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How Will Kansas Fund Road Repairs Without a Gas Tax?

With more electric vehicles on the road in the coming future, state officials worry how they will build and maintain roads with fewer drivers buying into the gas tax. Some are considering fees per mile driven.

(TNS) — Getting charged up about buying a new electric vehicle? More and more Kansans are — and it presents a conundrum for the state.

Officials are expecting to see more EVs on the road in the years to come, as well as hybrid cars and those using alternative fuels. That might mean cost savings for drivers — but money not spent at the gas pump also has an impact on how the state builds and repairs its roads.

Driving an electric vehicle has the same impact on roads in terms of wear and tear — but users are not paying gas taxes, one of the core mechanisms the state uses to fund infrastructure.

At the moment, the concern is less acute. A little over 6,000 hybrid and electric vehicles are registered in Kansas, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation, accounting for .3 percent of all vehicles registered in the state.

The state ranks toward the bottom nationally in the number of electric vehicles on the road and on the charging infrastructure needed to support them. For instance, Kansas sits at the bottom of the U.S. Electric Vehicle Accessibility Index, a report published by the consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Center.

But these trends are expected to change in the years to come, potentially threatening how Kansas funds roads. It is possible 875 million electric vehicles will be on the road nationally by 2050 — and that trend will undoubtedly impact Kansas.

"All signs point towards industry-wide electrification," Leighton Yates, director of state affairs for the Alliance on Automotive Innovation, a trade group of car and technology manufacturers, told legislators Thursday. "We are invested in that, and I wholeheartedly believe that."

Motor Vehicle Tax revenues account for 24 percent of the state's transportation revenues currently, the second largest source of road funding. But by 2045, that is expected to shrink to 11 percent, meaning the state will need to explore other ways of bringing in funds.

Currently, electric vehicle users pay a $100 annual registration fee designed to offset what they would otherwise have paid in gas taxes. But KDOT secretary Julie Lorenz noted this is a temporary solution.

Eventually, Lorenz said, there would be a national move to getting residents to pay a set rate for every mile they drive — and, in her ideal world, pay a different rate for busier roads at peak travel times.

"I think that is where we are headed long term with transportation in America," Lorenz said in an interview. "Thinking about transportation as a utility."

Other states are grappling with similar issues — and a few have begun to embrace potential solutions.

Most center on having electric vehicle and hybrid owners pay a flat rate for each mile they drive, usually around a penny-per-mile. Oregon, Virginia and Utah have adopted some variation of this model in recent years.

In Utah, residents have a choice between paying a flat registration fee and enrolling in a road usage program where they pay 1.52 cents per mile driven. That can either be paid via a yearly flat rate based on an odometer reading or by using a third-party device that tracks the number of miles driven in real time via a smartphone application.

It is unclear whether Kansas will ever implement such a model, but it is at least thinking about it.

KDOT is studying the road usage model on its own and is gathering input from Kansans, as well as the agriculture and commercial trucking industries, both of which are expected to see growth in the number of electric vehicles.

A plan is not expected to be released until 2024. While there isn't a rush, Lorenz noted the issue does need attention from a Midwest perspective.

"We're doing the study to find out about how people feel," Lorenz said. "There are privacy concerns. There are equity concerns. So instead of waiting to see what the coasts say we should do, we're going to talk with Kansans."

There are other potential models for the state to take as well.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Bill Rhiley, R- Wellington, would assess a fee per kilowatt hour of electricity used while charging at a public place, such as a charging station at a service station or at someone's workplace.

The idea is to charge someone for how much electricity is used — much like a gas tax is calibrated based off how much fuel a person consumes. And he raised privacy concerns with using outside technologies to track how much a person is driving, a feature of road use programs.

"It is intended to be equity for electric vehicles in comparison to the gas vehicles," Rhiley said.

In the meantime, however, officials are trying to figure out ways to grow the state's electric charging infrastructure.

Kansas utility regulators authorized in December a plan from Evergy, the state's largest electric utility, to promote electric vehicles in the state, albeit with some caveats.

Meanwhile, the state is set to get $40 million from the federal infrastructure package signed into law by President Joe Biden late last year.

And state funds, obtained from a settlement with Volkswagen over deceptive marketing practices, will be used as "seed money" to rolling out more charging stations across the state, Lorenz said.

That includes seven charging stations along the Interstate 70 and Interstate 35 corridors. While they may seem out of place in WaKeeney or Abilene — areas with few, if any, electric vehicles registered — the idea is to snap travelers passing through the state's main highways, as well as support freight hauling as they move towards electric trucks.

Evolving technologies will make matters even trickier — and potentially open up new opportunities.

That includes things like induction charging, where electromagnetic transfers can create wireless charging, even while a person is driving down the street. Kansas City International Airport is set to be the first in the country to offer such a technology to motorists.

No matter what, officials agree the conversation will only grow more intricate — and pressing — in the years to come.

"We're smart to be thinking about what that looks long term and I'll tell you every single state is having a similar kind of conversation," Lorenz told the House Energy, Telecommunications and Utilities Committee. "Some states are ahead of us. But all the DOTs are worried about what it's going to look like in the long run."

(c)2022 The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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