New Tax? Drive More Miles, Pay More Money

But even the most vocal advocates acknowledge that vehicle-miles-traveled fees could be a decade away from reality.

For now, Oregon is the leader.

In 2001, current state Sen. Bruce Starr, a Republican who then headed a House transportation committee, drove a fuel-cell concept car that Ford was showing off.

"It got me thinking: 'Wow, this is interesting,'" Starr said. "How are we are going to pay for roads, bridges when people are driving in vehicles that aren't using gasoline?"

So, he formed a committee to study the issue, and one of its suggestions was replacing the gas tax with one based on how much motorists drive.

In April 2006, the state launched a 12-month pilot program after getting 299 drivers to volunteer. Each car was given a special transmitter that tracked how many miles were driven within Oregon, and at what times.

Cars Would Need Expensive Transponders

Every time the drivers filled up at two of the participating gas stations, the device would automatically calculate how many miles they drove. Instead of being charged Oregon's 24-cents-a-gallon gas tax, the motorists were charged 1.2 cents for each mile driven.

"Ultimately, you pay for the mileage that you drive," Starr said. "We made it really clear that our pilot was revenue-neutral. We didn't want to raise more taxes from Oregon drivers but just to test the concept."

At the end of the pilot, 91 percent of the volunteers said they would agree to continue paying the mileage fee in lieu of the gas tax if the program were extended statewide.

The catch for Oregon: Retrofitting vehicles with the devices was extremely costly. Starr said that if a vehicle-miles-traveled tax is ever permanently implemented, the automakers would have to be required to install the transponders in all new cars.

"It's something that needs to be addressed at the federal level," Starr said. "It really makes very little sense for one state on its own to implement a VMT."

Oregon charged all the volunteers the same 1.2 cents for each mile driven, although the rate could be adjusted as necessary. The technology could be used to charge motorists more for driving during rush hour or less for off-hours. Certain zones could also be deemed congestion areas and higher fees could be assessed.

So, states could actually tax people more for driving through city centers during their morning commute than a farmer on a rural road at midnight. States could also charge higher rates to SUVs and lower rates to hybrids if they wanted to encourage the use of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Such tracking has drawn concerns from privacy advocates, although VMT supporters say such issues can be resolved.

Other States Look at Tax

In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, recently proposed a voluntary pilot program for his state, similar to Oregon's. In Colorado, another bill would have created a similar VMT pilot program.

In some states, residents and businesses have vehemently objected to such proposals.

A survey of Idaho small-business owners by the National Federation of Independent Business' local chapter found that 80 percent of its members opposed to a VMT plan floated by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, a Republican.

And, in Rhode Island, Republican Gov. Donald L. Carcieri quickly distanced himself from a "blue ribbon" transportation funding panel he created after it suggested a miles-driven tax as one of several options.

"There are no plans to move forward with that at all," Cariceri spokeswoman Amy Kempe told ABC News. "He's not considering it at this time.

"They had to look at all funding streams and all funding opportunities," she said. "They did a little outside-the-box thinking and that's all well and good … but the governor has already said that's one he doesn't want to move forward with."

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