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Caltrans seeks 5,000 volunteer motorists for mileage fee pilot program

Caltrans seeks 5,000 volunteer motorists for mileage fee pilot program
The glare of head and brake lights line the 110 Freeway during the evening rush hour. Faced with growing shortfalls in highway funding, California officials are trying to determine if a mileage fee would be more effective at raising revenue for road projects than the state gas tax. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The California Department of Transportation is seeking 5,000 volunteers for an experimental program that will charge motorists a fee based on how far they drive -- a proposal that could replace the state gas tax as a way to fund highway maintenance and repairs.

Volunteers will participate in the California Road Charge Pilot Program, which was created by the Legislature in 2014 to test the feasibility of so-called mileage-based user fees.

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The dry run is scheduled to begin this summer and last for nine months. Participating motorists will test various mileage reporting methods, but they won't be charged fees for the distances they drive.

State officials are trying to determine if a fee of up to a few pennies per mile would be more effective at raising revenue for road projects than the state gas tax of 36 cents a gallon.

According to Caltrans, the current tax generates only enough revenue to fund $2.3 billion out of $8-billion worth of highway repair and maintenance that is needed every year.

The huge gap in funding, officials say, has resulted from cars with better gas mileage, including hybrids and electric vehicles, and the fact that the gas tax has not been increased for more than 20 years.

"The gas tax is outdated and no longer capable of meeting all of our future transportation revenue needs," said Will Kempton, executive director of the California Transportation Commission. "The pilot is an excellent opportunity to study road charging and should provide the Legislature with the data it needs to better determine whether and how this idea might work."

At the conclusion of the pilot program, the California State Transportation Agency will issue a report and findings to the Legislature, the Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee and the California Transportation Commission.

The commission will then make recommendations to state lawmakers, who will decide whether to implement a mileage-based user fee in California.

Anyone interested in participating in the pilot program can find more information online at http://www.dot.ca.gov/road_charge/.

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