How is the U.S. going to fund surface transportation improvements in the future? Congress created the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission in 2005 to look at just that question and their report to Congress is due out Tuesday, Jan. 15. But Ken Orski, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation consultant, has a sneak preview. He reports that it includes some fairly controversial recommendations regarding tolling, congestion pricing, public private partnerships, and the future of the gas tax, all front-burner issues here in the Great Nearby. Are you bus and rail commuters ready for a "federal ticket tax?" Or how about a tax on every mile you drive? According to Orski's Innovation Briefs e-mail newsletter, the report concludes that "the nation will need to invest at least $225 billion annually over the next 50 years to upgrade the existing surface transportation systems (highways, transit and passenger rail) to a state of good repair," triple the current rate of investment. The vast majority of that spending would be for roads. Despite $100-per-barrel oil and an iffy future supply, the Commission recommends raising the federal gas tax 25 cents to 40 cents a gallon over the next five years to fund federal transportation projects. Remember the fine art of odometer tampering? It could be in for a comeback. After say 2025, the gas tax may have reached its limits as a funding source. The report suggests other taxes be considered including a tax on miles traveled (VMT). Such taxes are currently the subject of a two-year, $16.5 million federal study in six states. The Commission says additional revenue should be raised through a federal ticket tax on transit and intercity rail trips. Who said environmentally conscious commuters get a free ride? The Commission likes the idea of electronic road tolling and recommends it as a way to fund new highway capacity (think 520) and recommends allowing congestion pricing on old and new highways in the Interstate system (think I-90) in metro areas with 1 million-plus in population. According to Orski, the Commission suggests limiting use of toll revenues to transportation improvements within the tolled corridor. The report also encourages Congress to promote Public Private Partnerships at the state and local level, however they also recommend certain controls on private operators, such as limiting toll increases to inflation. The Commission suggests getting national transportation strategy out from under an earmark-crazed Congress and turn it over to an Independent National Surface Transportation Commission, a recommendation Orski says Congress is unlikely to accept.