The head of the UK's top highways contractors association has said public acceptability of road charging is approaching a level where it would be politically plausible to implement.
Chief executive of Highways Term Maintenance Association (HTMA), George Lee, made the comments at the Institute of Highway Engineers' annual conference this summer.
The prospect of some form of road user charging - based on distance travelled - has been discussed in the sector for decades, and Mr Lee admitted the subject 'usually gets politicians running for cover'.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, once quipped that road charging is like death or (other) taxes, 'I know it's inevitable but no one wants to talk about it'.
Mr Lee however has said the tide may be turning in favour of road pricing with a number of factors including new forms of digital asset management and monitoring, deteriorating road conditions and the ease of electric charging models supporting the shift in public mood.
'Research shows that public acceptability of the concept of road pricing has moved to the low 30s. In public policy terms if something gets above 40% acceptability it becomes practical to implement as a public policy.'
Mr Lee, who had a background in politics before entering the highways sector, added: 'It may well be that the public’s concerns over highway conditions are actually starting to drive a change in people’s views.
'If you pay for use there is a greater pressure for that money to be returned for highway maintenance as well.
'The capacity to actually demonstrate the impact vehicles and the different types of vehicle usage are having on the road, which you can get from collecting data, should be able to correlate road use and road impact. That makes it more operationally practical to charge people.
'Plus tolling can be done electronically, which makes it a much more straightforward proposition.'
Climate change is also likely to a main driver between a change in public mood.
The recent UK National Travel Attitudes Study found almost four out of five (77%) agreed that those who drive vehicles that are better for the environment should pay less tax and 61% thought exhaust fumes from traffic in urban areas was a serious problem or a very serious problem.
This is a higher agreement rate than at any time since these records began in 2006 - driven by a fairly steady increase over the years in those who 'strongly agree'
Almost half (43%) agreed or agreed strongly that they would reduce the amount they travel by car to help reduce the impact of climate change.
However the survey also found many felt there was a lack of alternative to car travel.