Since 2001 Oregon has been exploring ways to fund transportation using a use fee. Sometimes called a VMT (vehicle miles traveled) tax, this kind of funding mechanism is much more equitable than the current combination of gas and sales taxes that do a lot of our state and local funding. As electric vehicles proliferate, and fuel economy increases, we’re going to have to find another way to fund our transportation infrastructure. This mechanism is much more fair, and would also allow time of use congestion pricing and pay by the mile insurance. If you’d like to see this kind of funding in Colorado, get in touch with your state legislators. In 2013 Oregon finally went ahead with a 5000 person opt-in trial, to see how the scheme affects behavior and work on scaling the system up.
And since we’re all being tracked at all times by the NSA via our phones and local police via license plate scanners anyway, there’s no additional erosion of privacy… bittersweet, that.
Rural counties across middle America are turning paved roads back into gravel. The WSJ article is from 2010, and I wonder to what extent this trend has continued. I can’t say that it seems like much of a loss. I suspect that much of the rural pavement was laid down without a good understanding of how much O&M it was committing the local governments to paying for. As state and federal budgets shrink, and counties are left to pay for their own infrastructure, they realize that maybe cheaper gravel and lower speeds are actually a better value proposition.
The Alliance for Biking & Walking is sounding the alarm on another round of crippling rescissions heading for state and local transportation agencies. A rescission is when the Feds say “Hey, you know that money we gave you? We want it back now.” This happened in 2010 as well, and then 44% of the money returned to DC came from bike, pedestrian, and air quality funding streams, even though they together make up only 7% of federal transportation funds. Yet another example of why local transportation should be funded locally, and why as a cyclist or pedestrian, you should evade your federal taxes whenever possible.
Whenever Tax Day approaches, I end up thinking about where that money goes, and what it buys, and whether I really wanted any of it. Increasingly, it seems to me that the larger the governing jurisdiction, the less democratic it is, and the more despairing I am of having any influence over it. More than any other realm of policy, the way we build our cities — and thus our buildings and our transportation systems — influences our energy use and other impacts on the world around us. Land use is nominally controlled by local government (city planning boards, zoning commissions, etc). However, in many important ways the actions that local governments can take are limited by the state and federal policymakers. In particular, they’re limited by what they can get funded. The large jurisdictions take your tax dollars, and then set up hoops for small jurisdictions to jump through in order to get it back. This leads to an unfortunate homogeneity of policy, and discourages experimentation, or even imitation of things known to work in other places. At best you end up playing accounting games, doing things like building bike paths with federal flood mitigation money.