Every time you fill up, you’re paying the 9th highest gas tax in the country, but Washington State Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond says the state’s tank is running on empty.
“Since about 2007, those of us who watch our transportation revenues and what’s happening on the highways and byways recognize that gas tax isn’t keeping up,” Hammond says in an interview with KIRO Radio’s Ross and Burbank.
So the state is considering a controversial new way to pay for the roads: charging drivers by the mile.
An advisory committee has just issued a report finding a mileage tax, commonly called a ‘road user charge,’ is a “feasible” way to wean the state off ever dwindling gas taxes. Hammond says it could even replace gas taxes altogether.
It’s a tough sell. Although widely used in Europe, the idea has met plenty of opposition when it’s been talked about in the past. So Hammond says the first step is taking the pulse of the people.
“We’re going to start engaging with the public and try and understand what people think about the risks, the opportunities, and some of those things,” she says.
Transportation officials will ask the Legislature for about $3.5 million in the coming session to study whether it’s worth pursuing.
The report says implementing the idea is fairly easy. A number of devices already exist to track mileage, from in-car GPS units and smartphone apps to sensors that detect engine run time.
Critics have complained about the notion of the government tracking their every move. But Hammond says most of us are already monitored constantly by our phone companies anyway. And there are a number of easy ways to protect people’s privacy.
“We know it’s feasible, the technology is there. But is it desirable?” Hammond says.
Drivers don’t have to worry about it happening any time soon. Hammond says it would take five to ten years to implement, and the idea could get scrapped altogether if there’s too much opposition.