Dori Monson has long believed Washington state is heading down a road to universal tolling. If one Sammamish lawmaker’s vision is accurate, road usage charges could very well happen.
“At Puget Sound Regional Council, that is what we have been talking about for future years; we’re talking about 2030-2040,” said Sammamish Councilmember Don Gerend.
Gerend also works with the Puget Sound Regional Council, which has been planning for future roadway infrastructure. He recently told KIRO 7 that he believes a funding option could do away with tolls. Instead, drivers would pay per every mile driven — also known as a road usage charge. The method is being experimented with at the state level.
The Washington State Transportation Commission will test pay-per-mile taxing systems in 2018. It is one method being considered to replace the current gas tax, which the state says needs to be replaced as vehicles become more fuel efficient.
Dori says that this is a form of tolling, and will lead to more expensive taxation.
Road usage charge
Gerend says that the regional council had considered tolls as a means of paying for infrastructure in the future, but the unpopularity of projects like the I-405 toll lanes has moved lawmakers away from that option. Instead, he believes they may pursue the road usage charge as a substitute. Either way, there is a funding shortfall of about $40 billion to cover a list of road projects between now and 2040, he says.
“It’s up to what citizens want,” Gerend said. “Do they want their projects to improve the roads so we can handle the increased traffic or not?”
“We are showing how to fill the gap over the next 25 years on the projects on the list and the funding available,” he said. “The current funding is short about $40 billion to cover the projects on the list. And the projects have to be on the list to qualify for federal grant funding.”
Dori sees this as confirmation of his theory that the pay-per-mile tax will lead to tolling all roads in Washington. Gerend argues that road usage charges are no different than the current gas tax.
“Well, I think that’s what the technology is heading towards,” Gerend said. “It’s not much different than the gas tax, which is a road usage charge … In my opinion, I think that’s the future, actually.”
Dori asserts that the state won’t stop at replacing the gas tax, rather, it will toll every road through paying by the mile. Dori believes the state will charge different prices for different routes, depending on the time of day, in order to control traffic.
Reema Griffith with the Washington State Transportation Commission has said that the plan, currently, is only to replace the gas tax. But she also said that she cannot speak for the decisions made by future legislatures.
Gerend says his road usage prediction is separate than what the state is experimenting with.
“That’s my vision, I wouldn’t say it’s part of the plan,” he said. “That’s what I see in the future and I’m just one person. I’m not the Legislature.”