Orange County Branch Newsletter
California's Road User Charge Pilot
By Steven L. King, P.E.
As I travel around throughout California, I notice that the road conditions change drastically from one area to the next. In 2012, ASCE Region 9 released it’s most recent California Infrastructure Report Card giving Transportation a C- letter grade. At the time of the report, the California Streets and Roads Needs Assessment rated the overall Pavement Condition Index (PCI) across the state to be just 66 on a 100 point scale. Assuming funding levels would remain steady, Caltrans projected continued deferred maintenance and preservation activities would result in the PCI would dropping to 54 and the funding shortfall to increase from $39.1 billion to $63.6 billion by 2020.
Something clearly needs to be done to keep our transportation infrastructure from falling into disrepair. Most people realize that user fees commonly known as the gas taxes are the primary revenue source for building our roadways. Without digressing into the details related to California’s “fuel tax swap” of 2011, per gallon gas tax rates have essentially been the same since last raised in 1993. I think we can all agree that a dollar today doesn’t buy what it used to in 1993 and people are using less gas for the same trips since fuel economy in vehicles has increased over the last 20 years.
ASCE, along with many other advocacy groups, regularly use this type of information to urge the State legislature to prioritize transportation infrastructure and increase investments into our transportation system. In 2014, Senator De Saulnier authored Senate Bill 1077 that was ultimately signed by Governor Brown requiring the state to initiate a pilot program to study the implications of a road user charge as an alternative to the state gas tax.
After a couple years of development and incorporating lessons learned from other states, the California pilot kicked off in July and I’m happy to be one of more than 5,000 volunteers statewide to participate. As a participant, I was able to select from various options the method of reporting miles and making “payments.” Since this is a pilot, no real transactions take place but theoretical statements and payments are used for the program. Methods for reporting varied from time and mileage permits to manual odometer readings to real-time gps tracking via smartphone or built in vehicle technologies.
To keep my work to a minimum, I chose the most automated options by pre-paying into a deposit account and using gps to track and report my miles. At first I was really excited to see how things work, I was able to us a smartphone ap to track and review each of my trips. After a week or so, the novelty wore of and I didn’t really care to see any more notes for “hard braking.”
A few weeks later, I received my first monthly statement and the only real surprise was that I didn’t really drive as much as I thought I would. I’d consider the pilot a success to date and I Iook forward to completing the program over the next few months.
Results of the pilot are scheduled to be reported back to the legislature by the end of 2017 and hopefully this is a first steps toward getting a more sustainable revenue source for our roadways.
After reading the recently released 2016 Orange County Report Card, I’m happy to see that at 77, we still have the highest PCI rating in the state. Orange County is fortunate to have relatively newer roads with fewer maintenance needs but we need to recognize the need to keep those facilities in a state of good repair.