The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has agreed to pay $80,000 for a study that will examine the public's willingness to pay for "road pricing" projects such as High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes.
The council's support and promised funds will allow the Transportation Planning Board to apply for a $400,000 grant to pay for the study. Under the Federal Highway Administration's rules for the grant, local governments are required to pay for 20 percent of the total survey.
If the Transportation Planning Board decides to apply for the grant at its Oct. 21 meeting, it will file a joint application with the Brookings Institution.
Kirby, director of transportation planning for the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board at MWCOG said the premise of road pricing is that gas taxes are not sustainable streams of transportation revenue.
"Congestion and revenue are at the heart of all transportation issues, especially in this area," he said.
"Gas taxes have always been a surrogate for what we really want to charge for, which is the use of the roads,"
Future methods of charging for road use could include fees based on odometer readings and GPS-monitored charges, Kirby said.
If the TPB wins the remaining $320,000 state portion of the grant, it will conduct surveys, host focus groups and study public reaction to adding tolls to roads that don't currently charge them.
"The study will look at the public acceptability issues of the concept. It's a great idea in theory and the technology for it is available, but getting people to do it is the challenge. Some people resist the idea of tolls on roads that don't currently have them, but it may be time for something drastic," he said.
Kirby cited tolls on the Intercounty Connector and HOT lanes on the Beltway as examples of less controversial projects that are tolled by time of day.
Applications are due November third. If the board wins the grant, it will start work in January and complete the study in a year.
TPB applied for the grant last year, but did not receive it. Because the allocated $50,000 for last year's application went unused, MWCOG will put the money toward this application. The remaining $30,000 will come from the group's FY2011 work program and budget.