article about a webinar conducted by Goodin.)
The idea of a road-user fee was first discussed as a logical funding approach 10 years ago following an Oregon field test on the topic. Since then, five state departments of transportation and the I-95 Corridor Coalition in the northeast have conducted studies. Goodin and TTI Associate Transportation Researcher Trey Baker are among the national leaders in MBUF research. In addition to supporting research in Texas and Colorado, they are in the second year of a two-year U.S. Department of Transportation study on collection technologies.
“No matter what people feel about road-use fees, it really is a revolutionary way to fund the transportation system. To be a researcher on a topic like this is very rewarding, and frankly, it’s some of the most interesting work I’ve been involved with,” Goodin says.