Caltrans receives $2.15M federal grant to study road user charge in rural communities

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Caltrans has been awarded a $2.15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to study the impact in rural communities of a potential road user charge program.

The grant will allow Caltrans to build upon its ongoing research into possible alternative funding measures for road and highway maintenance other than the gas tax. In a road charge system, drivers are taxed on the number of miles they travel rather than on the gas they use.

“As the state looks toward a zero-emission future, California needs to study alternatives to the gas tax to fund our transportation infrastructure. It is critical that we fully understand how a road charge program may uniquely impact rural communities and work together to find solutions,” said Toks Omishakin, Caltrans Director.

Caltrans will use the grant money to study the viability of GPS technology in differentiating between public and private roads. Additionally, the project will identify priorities and analyze the potential benefits of a statewide road charge program in rural and tribal communities. The agency anticipates completing the study in mid-2023.

The grant, part of the USDOT’s Surface Transportation System Funding Alternative Program, will be Caltrans third road charge study. The first, California Road Charge Pilot, launched in 2016 and looked at the driving habits of 5,000 vehicles over nine months using six different reporting and recording methods. The second, launched in January, studies how to best facilitate an easy user experience and simulates a road charge with four technologies: pay at the pump/charge point, usage-based insurance, ridesharing, and autonomous vehicles.

California is also partnering with Oregon to test interoperability between states and to develop a potential regional system. Oregon has a voluntary road charge program.