Curry County residents might benefit from the end results of research conducted in Portland that taxes drivers for miles driven instead of at the pump.

According to initial studies conducted by the system, called OReGO, implementing a 1.5-cent per mile tax on drivers rather than the 30-cent fuel tax at the pump, could actually lower fuel costs for rural drivers.

Rep. Peter Defazio announced last week that Oregon has received $4.9 million to further the study that, if enacted by the legislature later, could change the way Oregonians pay for road maintenance, repair and replacement.

Currently, less than half of the revenue for infrastructure is generated from fuel taxes. And with the advent of hybrid and electric cars that use less gasoline, by 2020, that revenue is expected to start a rapid decline.

“Fuel efficiency doesn’t have an impact on the beating the roads take,” said Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman. “It seems reasonable to come up with an alternate approach that isn’t quantity-based — the value of the price paid for gas — rather than use-based. I think it’s a more fair way to collect the tax for the use of roads.”

Of note is the Tesla, an all-electric vehicle whose owners pay no taxes yet use roads.

OReGO, the program that implements Road Use Charges (RUCs) would spread the cost of maintaining roads more equitably, a 2016 study indicates. State officials encouraged up to 5,000 drivers to volunteer for the program in 2016, but only signed up 891, records show.

DeFazio announced that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has received two Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives grants as part of his grant program in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which passed Congress in 2015..

“From the bottle bill to vote by mail, Oregon has always led the country when it comes to finding innovative, creative solutions to complex issues facing our state,” DeFazio said. “With these grants, ODOT will have the resources it needs to address one of the biggest challenges we face as a nation — finding a sustainable, long-term solution to fully fund our massive transportation infrastructure needs. I am proud to have spearheaded the act, and I am proud that once again, Oregon is leading the way to meet this challenge.”

The first grant will extend the benefits of RUC technology to help backfill the declining transportation funding. The grant will fund a one year-long pilot in the Portland area to test three approaches to a local RUC.

The second grant will create and operate a road usage charge pilot between California and Oregon. The goal is to get these two systems to work together and expand the concept to a regional level. While the programs are currently voluntary, if enacted as mandatory, cars would be outfitted with vehicle telemetrics systems — essentially GPSs — to track how far it travels.

Oregon’s RUC program allows volunteers to pay based on miles traveled. They still pay gas taxes at the pump, but a fuel tax credit of 1.5 cents per mile is applied based on their road usage.

The program could work well in cities that have established transit systems, where people often drive short distances and where, typically, people have more disposable income and are inclined to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, the report reads.

But in rural areas, including Curry County, critics have said the program could prove to be more expensive for drivers who often have to go long distances for basic necessities, including food and medical care.

Under the RUC program, the cost to drivers would depend on the car’s efficiency.

For example, a vehicle that gets 25 miles per gallon would pay $1.20 in fuel taxes to go 100 miles. Implementing a RUC tax, at 1.5 cents per mile, would cost them $1.50 in taxes.

But a hybrid car averaging 40 miles per gallon of fuel would be subject to that same mileage rate charge, instead of paying only 90 cents per gallon of gas for that same 100 miles traveled now.

The report noted that costs for drivers rural regions would actually be less than the statewide average, because, on average, rural drivers drive lower fuel-efficiency vehicles than those in urban areas.