SPOKANE — The Washington State Transportation Commission is undertaking a pilot study on the feasibility of replacing the gas tax with a per-mile “road user charge.”
The commission is hoping to enlist 2,000 drivers from different parts of the state, including Eastern Washington, to experiment with the user charge idea.
Earlier this month, the commission approved a plan to launch the pilot project in 2017.
Vehicle owners would pay the state based on how much they use streets and highways, not by how much fuel they buy.
Payments could be made through odometer readings, time-based use permits or through on-board mileage readers or smartphone application.
The pilot is being made possible through a $3.8 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration.
Transportation experts said the gasoline tax is becoming an increasingly unreliable source for funding transportation needs in Washington and across the country.
“As the fuel efficiency of vehicles increases, gas consumption decreases and this equates to a reduction in gas tax revenues over time. The gas tax serves as the major source of funding for building and maintaining our state highways and ferries,” Commission Chairman Jerry Litt said.
Vehicle gas mileage continues to increase with improved technology and federal mandates, which means less money will be collected for roads as time passes.
Plus, electric vehicle owners pay no tax, yet use the roads nonetheless.
Washington’s current vehicle fleet averages 20.5 miles per gallon, according to the commission’s figures. The federal government is mandating an average fuel mileage of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Another problem comes from the way lawmakers have chosen to use gasoline taxes.
Washington currently collects 49.4 cents per gallon at the pump, but a large chunk of that money is earmarked for large construction projects such as the North Spokane Corridor.
The state has borrowed construction funding to raise money for big-ticket projects and is using the gas tax to pay off the bonds for those large projects over as long as 30 years.
As a result, the state Transportation Department gets only 8 cents a gallon for maintenance and safety improvements.
Cities and counties get 11 cents per gallon, but officials in local government complain that amount is inadequate, too.
Spokane voters have dealt with the funding problem by approving higher property taxes to pay for street construction.
Reema Griffith, executive director of the Transportation Commission, said the funding problem is only going to get worse in the future.
“We can only use the credit card so many times,” she said of state road borrowing.
She said the trend line for gas tax revenue worsens with time.
A steering committee, which includes user groups, has been studying the issue.
Many Western states are looking at road user charges, including Oregon, which has implemented a program.
A 2.4-cents-per-mile charge in Washington would raise the same amount of money as the state’s current gasoline tax, based on the average vehicle mileage of 20.5 miles per gallon. The gas tax would have to be raised 1.5 cents a year to equal the per-mile usage charge of 2.4 cents.
But vehicles that get higher mileage would end up paying more, while vehicles getting lower mileage would pay less than they do now.
The road user charge would have to account for out-of-state travel from Washington drivers leaving the state and from drivers coming into Washington.
To learn more about the road user charge or to volunteer for the pilot project, go to waroadusagecharge.org.
I-90 pothole fix near CdA coming soon
Potholes are shaking up drivers on Interstate 90 through Coeur d’Alene.
The Idaho Transportation Department last week said it is going to make repairs as soon as possible, weather permitting.
Crews are driving both the eastbound and westbound lanes regularly to search for new potholes.
Repairs may take some time, officials said.
The department has set up temporary signs warning of the potholes.
The section from milepost 10 to milepost 17, where the potholes are located, is scheduled for substantial surface repair work this summer.