CHOKEPOINTS

Will WA Legislature move towards pay-by-mile system?

Jan 10, 2023, 5:03 AM
legislature...
Washington State Capitol Building (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

Will this be the year the Washington Legislature starts the long walk away from the gas tax and toward a pay-by-mile system?

The Road Usage Charge (RUC), or pay-by-mile system, has been on the drawing board for a decade now. At its core, the goal is to find a more stable funding source to pay for our roads since the gas tax doesn’t go as far as it used to. Not because the gas tax isn’t high. It is. But our cars are getting better fuel mileage, and we have to fuel up less often.

The Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) has run pilot programs and feasibility studies, and it has, once again, put a bunch of recommendations together for the legislature to consider.

Wind impacting Puget Sound part of larger storm pummeling California

“The revenue decline is real,” RUC steering committee member Sharon Nelson told the WSTC last month. “It’s a real fact that the gas tax is no longer adequate to support how we fund highways, bridges, and maintenance in this state. We’ve got to socialize these truths to our public.”

The first recommendation is to finally pass something and get the state on the path to the Road Usage Charge.

“I think it is really time to get on with this,” Nelson told the committee. “I think we need to start making clear messaging to the Washington driving public that this is the future. To do that, I think, there’s nothing like passing legislation.”

The commission is recommending that a Road Usage Charge program begins in 2025 on a voluntary basis and then becomes required in 2027 for any new car, model year 2028 or later.

Owners would pay 2.5 cents per mile instead of the gas tax. The method of tracking would be an odometer read.

“Once it’s operational, it will be a big shock to people,” Nelson said. “Having a phased approach, where adjustments can be made as we move through time, is very important to keep as a feature of any legislation.”

The state would continue working on more efficient ways to capture miles driven, using GPS or other technology. And to get the state’s drivers ready for this, the commission believes everyone should be giving their cars odometer reading when renewing their tabs, whether they are using the RUC or not.

Another key recommendation is that the legislature dedicates any money generated from a Road Usage Charge to the roads. There is great concern that the money could be diverted since an RUC is not specifically mentioned in the state Constitution. A Republican senator is asking that this be put to voters to require that RUC money goes to roads.

And there are privacy concerns that have yet to be truly addressed. Some people believe that asking for a simple odometer is a violation of privacy, but most of the more significant concerns center on the developing technology, what kind of data would be collected, and how it would be stored.

The Road Usage Charge only had one hearing last session. It has yet to be filed as a bill this session.

More from Chris Sullivan: WSDOT welcomes New Year with SR 520 closure this weekend

One of the other interesting nuances in all of this is that the Democrats pushed through a massive $17-billion transportation package last year that relies on a considerable increase in the gas tax. The exact increase is of great debate because it comes from new carbon fees. Some say it will be pennies. Others say it could be up to a dollar increase per gallon.

What incentive would there be to move to a Road Usage Charge if it would gut the money the legislature and governor have earmarked for the programs promised under that budget?

It doesn’t make sense to keep increasing the gas tax if the goal is to replace it.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

Chokepoints

speed cameras...
Chris Sullivan

Speed cameras on freeways? Seems like a quick way to make roads safer

We have them in school zones, and we have them at intersections, is it time to put speed cameras on the freeways to keep speeds down?
4 days ago
wsdot...
Chris Sullivan

WSDOT is hiring, but can it keep people from bolting for better pay?

The Washington Department of Transportation is back to pre-COVID-19 staffing levels, but can the agency keep those hires from leaving?
6 days ago
gas...
Chris Sullivan

Gas prices have been creeping up, but who’s responsible?

Gas prices are on the rise again in Washington, and it doesn't have anything to do with the war in Ukraine or supply issues in the U.S.
10 days ago
Everett I-5...
Chris Sullivan

Emergency repairs to close multiple I-5 lanes in Everett this weekend

State transit officials are going to close two of the three northbound I-5 lanes around Marine View Drive in Everett all weekend. 
11 days ago
tow truck...
Chris Sullivan

Tow truck drivers beg for more protection on our roads

They clear our roads, many times in the dark of night, with no protection. Is it time to give tow truck drivers more visibility on our roads?
13 days ago
homeless boulder...
Chris Sullivan

Boulders return to prevent homeless camps along WA highways

Let's talk about boulders -- specifically, the use of boulders to prevent homeless camps from returning to sites along freeways and highways.
18 days ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Will WA Legislature move towards pay-by-mile system?