Paving

A Montpelier road crew worker fills a pothole on Barre Street on Tuesday. An informal poll on social media had Barre Street as one of the three worst roadways in Central Vermont this winter.

MONTPELIER — State officials are looking at charging owners of electric vehicles to help offset the losses the state has seen because people are driving more fuel efficient cars.

According to data from the Agency of Transportation, in 2005 Vermonters used nearly 361 million gallons of gas. That number has been declining ever since, and in 2018 residents used over 45 million gallons less gas than in 2005.

While having more fuel efficient cars is good for the environment, officials said the drop in gas usage means the agency is getting less money to use on repairing roads and bridges. That’s because the state charges a tax on gas: less gas being purchased means less money coming in.

Chad Allen, director of the agency’s Asset Management Bureau, said AOT is bringing in about two thirds of the money it needs for the state’s infrastructure needs.

“Over time, you’re also seeing a loss in what your money is buying you because your needs are outpacing your revenue sources,” Allen said.

He said the agency has had to divert funds from other projects, such as replacing guardrails and culverts, to paving projects because it’s trying to stay on top of paving the state’s roads.

But the state is losing the battle.

Last week Allen told officials in Marshfield Route 2 from Plainfield to Danville wouldn’t be repaved until at least 2021. He was responding to Town Clerk Bobbi Brimblecombe, who said that stretch of road is so bad drivers have to swerve into the opposite lane to avoid the potholes.

A quick poll by the Times Argus on Facebook showed that particular stretch of road to be a big concern for residents who had their own stories about hitting the potholes there and damaging their vehicles. Route 14 in Calais was another problem road according to residents, as well as Barre Street in Montpelier.

While the state needs more money to fix roads, raising taxes does not appear to be one of the solutions to the problem.

Michele Boomhower, division director of the agency’s Policy, Planning & Intermodal Development Division, said Vermonters cannot afford an increase in the gas tax.

“We have a very rural state, and it hurts those that can least afford it,” Boomhower wrote in an email.

Instead, the state is looking at charging those who drive electric vehicles to help pay for the roads they drive on.

“Because of our efforts to increase the use of electric vehicles, the Public Utilities Commission is in the ratemaking process for electric vehicle charging and simultaneously the Public Service Department is working on grid modernization. Currently, EVs do not contribute to the Transportation Fund even though they use our roads. So we look forward to that work and supplementing the system with those funds,” she wrote

The details of how such a fee would work are still being ironed out.

Daniel Goodman, public affairs manager at AAA Northern New England, said states nationwide are in a similar situation to Vermont in trying to figure out how to pay for road maintenance. Goodman said New Hampshire is looking at changing the price for registration renewals based on miles driven. In that case, those that drive a high number of miles would be charged more when they renew their registration than someone who drives less miles. He said Oregon is currently running a pilot program for such a registration fee system.

“The concern with all these states is the funds to deal with our bridges and roads are so low because people are driving higher mileage vehicles so the gas tax really isn’t keeping up with that,” he said.

In the meantime, those who have damaged vehicles due to potholes do have some recourse. The driver can file a claim with the state if the damage happened on a state road, or with the municipality that is responsible for the road. In order for the vehicle owner to be compensated for the damage, however, there would have to be proof that the municipality or the state knew about the pothole and didn’t do anything about it.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

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