There could one day be no such thing as a free ride on interstate highways in Massachusetts.
With cars today increasingly more fuel efficient, many federal and state officials think the gasoline tax is not enough to keep up with maintenance and repair of roads and bridges.
Currently only Interstate 90 - the Mass Pike - has tolls. Future toll proposals could include interstates 95, 195, 295 and 495, which crisscross the Attleboro area, as well as other major north-south roads, such as interstates 91 and 93.
"Any conversation to generate revenue is worth having," said state Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, vice chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Transportation. "Tolling roads is an interesting idea. We know that there are a lot of transportation needs. Roads and bridges are in desperate need of investment."
Tolling requires those who use a road to pay for that use, she explained, adding that she hopes the suggestion could expand the conversation into how to improve roadways.
"Bad conditions of roads are not a good thing for our commuters or the economy. A lot of businesses rely on these roads," she said.
The idea of tolling interstates is also being talked about at the federal level. U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently raised the prospect of placing tolls on interstates to fund much-needed infrastructure improvements.
This comes with President Trump's reported plan to ask Congress for legislation appropriating up to $1 trillion for infrastructure improvements.
Although it was not clear if some of the funding would come from interstate tolls, Chao told Fox News in a recent interview that the federal government cannot assume all of the cost, and that adding new tolls "is certainly one example of how that would work."
Not everyone feels the same way.
State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, says Massachusetts residents are taxed enough with sales, income, property and motor vehicle excise taxes. He believes elected officials should focus on living within budgetary means and create more efficient models.
"This tax is regressive, in so much as the people who will get hit the hardest are those who can least afford to pay it," Dooley said. "The blue collar man or woman having to drive from job site to job site; the person who has to live farther out in the suburbs and has to commute 90 minutes into Boston because that is all they can afford. These are the people that will feel this tax, and it will make it even harder for them to provide for their family."
The federal excise tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents per gallon.
State House News Service, citing the U.S. Department of Transportation, reported that the federal government gives $40.5 billion for highway funding to all states. Massachusetts' apportionment of highway funding for fiscal year 2017 is about $625 million.
Massachusetts increased the state gas tax from 21 cents to 24 cents per gallon in 2013. Motor fuel tax revenue jumped from $652 million in fiscal year 2013 to $733 million in fiscal year 2014. By fiscal year 2016, gas tax revenue had climbed to $766 million.
Although the tax revenue has increased, some say it's not keeping up with demand, especially with increasingly fuel-efficient cars and trucks rolling off assembly lines. In 2014, voters repealed a state law that tied the gas tax to inflation.
"The gas tax has gone up 3 cents, so it does not keep up with demand for roads or inflation," state Transportation Director Chris Dempsey said. "The result of that is a lot of congestion, and way more cars and roads that cannot handle that."
Dempsey said tolls are an idea that should be kept in the fiscal toolbox.
He agreed with Dykema that tolling is a reasonable way to pay for roads and bridges, since it requires drivers using them to contribute to the cost of building and maintaining them.
"Nothing is the single best option," Dempsey said. "We need to be looking at all options to ensure we have the basic revenue to make sure everything is working."
Dempsey said Massachusetts should not solely rely on the federal government to fix the state's failing infrastructure.
"It is unclear whether there will be actual dollars states can use to fix roads," Dempsey said. "We shouldn't be looking at the federal government to swoop in and save us. We need to look at how to fix it on the state level."
"We need to look at all of the options to improve transportation - and tolling should be included," Dempsey said.