We keep having to sound this note from Oregon's rural reaches, but it's only because Salem's not listening: Charging drivers for every mile they drive rather than each time they fill up their tank doesn't work out here.
Put another way, just because government can do something doesn't mean that it should do something.
The Oregon Department of Transportation has completed a yearlong pilot study in Portland and concluded that a mileage fee could feasibly replace the gas tax as the principal revenue source for road funding. Of the 280 volunteers who participated in the study, 91 percent said they would agree to continue paying the mileage fee in lieu of the gas tax if the program were implemented statewide.
Oregon's gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993 and is not indexed to inflation. The fund has thus lost much of its buying power. In 2001, the Legislature established a Road User Fee Task Force to research revenue collection options for Oregon roads, and the pilot study is one of 28 different funding ideas.
According to ODOT, the study shows that a mileage fee could be phased in gradually, alongside the gas tax, and that it could work with other collection systems already in place. It could be priced to take into account traffic congestion if you want to drive your car during rush hour, that's your business, but you must pay extra for that privilege.
What the study fails to note is that we here in eastern Oregon don't have mass transit options readily available to west side residents, and we generally have to drive much farther albeit faster when we want to go places. Paying by the mile isn't such a bargain east of the Cascades.
While we appreciate state transportation officials looking out for the pavement they must take care of and the new asphalt they plan to lay down in the coming years, we'd appreciate it even more if they'd study ways to generate additional income from all drivers.