Big road fixes are needed in Butler County: How officials are trying to fund them

Ohio once discussed a vehicle-miles traveled funding mechanism to pay for infrastructure projects. While Ohio is not considering it now, some states in the West and the federal government are debating the issue. GREG LYNCH/FILE
Ohio once discussed a vehicle-miles traveled funding mechanism to pay for infrastructure projects. While Ohio is not considering it now, some states in the West and the federal government are debating the issue. GREG LYNCH/FILE

States including Ohio are continuing to search for the best funding source to help major infrastructure projects that are needed to help deteriorating roads, bridges and more.

The White House recently gave Ohio’s infrastructure a C-minus, as did the Ohio Council of the American Society of Civil Engineers, though the ASCE said the state’s roadways earned a D.

A few years ago, Ohio considered applying a vehicle-miles traveled tax (VMT), a fee-based funding system that some states, like Oregon and Utah, are considering. Instead, Ohio went with a 10.5-cent motor fuel tax increase to help infrastructure spending, which did not generate as much revenue as planned because of a significant drop in driving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly $878 million in fuel tax revenues was distributed to Ohio counties. Butler County received $13 million.

In Ohio’s 2020 fiscal year (July 2019-June 2020), the Ohio Department of Transportation spent more than $280 million in nine area counties, including Butler, Preble and Warren counties. In 2011, ODOT spent more than $340 million in those same nine counties.

Wilkens said Ohio’s infrastructure, though, is too reliant on the gas tax, which is equally distributed to all 88 counties. As more fuel-efficient and electric vehicles take to the road, that amount will decrease, he said.

“It’s equated to dollars and finding the mechanism to do that,” he said.

Smaller counties, Wilkens said, will have the bulk of their money coming out of the state’s gas tax.

For Butler County, the engineer said his major funding source is license plate fees. Cities also receive some money from the license plate fees, and Hamilton recently raised its license plate fee tax last year. The cities of Fairfield and Middletown have not raised their fees in recent years.

Oregon lawmakers are considering a VMT bill that would start, if passed, in 2026, and would be mandatory for any new vehicle with a fuel economy rating of 30 MPG or higher. The state started a volunteer test program in 2015 after studying the issue since 2001. Utah launched a program in 2020, and lawmakers in several other states, like California, Washington and Wyoming, are now considering the issue.

But Wilkens said the issue with this funding model is a “political problem” as it’s “Big Brother looking over my shoulder.”

Ohio isn’t looking at a VMT at this time, though lawmakers did briefly look into it in 2019. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, however, is proposing an increase in BMV fees, including a $10 hike for vehicle registration.

The Federal Highway Administration reviewing how a VTM program could work, according to a spokeswoman, as reported by the Washington Post.

In a May 18 letter to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association President and CEO Todd Spencer wrote there are “many unanswered questions” about a VMT funding mechanism, and “any VMT proposal to fix the (Highway Trust Fund) must not be limited to commercial motor vehicles.”

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