Your alternative fuel car is costing Utah money for roads

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's political leaders are advancing a series of ideas to address a dramatic decline in money for road maintenance and other transportation projects.

They're having to make some tough choices as they face a population boom and increasing demands for transportation options.

"We're going to be doubling the size of our population. There's no way we can double our roads," said Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper.

The state is facing a dramatic decline in the gas tax, which is used to fund road projects. More fuel efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles means less people hitting the gas pumps and paying that tax.

"Years ago, the gas tax covered 100 percent of our transportation needs. Today, it covers 50 percent," Rep. Schultz said.

The state's Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force advanced a series of recommendations to the Utah State Legislature. It includes the possibility of a statewide sales tax to pay for transportation projects (not just road maintenance); hiking fees for alternative-fuel vehicles and bicycles; and even a pilot project that could tax people for miles traveled, instead of taxing gas purchases.

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Rep. Schultz said he was not a fan of a sales tax hike, but said he did believe that everyone who uses the roads should pay for them.

"I think it's important that those that drive on the roads pay for it," he said. "I don't think it's fair that alternative-fuel vehicles get away scot-free without paying their fair share."

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski cautioned that fees for environmentally-friendly vehicles might have consequences.

"Charging electric vehicle users a high fee was a reason people chose not to buy them to begin with," she told the task force. "I caution us heading down that road very quickly."

The task force also explored the possibility of a state takeover of Utah Transit Authority. A survey sent to task force members recommended against it, in large part due to UTA's $2 billion debt, but some favored state oversight of the agency.