HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - The next time you go for a ride in Alabama, give a thought to our infrastructure. In this case we're talking about our roads and bridges. Dr. Michael Anderson is an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at UA-Huntsville. He specializes in roads and traffic issues. "I've driven around a lot of the state. I'd say on the interstate system there are obviously places that could be fixed up, but overall I'd say we're in good shape," says Anderson.
There are a lot of roads and highways in the state, more than 100-thousand miles. Annually, Alabamians put more than 64-billion miles of driving wear and tear on that infrastructure. "It will take a lot to keep in it good shape," says Dr. Anderson. He's talking about money, and in 2012 Alabama's road and bridge fund received nearly 500-million dollars in state money, and more than 800-million in federal dollars. The funding generated by gasoline tax. Alabama receives the state's portion of 18-point-4 cents a gallon from the feds, and part of 16-cents a gallon levied by the state.
"The issue is, that in the future, maintenance costs are going to keep increasing, and the revenue is going to stay constant or even decline, says Dr. Anderson. In fact, the amount of gasoline purchased in the U.S. has been flat or declined every year since 2007. Fewer gallons sold equals less tax revenue. In three states: Oregon, Washington, and Virginia, Discussions are underway on how to make up the short fall. The idea that seems to be gaining traction is a tax or fee on fuel-efficient vehicles.
Huntsville's Ken And Cheryl Hovanes own two fuel-efficient cars, one of them a hybrid. The conserve for a couple of reasons. "One is because of the fuel economy. You save because you're not spending as much on gasoline. Second, it's better for the environment," says Ken Hovanes.
The Hovanes even carpool when they can, and the idea of being taxed for being efficient doesn't make them happy. "I don't know that it would be fair to tax me more because I'm trying to do something good," says Cheryl Hovanes. The family hopes Alabama won't get the bright idea of taxing them.
"It sounds kind of foolish to single out one type of consumer over another type of consumer, and the idea of taxing energy-efficient vehicles as public policy is pure folly," says Alabama Representative Mike Ball of Madison.
Unfortunately, there's still the infrastructure to build and maintain, and gas tax revenues aren't likely to grow. "I would say if we continue on the path we're on, we're probably looking at the next 15-or-20-years, and we'll be strictly maintenance only. No capital improvements," says Dr. Anderson.
Ken Hovanes has a thought about how to pay for our roads. "I am willing to contribute and make the sensible payment that I have to make in order to pay for the roads. That's part of what being in a society does. We're a social organism. We have to support one another," says Ken Hovanes.
In Washington D.C. the idea is making the rounds to tax drivers according to how much mileage they travel. Dr. Anderson believes the gas tax will eventually go up. It should be noted 17-states haven't raised gas taxes in more than 20-years, and the federal gas tax has been at 18-point-four-cents since 1997.
The bottom line, more revenue is needed to keep our infrastructure in good shape. One way or another, it's likely to come out of our pockets.