Law Library Stacks

Back to National Funding of Road Infrastructure

Many observers of US transportation policy have called for a reevaluation of the United States’s current approach to federal funding of highway infrastructure, which mostly relies on a fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, an amount set in 1993.  Most notably, the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, after extensive review of existing studies and conducting its own research, recommended that the US transition to a user-charge system such as a vehicle-miles-traveled system.[1]

Some US states have already conducted studies with alternative funding mechanisms.[2]  For example, Oregon has conducted two pilot studies on road-user fees.  One study conducted in 2006–2007 found that a mileage fee could be implemented to replace the gas tax as the principal revenue source for road funding.[3]  A second pilot project conducted in 2012 found further evidence of the viability of a road usage charge administered by private-sector vendors using an easy-to-use mileage reporting and payment system.[4]  Oregon is moving forward with a mileage collection system starting July 1, 2015, for five thousand volunteer motorists; the state plans to assess a charge of 1.5 cents per mile and issue a gasoline tax refund to participants.[5] 

This report on the road infrastructure funding practices of foreign countries provides an opportunity to determine whether lessons can be learned from the experiences of other countries in funding roads and highways.  The individual country surveys reveal a multiplicity of approaches to the funding of road infrastructure.

Several of the surveyed countries, like the US, have a fuel tax that is dedicated, at least in part, to the financing of road construction and maintenance.  These include Brazil, Canada, China, Israel, and South Africa. Other countries place fuel and other excise taxes with general revenues and fund roads from general revenues, including Australia, England, Germany, Italy, and Mexico.  Japan used to dedicate fuel and vehicle taxes to road infrastructure, but began placing such revenues into the general account in fiscal year 2009.

Several of the countries appear to rely somewhat heavily on private roads, concessions, or private-public partnerships as means to fund some of their road infrastructure, including Canada, China, France, Israel, and South Africa.  In Australia, some state governments have developed networks of toll roads in partnership with private-sector investors, and the present Australian government is currently evaluating possible mechanisms for maximizing private-sector investment in major infrastructure projects.  

Most of the surveyed countries have tolling systems to obtain part of their revenue for financing roads.  In the case of Japan and France, the surveys note that tolls are linked with the weight of the vehicle and distance traveled.  In the Netherlands, tolls known as “mobility rates” are charged for the use of roads as cars enter fee-payment gateways. 

In England, a congestion tax is imposed on vehicles that enter central London during certain hours.  Efforts to spread the congestion tax to other cities in England and Wales were abandoned, however.  A congestion tax is also imposed in Sweden, in the cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg.  This tax is not used for road maintenance; its purpose is to shift the preferred means of transportation from cars to public transportation, and to pay for the environmental effects of motor vehicle use.

Australia imposes a fuel-based, road-user charge on heavy trucks based on the amount of fuel used.  A reform advisory group has proposed that trucks should be required to have GPS devices installed to enable taxation on the basis of distance traveled, and has argued that there should be a stronger relationship between revenues from user charges and the provision of the road network.

In France, the government was planning this year to implement a tax on heavy trucks that would have contributed to the financing of transportation infrastructure, which would have been calculated on a per-kilometer basis and on the basis of the vehicle’s size, age, and level of emissions.  The implementation of this tax has been postponed, perhaps until 2015, because of strong public opposition.

Sweden taxes motor vehicles to pay for costs associated with them, including carbon dioxide emissions and road maintenance.  The Netherlands imposes a motor vehicle tax based on the vehicle’s carbon dioxide emission level.  Italy similarly imposes a vehicle tax based in part on the amount of pollution generated by the vehicle.

The Netherlands government in 2009 considered imposing a per-kilometer fee for motor vehicle use and abolishing the motor vehicle tax, but that scheme was never instituted. 

In England, the prospect of a national system of road pricing based on usage was raised by a Transport Minister in 2012, but no legislation has been proposed.

In Sweden, a December 2013 government report discussing possible changes to the taxation of motor vehicles proposed a new tax on heavy-duty vehicles based on kilometers driven. 

Back to Top

Luis Acosta
Senior Legal Information Analyst
March 2014
 


[1] National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, Paying Our Way: A New Framework for Transportation Finance 7 (2009), http://financecommission.dot.gov/Documents/NSTIF_ Commission_Final_Report_Mar09FNL.pdf

[2] For a summary of US-based pilot projects on mileage-based user fees, see US Government Accountability Office, GAO-13-77, Highway Trust Fund: Pilot Program Could Help Determine the Viability of Mileage Fees for Certain Vehicles 61–62 (2012), http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/650863.pdf.

[3] Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon’s Mileage Fee Concept and Road User Pilot Program: Final Report vi (2007), http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/RUFPP/docs/RUFPP_finalreport.pdf.

[4] Oregon Department of Transportation, Road Usage Charge Pilot Program: Preliminary Findings 5–6 (2013), http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/RUFPP/docs/RUCPilotPrelimFind_Feb13.pdf

[5] Road Usage Charge Program, Oregon.Gov, http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/RUFPP/Pages/ruc_overview. aspx (last visited Feb. 3, 2014).

Back to Top

 

 

Last Updated: 06/09/2015