ROADS/BRIDGES: Paying by the mile

Pending legislative approval, the project would see Washington state roads go full GPS

News December 11, 2014
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In effort to assuage the dependence on gas tax revenue for road infrastructure funding, the Washington State Transportation Commission is expected to approve a pilot project designed to charge drivers for every mile they travel on public roads. The Road Usage Charge would replace the gas tax in the state, which has struggled to meet revenue expectations due the preponderance of more hybrid and electric vehicles using less gas. A GPS device would track miles driven and charge accordingly. Testing could begin in as early as 2016.
 
State legislators will have a decision to make come January if the test project is to be given final approval. The program, which is modeled on a similar application happening in Oregon, would not institute the GPS requirement until at least 2017. This proposal is in response to lawmakers tasking the state's Transportation Commission to come up with a new funding system to pay for roads. Historically the state has relied on gas tax revenue to pay for most road maintenance projects.
 
"Our gas tax as a revenue source is … running out of gas, basically," said commission member Charles Royer, who voiced concerned about the long-term viability of a revenue stream already being compromised by technologic advancement and a social concern over fuel usage. Royer, a former Seattle mayor, went on to say that drivers would need to be given options as to how the state would monitor their mileage.
 
Under the latest proposal, drivers would be able to choose from four options: an all-you-can-drive flat fee; required reportage of their odometer readings to the state; installation of a GPS locator in the car; or a downloadable smartphone application.
 
Almost immediately, advocacy groups have begun grumbling about potential misuse of such tracking methods, not to mention a lack of commensurate investiture in public/mass transit to assuage what could become a significant fiscal burden laid on Washingtonians less able to withstand it.
 
If lawmakers approve the changeover, testing under a pilot program would begin in 2016. Full implementation would not begin until 2018.

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