Will American Paranoia Stifle Road Repairs?

One of the most promising options for funding roads, highways, and bridges in America faces opposition from Americans who think the government will use it to spy on them, a transportation policy expert said in Chicago Monday.
Cars outfitted with GPS devices can track a vehicle's mileage on specific roads, enabling the agencies that maintain those roads to collect per-mile fees from users, said Paul Hanley, director of the Transportation Policy Research Program at the University of Iowa.
"It's a privacy issue when it's the government saying 'You must do this,' Hanley told about 100 people gathered at a forum spnosored by the Metropolitan Planning Council. "There's less opposition when it's a consumer choice."
Hanley lead a study of the viability of the Vehicle Miles Tax as a replacement for federal fuel taxes, which currently cost motorists 18.4 cents per gallon at the pump.
"It's the idea that for every mile you travel, you should pay for the use of that road," Hanley said.
In the study, researchers outfitted about 2,500 vehicles with GPS devices that noted when vehicles passed from one road-maintenance jurisdiction to another, recording mileage in each. The study demonstated the technical viability of mileage-based user charges as a funding source for transportation infrastructure.
"This is mature teechnology that's been on the shelves since 2006," Hanley said.
But the study also found vulnerabilities in the approach.
Before participating in the study, 42 percent of motorists surveyed liked the idea. Afterwards, approval jumped to 70 percent. But 60 percent of participants believed the government would use the GPS data to track their movements.
That may be the Achilles' heel of the Vehicle Miles Tax, but it's not the only vulnerability. It took about 90 minutes to install GPS devices in the vehicles, and 25 percent had to return for maintenance.
Cell phones could also be used, Hanley said, or devices similar to those used to automatically collect tolls from motorists zooming past toll booths.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the nation's Highway Trust Fund will run out of money next year, leaving state and local projects stranded without funding for projects that have already been promised funding. Support for fuel tax increases collapsed with the recession, the rise in oil prices, and Republican ascension in the House of Representatives.
There's A Car In Your Future, But You May Not Own Or Drive It

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