DOT plans community meetings to discuss road usage charge demonstration project

Should Hawaii drivers be charged per mile driven instead of a fuel tax for maintenance of roads and bridges?

That’s a question the state Department of Transportation is exploring through its road usage charge demonstration project.

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DOT is conducting the program to address concerns about funding and fairness as more people buy electric or fuel-efficient vehicles.

A feasibility study was completed in 2016, with the help of a federal grant, and DOT plans to seek volunteers for a trial program.

But first it will host community meetings throughout the state to provide a status of the project and receive input.

Fourteen meetings are planned, including three on Hawaii Island — 5:30 p.m. April 9 at the Natural Energy Lab in Kona; 5:30 p.m. April 10 at the Waimea School STEAM Center; and May 9 to be determined.

The state and counties have their own fuel taxes to maintain their roads. The state’s tax is 16 cents per gallon.

The County Council in 2017 raised the county fuel tax from 8.8 cents per gallon to 15 cents, with an additional 4-cent increase last year and another 4-cent hike coming July 1, bringing the total to 23 cents per gallon this year.

The state’s fuel tax generates nearly $100 million a year, about a third of the money it spends on highways and bridges, according to the feasibility study.

Ultimately, it will be up to the state Legislature to decide whether a road usage charge should be adopted.

Shelly Kunishige, DOT spokeswoman, said a report will be delivered to lawmakers in about three years.

“This is not something we are going to implement like next year,” she said. “We are going to take time to figure it out.”

Issues being considered include how such a program would be enforced.

Options include reporting mileage during annual safety checks or use of technology to track miles driven.

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For more information, visit hiruc.org.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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