This summer the Oregon Department of Transportation begins a program under which 5,000 volunteer drivers will pay a mileage-based road usage charge. It’s just the latest step for Oregon, which has been a pioneer of mileage-based fees over the last decade. But Oregon is far from alone in testing and exploring such fees. Other states have conducted tests of their own, adopted mileage-based user fee-related legislation and participated in multi-state coalitions to explore the concept.

February and March were busy months for state legislatures on the transportation front with four states approving major funding packages, several considering measures to revise gas tax indexing mechanisms to avoid losing transportation revenues in the wake of declining gas prices, and a whole host of other states continuing to contemplate or negotiate additional legislation that could bear fruit down the road. Here’s a roundup of the developments since my previous post on this topic.

In the March/April issue of Capitol Ideas, I wrote about how the state of Utah has used transportation investment to drive the state’s economic growth. Among those I talked with were two legislators—one a civil engineer, the other an economist—as well as a planning official for the Utah Department of Transportation. But there is plenty more to the story of Utah’s success as I learned in this February interview with Abby Albrecht of the Utah Transportation Coalition, which arrived too late to be included in the published article. The coalition is an organization formed by the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Utah Association of Counties.

CSG Midwest
Iowa became the first state in the Midwest this year to approve a plan to raise taxes for roads, but it may not be the last. According to The Des Moines Register, Iowa’s SF 257 increased the gas and diesel tax by 10 cents (to 31 cents for gas and 22.5 cents for diesel). It will bring in an additional $215 million annually for city, county and state roads. The gas tax in Iowa hadn’t been raised since 1989; the new rates took effect March 1.
 

In Alabama Department of Revenue v. CSX Transportation the Supreme Court held 7-2 that railroads can be compared to their competitors when determining whether a tax is discriminatory in violation of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act (4-R Act).  Different taxes paid by railroads and their competitors must be compared with determining whether a tax railroads pay is discriminatory.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case disagreeing with the Court’s first holding and agreeing with its second holding. 

Most states have created dedicated trust funds to support transportation. Some have constitutional restrictions on how the revenues in those funds can be spent. Others simply have restrictions codified in statute that haven’t always been effective in preventing the diversion of revenues to other budget areas. Maryland and Wisconsin are the two newest states with constitutional protections for their transportation trust funds. Additional states could follow suit, but despite their real or perceived benefits, such protections are unlikely to have much impact on struggling state transportation budgets.

Earlier this year, I named “project selection” one of my top 5 issues in transportation for 2015. From light rail and streetcar projects to efforts to reform planning processes to the costs of highway construction to the potential impacts of such factors as millennial preferences and autonomous vehicles, project selection is being pondered and debated in every state and community around the country. I have updates on what’s been happening this year in 21 states and the District of Columbia as well as links to recent reports on transportation spending limitations, performance measurement, Complete Streets policies, commuter and job growth trends and the future of cars.

More than a dozen state legislatures appear poised to consider gas tax increases this year, but Michigan will take a path less traveled when voters go to the polls May 5 to consider a complicated ballot measure that would provide an extra $1.2 billion a year for state roads.

Statehouse watchers think this legislative session is going to be a big one on the transportation funding front. “I think we can say for the next year or two that we’re going to see as much, if not more, activity than we saw in the last two years in legislatures,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America, an alliance of elected, business and civic leaders dedicated to smart investments in transportation. “Frankly, that’s pretty historic.”

A gas tax increase appears on the fast track to final passage in Iowa. Transportation funding measures in Georgia and Washington also moved forward this week. And governors, state DOT officials and legislators in a variety of other states introduced or defended major transportation packages as the funding conversation heated up in those states. Here’s a roundup of the latest developments.

Pages