AASHTO Journal

Lewis: Gas Tax ‘Dying’ as Revenue Source, But VMT Fee ‘Not There’ Yet as Alternative

​Michael Lewis, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, told a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing that while the motor fuels user fee is "dying" as a model to raise enough revenue to pay for surface transportation infrastructure, "we're not there" yet on switching to fees based on vehicle miles traveled.

Lewis made the comments in a combination of prepared remarks at a March 7 hearing and responses to questions from lawmakers. He was testifying on behalf of 14 western state DOTs that are in a road user charge coalition to test emerging options to collect revenue based on how much drivers use the roadway system.

He said that while for many years states and the federal government collected plenty of revenue from drivers through fuel taxes, that has eroded with higher-efficiency vehicles and threatens to weaken further as more vehicles enter the national fleet that do not need gasoline or diesel fuel.

lewishearing.jpgAnd Lewis said that Colorado, like the federal government, has further lost purchasing power by not indexing the gas taxes to inflation.

"The gas tax as we know it is dying," he said in the prepared remarks.

As a result, he said Colorado and other states are pursuing options other than new highway construction to help manage traffic flow, while also conducting pilot tests or limited programs to explore mileage-based fees to collect revenue. "In short, our states are working as laboratories and producing meaningful, replicable results," Lewis said.

But when asked by a lawmaker what the VMT pilot shows and whether Congress could begin using such a user charge, he said, "we are not there today. We are not there, ready to implement a road usage charge today. That's why we have these pilot programs in place."

He described the road user charge model as a "potential future replacement" for fuel taxes as a funding model.

Pressed for how long he thinks it would take to switch to a mileage fee, Lewis said, "I would say it's probably still 10 years off before it can be fully implemented."

In the meantime, he said that "if we are ever to get to a road usage charge we need a [funding] bridge to get there."

He also said one option to shore up the Highway Trust Fund could be increasing motor fuel fees while developing alternative funding sources, noting that it is administratively easy to implement but "a politically difficult way to go."

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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