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July 23, 2014

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NDOT continues study on alternative to fuel tax

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Nevada Department of Transportation Director Susan Martinovich.

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Nevada transportation officials are defending their efforts to study an alternative to the fuel tax, despite the loss of support from some of the program’s other backers.

Department of Transportation Director Susan Martinovich emphasized that the department is only studying a fee for vehicle miles traveled, not proposing anything specific.

“The intent is just to look at another mechanism” to fund transportation projects, Martinovich said in a meeting Thursday with the Las Vegas Sun’s editorial board.

Late last month, the transportation department announced it had developed a prototype device that could be used to tax people based on the miles they drive rather than the fuel their cars consume.

Days later, the Washoe County and Southern Nevada regional transportation commissions, which helped fund the study, said they will not help pay for the remainder of the study.

Transportation department officials said they expect the highway bill under works in Congress to include money to fund studies on alternative methods of collecting a transportation tax.

The problem for Nevada and other states is the increasing fuel efficiency of cars, which Martinovich says is a good thing. But while the Obama administration plans to require even greater fuel efficiency, the result is a drop in fuel taxes that fund road projects.

The result is that the state expects transportation funds to be $40 million short by 2014.

Raising the gas tax isn’t the solution because of the increasing use of hybrid and electric cars, which still cause wear and tear on roads but don’t pay much into the gas tax fund.

Meanwhile, Nevada is stuck paying the bonds on previous road projects, including the widening of U.S. 95 and Interstate 15, plus maintenance costs of existing roads, leaving little or no money left for future projects.

“We don’t have enough money projected into the future to address the needs,” Martinovich said. “From here going forward, there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

The department’s current study is to get the state ready with data for when the federal government seeks input on solutions, the director said.

“If it starts being discussed nationally, we’ll have a spot at the table,” Martinovich said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has started a similar study in conjunction with the University of Iowa, and 16 other states have their own studies into similar technologies.

Until the federal government takes action, Nevada is not likely to implement any new program, officials said.

“We’re going to have gas tax for the foreseeable future, but we have to plan ahead,” said state transportation department Deputy Director Scott Rawlins. “It’s important for us as an agency to look to the future.”

The department is holding a public meeting on the study from 4 to 7 p.m. April 29 at the Clark County Government Center to gather public input on the study.

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