Editorial: How best to pay for much needed roadwork?
Any weekend now, it will happen again. Interstate 93 as it passes through Concord will turn into a near-parking lot as leaf peepers and other visitors roll slowly through the capital’s clogged main artery. Widening the interstate from its intersection with Interstate 89 to Exit 16 in East Concord will, at least for some period of years, alleviate the congestion, albeit by moving it north like a mouse through a snake.
A lack of funding, however, stands in the way of the I-93 widening. The Department of Transportation covers most of the state’s share of road and bridge improvements with revenue from the gas tax, which, because vehicles continue to become more fuel efficient, has been declining year after year. Vehicles owners are also turning to alternative fuels like biodiesel, liquid natural gas and electricity, none of which the state now taxes. Those fuels should be taxed, when used to power vehicles, although finding a fair method of collecting revenue from the owners of electric vehicles might not prove easy.
Lawmakers have been historically averse to raising the gas tax, something that should, of course, be done. But adding surcharges to onerous state and local vehicle registration fees should not be an alternative. The fee, which can amount to $400 or $500 for a non-luxury car, is already burdensome for many vehicle owners. That said, every owner of every motorized vehicle should pay his or her fair share toward the cost of road improvements and maintenance.
Some states are exploring the possibility of taxing vehicles per miles traveled, which makes sense if the weight of the vehicle is part of the equation. A Smart Car, at 1,609 pounds, weighs a little less than one Ford Fusion electric car or two Harley-Davison Electra Glide Classics. Such lightweight vehicles impose far less wear and tear on roads than, for example, one Lincoln Navigator SUV at just under 6,000 pounds, let alone big trucks and other weighty conveyances.
Imposing a mileage-based tax does require a sacrifice of privacy that some people find objectionable. Such a tax is not likely to be adopted in New Hampshire any time soon, if ever. A tax on alternative fuels does not present that problem and should be the next step lawmakers take toward raising a small part of the revenue required to repair the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.