August 22, 2017 12:30 PM, EDT

Washington Seeks Drivers to Test Alternative Road Use Tax

Traffic in Washington WSDOT/Flickr

Washington is seeking about 2,000 drivers to test a new way to pay to maintain the state’s roadways.

Officials say the aim of the Washington Road Usage Charge Project is to gain information on whether a per-mile charge paid by drivers could replace declining dollars from fuel taxes.

The Washington State Transportation Commission plans to launch the 12-month pilot program early next year.

Transportation officials say as the number of fuel-efficient and electric vehicles rise over time, gas tax revenues will decline due to lower fuel consumption.

That decline will have a serious effect on the state’s ability to fix roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure or build replacements, said Joe Tortorelli, chair of the Washington Road Usage Charge Steering Committee.

Another driver behind the per-mile charge, officials said, is that considering the range of miles per gallon between vehicles on the road today — from traditional gasoline engines to hybrids to fully electric — the gas tax has become inequitable. For the same miles driven, drivers pay widely different amounts for their roadway use, depending on their vehicle’s gas mileage.

This inequity is expected to grow each year as vehicle fuel efficiency continues to increase.

There will be no cost to participate in the test program, officials said. Drivers selected to take part will simulate paying for the miles they drive and not the gallons of gas they buy. Participants will have four reporting options to pick from, ranging from “no-tech” methods such as reporting odometer readings to “high-tech” methods involving automated mileage meters with GPS or smartphone apps.

Drivers will be asked to commit an average of 10 minutes a month over the one-year test period. Participants will be recruited from all over Washington, as well as those who frequently drive into Washington from places like British Columbia, Oregon, and Idaho.

“This is a truly unique opportunity for Washington drivers to test and provide feedback on an option to ensure future funding for roads and transportation,” Sharon Nelson, former chair of the state Utilities and Transportation Commission said in a release.

Whether a person drives “just a few miles a month or spend lots of time on the road — the state is looking for drivers all over Washington to best reflect the diversity of drivers around the state.”

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