Washington, D.C. – The U.S. must shift from the current gasoline tax to a mileage-based usage fee by 2020 in order to maintain transportation infrastructure, according to a bi-partisan commission created by Congress. The National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission said the current federal motor fuels tax is unsustainable over the long term and that lawmakers must fundamentally shift the way the federal government collects revenues to fund infrastructure.
The commission will present its final report shortly, following nearly two years of study and deliberation.
Among its specific recommendations, the Financing Commission suggests the federal government move away from reliance on motor fuel taxes, toward more direct fees charged to transportation infrastructure users. Charging vehicle drivers a mileage fee embodies the “user pays” principle and more accurately aligns the costs and benefits of the system to those who are using it. More transparent charges may also spur drivers to use the system more efficiently, reducing the overall investment required.
“With the expected shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles, it will be increasingly difficult to rely on the gas tax to raise the funds needed to improve, let alone maintain our nation’s surface transportation infrastructure,” said commission chair Robert Atkinson.
In addition to a federal mileage-based charge, the commission calls for the federal government to facilitate state and local governments’ ability to raise their share of revenue in ways that also spur efficient system use, including toll portions of roads, and “congestion charging,” in which premiums are levied for rush-hour travel in heavily-used urban corridors.
In order to finance the transition, the commission has recommended a 10 cent per gallon increase in the federal gas tax, and 15 cents for diesel, with the tax indexed to inflation going forward. The gas tax, which is not currently indexed to inflation, has lost one-third of its purchasing power since 1993, the last time it was increased.