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AASHTO Journal

Mn/DOT to Test Technology for Potential VMT Fee
The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced Monday that it will recruit 500 people from Wright and Hennepin counties to take part in research to test technology that could someday be used to collect a mileage-based user fee. Mn/DOT will start recruiting volunteers for the Minnesota Road Fee Test in May;  research begins in July.

"This research will provide important feedback from motorists about the effectiveness of using technology in a car or truck to gather mileage information," Cory Johnson, project manager, said in a statement issued by Mn/DOT. "We are researching alternative financing methods today that could be used 10 or 20 years from now, when the number of fuel-efficient and hybrid cars increase and no longer produce enough revenue from a gas tax to build and repair roads."

The Minnesota Legislature in 2007 appropriated $5 million from the trunk highway fund for the demonstration. Mn/DOT has contracted with several companies to conduct the technology research. An adequate evaluation of technology must include a parallel policy evaluation, so Mn/DOT awarded a $395,000 contract to the University of Minnesota to conduct a policy study alongside the technology research.

If a vehicle miles traveled user fee were implemented, motorists would pay a tax based on how many miles they drive rather than on how much gas a vehicle uses, which is how Minnesota's gas tax is now designed. The research will help Mn/DOT and public-policy leaders understand the challenges and opportunities in such a system.

Volunteers will use a smartphone with a GPS application that also has been programmed to allow motorists to submit information that Mn/DOT can use to evaluate whether the device provides timely, reliable travel data from that specific trip. In addition, the test will examine whether other applications -- such as real-time traffic alerts that provide information on construction zones, crashes, congestion and road hazards -- are effective in communicating safety messages to motorists. Three different groups of volunteers will test the devices for six months each. The volunteers will be paid a nominal stipend to cover the expenses of this test.

Other state transportation departments also are researching alternative financing methods to supplement or replace a gas tax. Oregon completed a similar study in November 2007. Iowa, Nevada, and Texas are among several states currently researching mileage-based user fees, according to Mn/DOT.

Minnesota's highway revenues are derived from three sources: the gas tax, vehicle registration fees, and a motor-vehicle sales tax. Based on its last state transportation plan, Mn/DOT anticipates as much as a $50 billion transportation funding shortfall during the next 20 years.

The research is scheduled to end by December 2012.

4/22/2011
Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.