As a counterpoint to current unemployment news, I am among those Americans that actually has a relatively well-paying job, with benefits. It even offers some semblance of meaning and enjoyment. However, I make a sacrifice each day for my employment: an 80-mile, round-trip commute from home to work.

So imagine my angst when some rumblings began to surface on Capital Hill about a proposed Vehicle Mileage Tax for our nation’s drivers. Talk of this tax has been brewing for some time among Congressional leaders seeking solutions to the depleted Federal Highway Tax Fund. This movement has been largely fueled by the National Surface Transportation Administration, which has encouraged Congress to re-evaluate how the government pays for transportation infrastructure–calling for an immediate 10-cents per gallon boost in the federal gas tax as well as an eventual transition to the mileage tax.

There is no denying that our nationwide transportation infrastructure is crumbling, due to Federal Highway Tax funding shortages. In fact by some estimates, real spending on highways has plunged by 50 percent since the late 1950’s, even though there has been a massive uptick in vehicle miles traveled over the course of time.

Why then is there a shortfall in funds for roads and highways? It’s a simple equation that goes like this: Over the past 10 or so years, people have been driving fewer miles, often in more fuel-efficient cars. Combine those statistics with the fact that the 18.4 cents per gallon tax — which directly supports the highway tax fund — has not changed since 1993 and you have a perfect storm for a funding crisis.

The solution being bantered about is interesting: equip all U.S. vehicles with a GPS monitoring device to track vehicle miles traveled. Based on these miles and other potential variables such as vehicle size, weight and consumption (i.e., a gas-guzzling Hummer would pay more than a fuel-sipping Prius), the driver would be assessed a tax that would go directly into refilling the federal highway fund coffers.

So what does this mean for long-distance commuters like me? Essentially we’re screwed. Why? Because we live in a region without integrated, alternative modes of transportation. And that my friends is the crux of the transportation issue in this country — the lack of viable transportation options to address this growing issue.

I would gladly take light rail for my daily commute. The problem is, it’s not a viable option in terms of connections and timeliness. One friend suggested that I bike to work…that is, until she remembered that this would represent a 40-mile trek, each way. What about carpooling? What  would it look like to carpool with, say, three other people jammed shoulder to shoulder in my coupe. Calculating everyone’s portion of the vehicle tax would be like splitting the bill four ways at a restaurant.

Quite frankly, I’m a bit jealous of my friends in Chicago who can ditch the car as well as the cost of auto insurance because of the Windy City’s wonderful public transportation system. I was reminded of this on a recent trip there when I took a round-trip ride on the Orange Line from Midway Airport to the Loop, the heart of downtown’s business district. Roundtrip cost: $6.00.

Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan, hit the nail on the head when he said that 35% of our nation’s wealth is invested in building a drivable suburban landscape. With gas inching higher yet again, the heyday of the suburbs has passed. Must we invest even more in this fading lifestyle? Instituting a vehicle tax proposal such as this will punish commuters for a situation out of their control.

What we need are viable commuting alternatives — high-speed rail, express buses, and both local and express-route light rail options. These are the long-term solutions to our infrastructure problem.

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