How to pay for California road repairs? One idea: Pay-by-the-mile

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The weekend rains that drenched areas of Southern California and widened potholes served as a reminder that our roads are in pretty bad shape.

State lawmakers are currently meeting in special session and trying to figure out how to pay for a $59 billion backlog in needed repairs to highways, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.

Californians pay for road repairs in part when they fill up the tank and pay gas taxes. But the federal, state and local taxes, about 59 cents a gallon, haven't increased since 1994 and haven't kept pace with increases in construction costs.

The increasing popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles, which use little or no fuel, will only exacerbate the the growing gap between repair needs and gas tax revenues.

So California officials are looking at new funding models. One comes from Oregon, which launched the country's first road user fee in July. 

"We're suggesting that a good way of paying for the roads is to pay for the number of miles that you drive," said Thomas Fuller, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Drivers voluntarily sign up to pay 1.5 cents per mile instead of paying a fuel tax. They can choose to either install a tracking device on their vehicles that reports their mileage, or prepay a set amount based on their mileage and have their odometer checked on a regular basis.

Fuller said early surveys of drivers reflected widespread satisfaction with the cost and the payment system. Drivers of hybrid or electric vehicles will pay more than they pay in gas taxes, while drivers with less fuel efficient cars could be paying less.

So far about a thousand people in Oregon have signed up to pay-by-the-mile instead of pay-by-the-gallon. Called OReGO, the program is limited to 5,000 cars and light trucks, according to its website.

California is studying the idea and could launch its own road charge pilot program in 2017.

What do you think of a pay-by-the-mile system for California? Tell us in the comments.

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