type of gasoline tax is likely to remain in place indefinitely, "or at least until all of the country were to change to a GPS-based system," Whitty said.

That may seem far-fetched, but the possibility of more states adopting programs similar to what has been proposed in Oregon is not as implausible as it initially seems.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota recently completed a report assessing road-user charges using GIS and GPS technology. The report was part of a two-year study funded by the Federal Highway Administration and a consortium of 15 states including Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, California, Kansas, North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and Washington.

The study notes the problems now inherent with a motor fuel tax and states, "Quite clearly a new means for assessing road-user charges is needed."

It is likely road-user fees and GPS will travel together at some point in the not-so-distant future because the GPS-based plan opens up the possibility of a new type of road revenue known as a "congestion tax."

Congestion tax involves an added fee for drivers who use designated highly traveled roadways during peak hours.

Congestion taxes are already in effect in several European countries including Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Switzerland. Other countries, including Germany and the UK, are soon expected to follow their lead.

Hoping to have its road-user tax well established before the drop-off in gas tax revenue, Oregon will begin a pilot test in spring 2004 involving the vehicles of 400 volunteers equipped with either the GPS-based or odometer tag systems. The test will run for two years.

Members of the Road User Fee Task Force hope the pilot will not only demonstrate the feasibility of their innovative tax plan, but also help allay some of Oregon drivers' fears and confusion.

"Then we'll have the operational data, and then we'll be able to talk about it to the public with more certainty," Whitty said. "We can ask the people involved, 'Were you concerned about your privacy at all? How easy was it to pay? How complicated was this?'

"That might just take a lot of the fear out of this," he said. "We think it will."

Kris Middaugh  |  Staff Writer