D.C. area group seeks funds to gauge ‘road pricing' support

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2009

A panel of Washington area government officials voted Wednesday to seek federal money to study how much the public would support raising transportation money by charging motorists based on the distances they drive.

The one-year study, which would be conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' transportation arm and the Brookings Institution, would examine public views on "road pricing" as a way to supplement or replace gas tax revenue, which is lagging behind the need to handle population growth, planners said. Charging based on when and how far people drive also would reduce traffic congestion and emissions, including greenhouse gases, proponents say.

Washington area governments have increasingly turned to tolls as a way to fund new road projects, such as the Intercounty Connector in Maryland and the high-occupancy toll lanes under construction on the Northern Virginia section of the Capital Beltway. However, proposals to charge motorists for using existing roads have been controversial.

Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, told COG's transportation planning board that road pricing would amount to an unfair penalty on motorists. Anderson said such pricing could be the same as raising the gas tax to $2 to $3 a gallon. The gas tax ranges from 17.5 cents to 23.5 cents a gallon in the Washington region, Anderson said.

The transportation planning board voted to request $320,000 from the Federal Highway Administration for the analysis. Local governments would pay $80,000. Ronald F. Kirby, COG's transportation planning director, said the study, which would also examine the effects on people of different incomes, would begin in January.

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