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Virginia maps out optional per-mile road fee program for 2022 launch

Interstate 95 winds past Main Street Station in Richmond.
Interstate 95 winds past Main Street Station in Richmond.(Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)
Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 12:17 PM EDT
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A year out from Virginia’s planned launch of an opt-in system that would charge drivers of electric and fuel-efficient vehicles based on how many miles they travel instead of a higher fixed fee, a state workgroup is hammering out more details on how the program could work.

State officials are projecting almost 975,000 vehicles could be eligible for the program when it launches in 2022, but the details of its implementation could determine how many Virginians decide it’s worth trying to potentially save money.

With more drivers in cars that use less gas than earlier models or no gas at all, policymakers in Virginia and elsewhere have been looking for road funding solutions to make up for lost fuel-tax revenues.

The goal for the revamped funding system, which also includes a higher gas tax rate and lower baseline vehicle registration fees, is to make sure drivers contribute their fair share to the costs of maintaining the roads they use, without discouraging the adoption of more environmentally friendly vehicles that can help slow the impacts of climate change.

The mileage-based program will be optional, but some envision the technology as a potential replacement for gas taxes in the increasingly electrified future. The Department of Motor Vehicles solicited bids earlier this year from contractors who offer the technology and could award the project in the next few months.

In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly approved a highway use fee for electric vehicles and vehicles with a combined fuel economy of at least 25 miles per gallon. That fee, assessed when vehicles are registered, is designed to ensure drivers of electric and fuel-efficient vehicles pay 85 percent of what a less fuel-efficient vehicle might contribute in gas and diesel taxes per year.

When the new fee system was implemented last year, that worked out to $109 for electric vehicles and about $19 for a typical fuel-efficient vehicle, based on the 11,600 miles the average passenger vehicle travels per year in Virginia.

But that broad math also creates fairness issues, and that’s where the per-mile system comes in. Proponents say a more precise, mileage-based fee would eliminate some of the guesswork and be a more attractive option for people who don’t drive as much.

“While the program is expected to enroll a relatively small number of participants at its inception, the knowledge gained from the implementation will be valuable if the program is later expanded to cover more vehicles,” the work group said in an interim progress report last month.

State law caps the amount participants in the program would have to pay, preventing the variable fee from going over the flat fee other drivers are charged.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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