Through the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives program, the Federal Highway Administration is awarding $18.7 million to eight user-based revenue testing projects.
The Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives program was implemented by 2015’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The focus of this program is to provide backing for states that are working on adopting user-based funding methods.
The newly-funded projects come at the hands of the transportation coalition and various state departments of transportation and their efforts to better evaluate road usage charges and mileage-based user fees.
One grant recipient was Ohio’s Department of Transportation, which will receive $2 million in funds to help with its efforts in creating a public-educating outreach program. This money is expected to help the agency collect the necessary data and find the best possible ways in which it can help more people fully understand road usage charges.
In regards to transportation funding in general, the Ohio General Assembly has requested that the Ohio Department of Transportation begin focusing on how best to take more of a vehicle-miles-traveled approach, according to ODOT’s spokesman, Matt Bruning.
“For decades, the preferred funding mechanism for roads and bridges has been through the motor fuel tax,” explained Bruning. “However, as vehicles become more fuel efficient, the revenue from this source hasn’t been keeping pace with the cost of maintaining our infrastructure.”
With all of the technological and fuel-efficient changes coming to transportation, these grants are set to help these agencies find the most efficient ways to keep up with the evolution of the industry.
“The funds will be used to educate, research, demonstrate need, and determine possible next steps forward,” Bruning added.
The projects that will receive the support they need from these funds are expected to help these states find the best ways in which they can boost the Highway Trust Fund, FHWA noted. For instance, the federal fuel tax has long-supported the Highway Trust Fund, although it has stayed at 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents a gallon for diesel for the last 27 years. Now, applicants for these grants must prove their intentions to solve issues regarding the effects of user fees on people in various geographic regions or having varying household incomes.
As of now, $73.7 million has been awarded by the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives program to 37 different projects since 2016.
“The pilot projects under the STSFA program allow states to learn more about potential new user fees structures that can complement traditional funding sources that states rely on to build and improve the nation’s highway and bridge infrastructure,” explained Stephanie Pollack, acting Federal Highway Administrator.
Delaware’s Department of Transportation and the Eastern Transportation Coalition (formerly the I-95 Corridor Coalition) have been gearing up to test mileage-based user fees in places like Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The District of Columbia and 17 other states have been collaborating within the Eastern Transportation Coalition to analyze mileage-based user fees possibilities through pilot programs, for which the groups will receive $4.67 million.
$3.25 million will be allocated to efforts spearheaded by the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which are prioritizing the testing of road usage charge systems and their effects throughout the Midwest. This project will study the impacts of this kind of system in regards to supply chain operators and commercial freight haulers, as well as the effects within both agricultural and rural regions.
Additionally, because Utah’s Department of Transportation is working to boost customer service capabilities in regards to potential road usage charges, the state will receive $1.25 million. These efforts are aiming to bring about more supporters and improve public perception in regards to these kinds of policies.
“Customer experience is a key ingredient in advancing acceptance of road usage charge policies and systems,” explained the manager of UDOT’s Road Usage Charge Program, Tiffany Pocock. “Funding this application for customer experience improvements will help Utah grow its own program and provide much-needed best practice guidance to other states.”