What if you had to pay to drive during peak travel times? Would you be among the group that bites the bullet and shells out? Or would you drive at another time?

Motorists in London; Stockholm, Sweden; and Singapore have begun paying to drive during the most crowded times of the day, with noted decreases in congestion in those cities.

But this isn't just some international policy.

This week, the Utah Department of Transportation announced plans to charge motorists more to drive in the state's high-occupancy vehicle lanes at peak travel times. That plan should be finalized in two years.

California, Minnesota and Florida have begun implementing similar fees.

A transportation commission created by Congress plans to recommend to Congress next year a national policy for implementing a charge for people who cause congestion on highways in the United States.

Wednesday, one of the commission members, Texas Rep. Mike Krusee, chairman of the Texas House of Representatives Transportation Committee, told Utah legislators that charging people for using highways is the best way to ensure adequate funding for maintenance.

Currently, motorists pay a combined state and federal gasoline tax of 42.9 cents a gallon each time they fill up. But with gas prices rising, a smaller portion of money being spent on gasoline is coming into government coffers.

Higher prices also mean people are driving less and they're trading in their gas guzzlers for fuel-efficient vehicles. Those vehicles travel more miles and put more wear on roads for each gallon of gas than their less-efficient counterparts, Krusee said.

It costs a state roughly 20 to 30 cents a mile to maintain a highway, but drivers pay 2 or 3 cents a mile to drive that same road, he said.

It's about time people began paying for the miles they drive, Krusee said. It could be as simple as tracking drivers' usage with a computer chip read by meters along roadways.

"If the road is congested, raise the price until people decide to use alternatives," he said. "That's the way we work it in every part of our private lives."

If a college needs a new building, the needed revenue is determined and tuition is raised accordingly, he said.

"Hearing you is a breath of fresh air for me," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

Wednesday's presentation to the Interim Revenue and Taxation Committee was designed to inform legislators about congestion pricing, and no action was taken, nor have any related bills been requested. Legislation may come before Utah lawmakers in 2009.


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