Both Porter and Kim say privacy concerns surrounding the GPS-based plan are unfounded. The GPS they are developing only will be capable of receiving and recording information from GPS satellites, according to Porter, not storing or transmitting individual travel routes or data to some government databank.

"I know because of what you see on TV and in movies, people think just that they have a GPS receiver makes them susceptible to being tracked by whomever," said Porter. "But there is absolutely no way."

Kim seconds that assertion. "One of our requirements for this device is that it cannot store location-point data other than what it needs to estimate the mileage a vehicle is traveling," he said.

"I don't think it's going to be that noticeable," Kim said.

The device is still in the development phase and many questions have yet to be answered. Researchers are not sure if placing the GPS device in a moving vehicle or Oregon's mountainous terrain and rainy weather will affect its accuracy.

Practical Difficulties

It also is possible the Oregon DOT will decide not to gather its road-user information via the GPS-based scheme, opting instead for the odometer tag units.

"Mileage collection would be based on current odometer technology," said Kim. "That's basically getting some information off a speed sensor, whatever type is equipped on the vehicle."

One problem is the odometer-based information collection system, which would require a series of border beacons at all major border crossings. The beacons would turn the units off as Oregon drivers crossed onto out-of-state roads and turn them back on upon re-entry.

The cost of the infrastructure required for border beacons might make that option cost-prohibitive, and GPS could be more favorable since using the government-owned GPS is free.

Either system, however, would require installation of readers at each of Oregon's 1,800 gas stations.

"It's not clear at this point how to deal with the phase-in of all service stations, but we are at a learning phase to examine the effectiveness of the technology being proposed," Kim said.

Service station owners could be required to pick up the tab -- as they do now for other station requirements, such as environmental protections. Whitty said the readers would cost $2,000 to $3,000.

Out-of-state vehicles, vehicles without the new devices or vehicles containing devices that have been tampered with would simply pay the mandated gasoline tax, which Whitty said is roughly equivalent to the 1.25 cent per mile rate.

Nothing is set in stone concerning the new taxing scheme, Kim said, and much has yet to be determined.

Footing the Bill

When the mileage fee is enacted, the Oregon Legislature would decide exactly who is going to pay for the needed infrastructure. Whitty said the Oregon DOT could pay infrastructure costs out of the state highway fund, or the capital cost recovery could be built into the rate for the new mileage fee.

Whitty said the task force will likely recommend the Oregon DOT pay infrastructure costs with a corresponding rate increase for cost recovery for a period of years. Under such a scenario, the capital investment would probably be bonded.

The odometer tags or GPS gadgets themselves are expected to run about $150 each and will be installed by auto manufacturers who would pass that price on to consumers.

Because retrofitting older vehicles could prove costly to consumers, the Road User Fee Task Force recommended the devices only be required on new cars.

The state is willing to wait the 15 to 20 years it would take to reach complete compliance, according to Whitty. Until then, Oregon will simply maintain two taxing programs.

To accommodate out-of-state drivers, some

Kris Middaugh  |  Staff Writer