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Tuesday, June 13, 2006 - Page updated at 10:07 AM


Oregon might tax motorists per mile driven, not per gallon

PORTLAND — If a test drive of mileage-based fees for drivers pans out during the next 10 months, it could replace Oregon's gas tax and serve as a national model for road funding in the future.

Oregon's 24 cents-a-gallon gas tax, which is used to fund roads, has not increased since 1993. Some at the state Department of Transportation say the money could dry up in future years as hybrids and other fuel-efficient cars become more popular. So the state is investigating other alternatives to pay for roads.

The mileage-fee project was designed by engineers at Oregon State University. The system works by using a Global Positioning System in a car to determine the number of miles traveled inside and outside of Oregon and at what times, which could lead to peak-driving-time fees. When the car pulls into a service station, a radio transmitter sends the data to a reader in a gas pump. The mileage fee is added to the bill, and the gas tax is subtracted.

"Still, there will be people who don't believe it," said Jim Whitty, who is overseeing the project for the transportation department. "We know the navigation systems are more invasive, and they will be standard equipment on GM cars a year from now."

The cost would be about $33 million to install the equipment in all state service stations, and about $1.6 million a year to collect the taxes, Whitty said.

Nearly 300 Portland-area volunteers will begin testing the system this week. They will be paid $300 to carry a global-positioning device in their car and fuel up at two participating Leathers service stations.

If the pilot project goes well, Whitty said, it could spur federal investment that would make the project more likely to become a reality. However, he said putting the plan into effect is at least 14 years off.

The mileage-based system still faces a few challenges. By charging people by mileage, it removes a major incentive for people to use fuel-efficient cars that are less polluting. Additionally, only new-car owners can take advantage of the system because of the need for a global-positioning unit.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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