DOT chief: Electric, driverless cars could dry up road funds

North Carolina generates half of its $3.7 billion in state transportation money by taxing motor fuels, a revenue engine that could begin puttering out as soon as four years from now, the state’s transportation chief told lawmakers on Monday.

The future of travel is just around the corner, Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said, and North Carolina needs to act swiftly to locate new road-building revenues that don’t rely on gasoline taxes and that depend less on personal car ownership and operation.

Taxing motor fuels and car sales and charging Division of Motor Vehicles fees are the state’s three primary sources of revenue for transportation infrastructure. About 60 percent of it is used to operate and maintain roads, and the rest goes to new projects.

But Trogdon warned that the gas tax could fall markedly as early as 2021 as car-efficiency standards increase and electric vehicles become commonplace. Earlier Monday, General Motors announced two electric vehicle lines in the next 18 months, and promised more than 20 electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2023.

“Where do we go to replace motor fuels taxes?” Trogdon asked a House committee looking at long-term transportation funding. “What are the options and what should be its phased implementation?”

And further down the road, the advent of autonomous vehicles could mean fewer people owning cars or getting driver’s licenses, reducing DMV fee revenues. Instead, people could call for a driverless car to pick them up at their house, he said.

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