Washington State Transportation Commission adopts recommendations on road usage charging
- Written by Reema Griffith, WSTC executive director
Commission recommends a gradual approach to adoption; recommendations now move on to the legislature
OLYMPIA – The Washington State Transportation Commission adopted recommendations today, Tuesday, Dec. 17, on how Washington can begin a transition away from the state gas tax and toward a road usage charge system.
The commission based its recommendations on extensive research, statewide public engagement, as well detailed analysis of the participant feedback and system performance of the 12-month Washington Road Usage Charge Pilot Project. These recommendations, along with the Road Usage Charge Steering Committee’s final report, will be transmitted to the Washington State Legislature, Governor Jay Inslee and the Federal Highway Administration in January 2020.
At the core of these recommendations, the Legislature is encouraged to begin a slow and gradual transition away from the gas tax, starting with requiring vehicles in the state-owned fleet to pay a road usage charge in lieu of the gas tax. The commission also recommends applying a road usage charge to electric vehicle owners who pay no gas tax and hybrid vehicle owners who pay little gas tax. The recommendations include taking the time during this gradual transition period to conduct additional research, such as collaborating with other states on cross-border travel, reducing administrative and operational costs, and assessing compliance gaps and potential enforcement measures. The commission did not offer a timeline for a full transition of all vehicles in the state to a road usage charge, recommending that should not occur for at least 10 years and likely several decades as many cars continue to pay the gas tax.
“This is an important first step in ensuring future funding security for Washington’s aging roads and bridges,” said Jerry Litt, chair of the Washington State Transportation Commission. “Revenues from our state gas tax will begin to decline as vehicle fuel efficiency continues to increase. We are already struggling to ensure adequate funding to maintain our system of roads and bridges today. Thanks to the pilot project and years of research, we believe road usage charging is a promising and viable option for the Legislature to consider, and now is the time to begin a gradual but necessary transition away from relying on the consumption of fossil fuel to fund our roads.”
A 29-member Road Usage Charge Steering Committee has guided Washington’s assessment of road usage charging since 2012. The committee supported and advised development of the pilot test drive and prepared its final report on road usage charging in Washington earlier this year. Based upon the findings of the steering committee, the commission determined its final set of recommendations and their final report to be issued in January 2020 will detail the results of the seven-year-long assessment of road usage charging. It includes the 12-month-long test drive portion of the pilot project that included over 2,000 statewide drivers driving 15 million miles from February 2018 to January 2019.
“We appreciate the time and effort our pilot project participants dedicated, through reporting their miles driven, completing surveys, participating in focus groups, and sharing thoughtful questions and comments with us.” said Joe Tortorelli, chair of the Road Usage Charge Steering Committee and member of the Washington State Transportation Commission. “Feedback from participants and members of the general public helped inform the final report and recommendations. We look forward to sharing this report with the legislature early next year.”
As vehicles become more fuel-efficient or switch to electric power, gas tax revenue is expected to decline by as much as 45 percent by 2035. In 2012, the Legislature directed the commission to assess the potential of a road usage charge to replace the gas tax. A road usage charge is a per-mile charge drivers would pay for the use of the roads, as opposed to paying by the gallon of gas.
Transportation Commission to recommend next steps on road usage charging to Legislature
- Written by Reema Griffith, WSTC executive director
OLYMPIA – The Washington State Transportation Commission will take action next week on policy recommendations to the Washington State Legislature on whether and when the state should consider implementing a Road Usage Charge (RUC) system as a possible replacement to the gas tax.
The commission meeting starts at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17, and at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18, at the Transportation Building, 310 Maple Park Ave. SE, on the Capitol Campus in Olympia. The meeting is open to the public and persons wishing to speak to the commission may do so during public comment periods each day, including a public comment opportunity prior to commission action on its road usage charging recommendations.
The commission will take final action at 1 p.m. Tuesday on its findings and recommendations related to whether and when a RUC system could replace the gas tax to fund roads and bridges. A RUC is a per-mile charge drivers would pay for the use of roads, as opposed to paying by the gallon of gas. Because gasoline is taxed by the gallon, as vehicles become more fuel-efficient or switch to electric power, gas tax revenue is expected to decline by as much as 45 percent by 2035. In 2012, the Legislature directed the commission to assess the potential of a RUC to replace the gas tax.
The final RUC report will detail the results of a 7-year-long assessment of road usage charging and a pilot project that involved more than 2,000 drivers statewide in a live test of RUC. The commission will consider the work of the RUC steering committee, results and findings from the test-driving phase of the pilot project, input from the pilot participants, and input from the public, as they finalize recommendations and next steps. The commission will submit the report to the governor, Legislature and the Federal Highway Administration in January 2020.
Also on Tuesday, the commission will receive an update on current traffic and revenue data for all tolled facilities, including the State Route 99 tunnel. Commission staff will present an overview of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge loan report, which the commission will submit to the Legislature in January, indicating the amount of loan needed to avoid a toll rate increase next year. The commission also will discuss the work plan and schedule for a legislatively directed study it will conduct to assess the possibility of discounted tolls and other programs to assist low-income drivers.
Commissioners also will hear the findings and recommendations from the lead consultant who conducted an analysis of congestion pricing in downtown Seattle. Congestion pricing is a charge drivers pay when they enter the most congested areas at the busiest times. Commissioned by the transportation network company Uber, the study considered whether charging all drivers could be an alternative to direct taxes or licensing limitations imposed on transportation network companies.
Tuesday afternoon the commission will continue its ongoing examination of the policy issues related to vehicle automation. John Niles, co-author of a book on autonomous vehicles, will discuss the potential effects on communities and public safety of shifting 50 percent or more of today’s privately owned and human-operated vehicles to automated vehicles.
On Wednesday, the commission will take action to adopt its annual report to the Legislature, which includes a number of recommendations on transportation policy and funding. Commissioners also will hear briefings on policy topics including, development of Vision 2050, the Puget Sound Regional Council’s newest long-range plan; an update to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s state plan for passenger and freight rail; and, a study underway by WSDOT’s aviation division to evaluate the potential for using electric aircraft in passenger air service.
For more information about the commission and a complete meeting agenda, visit: www.wstc.wa.gov/
SR 20 North Cascades Highway, between Diablo and Mazama, closing to vehicles until 2020
- Written by Lauren Loebsack, WSDOT communication
reopen the highway to bicycles, vehicles next spring
Washington State Department of Transportation crews close this stretch of SR 20 every year once snow fills the avalanche chutes that line the highway, which poses a safety risk to travelers and road crews.
Road closure points
The closure points are at milepost 134/Ross Dam Trailhead and at milepost 177/Silver Star Gate. When significant snow begins to fall, WSDOT crews will move the western closure point back to milepost 130/Colonial Creek Campground and the eastern closure point to milepost 168/Early Winters Campground. These weather-dependent changes usually happen in January. Signs along SR 20 are posted in advance of the closure point and updates on the WSDOT website will reflect where the road is closed.
Winter recreation on SR 20
Hikers, skiers, snowmobilers and other recreationalists can access the closed portion of highway during the winter season. Users should park in designated parking areas to allow plow drivers the space they need to clear snow around the closed stretch’s access gates.
WSDOT closes this stretch of highway due to avalanche risk, so anyone using this area should check forecasts and be aware of quickly changing conditions in the mountains. Travelers can also check conditions with North Cascades National Park before trips to this area.
In late winter/spring 2020, WSDOT avalanche and maintenance crews, including Mazama the Avalanche Rescue Goat, will assess conditions and begin clearing work to reopen this cross-state route through the Cascade Mountains.
Plan early for Thanksgiving weekend travel
- Written by Barbara LaBoe, communications, WSDOT
Holiday travel prep is just as important as planning the big meal
OLYMPIA – Just like shopping, prepping the turkey and checking kick-off times before a big holiday gathering, the key to smooth Thanksgiving travel is planning ahead. Being prepared to call an audible for any delays doesn’t hurt either.
The Washington State Department of Transportation urges all travelers to “know before you go” and plan ahead for the busy holiday weekend. Staying informed also lets travelers react to any delays or other issues and still make it to the feast on time.
The agency provides several tools to help plan holiday travels:
· Consult WSDOT’s travel times charts, which use historical information to help drivers know before they go.
· Visit WSDOT’s online traveler information about traffic, weather and ferry schedules.
· Pre-program 530 AM and 1610 AM to vehicle radios for highway advisory radio alerts.
· Carry chains and other winter driving essentials.
· Check current chain and traction requirements on the WSDOT mountain passes website or by calling 5-1-1, and watch for highway advisory signs.
· Leave extra time for holiday and winter travel, slow down and leave extra space between vehicles when driving on snow or ice.
Apple Cup travel
Those traveling to the Friday, Nov. 29, Apple Cup football game in Seattle should prepare for possible winter weather on passes and allow extra time if traveling Thursday evening and Friday morning as people make their way to the 1 p.m. game.
· State Route 123 Cayuse Pass and SR 410 Chinook Pass close for the season at 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, and will not be available for holiday travel. These passes close every winter due to avalanche danger, poor road conditions, lack of snow storage and no emergency response services within close proximity.
· SR 20 North Cascades Highway remains open as of Wednesday, Nov. 20. Details about the road status and winter closure are available online and travelers should check that the pass is still open before heading out.
· On Interstate 90, Snoqualmie Pass travelers can receive text alerts for pass delays of 30 minutes or longer – text “wsdot snoqualmie” to 468311 to subscribe, and “wsdot stop” to unsubscribe.
In the Puget Sound area, the SR 520 bridge and SR 99 tunnel will have weekend toll rates on Thanksgiving, Nov. 28, returning to weekday rates on Friday, Nov. 29. On the I-405 express toll lanes, travel is free for everyone on the Thanksgiving holiday, returning to normal toll and HOV requirements from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 29. Weekends are always free to travel in the express toll lanes. Out-of-town travelers, including those using rental cars, can learn about toll roads on the Good To Go! visitors page.
Traveling by ferry
Please plan ahead for heavy holiday ferry traffic and consider purchasing tickets online or walking onto ferries if possible to save time. The longest lines are expected westbound the afternoon/evening of Wednesday, Nov. 27 and on Thanksgiving morning. Eastbound, the longest lines are expected Thanksgiving afternoon and Friday morning, Nov. 29. Those driving onto ferries can sign up for vehicle wait time alerts and check terminal conditions online. Some ferry routes run on Saturday schedules on the holiday; check ferry schedules online or call 888-808-7977 for details.
Space is limited on the Port Townsend/Coupeville ferry route on Wednesday, Nov. 27, and Thursday, Nov. 28, due to tidal current cancellations of several evening sailings.
Canadian service is suspended through Sunday, Dec. 8, due to required maintenance on the vessels certified to run international service.
Other travel alternatives
Travelers planning a trip by train, personal aircraft or bus also should make plans to avoid holiday delays:
· Amtrak Cascades passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets early and should plan to arrive at the station one hour before departure. There are no extra Thanksgiving trains this year. Oregon’s trains will run on their weekend schedule Wednesday, Nov. 27, through Sunday, Dec. 1. All Amtrak Cascades trains require reservations and trains fill up quickly during holidays. Visit www.amtrakcascades.com/ for reservation and schedule details or call 800–USA–RAIL.
· Information about traveling via state-operated airports is available on line or call 800-552-0666.
· Check with local public transit agencies for any holiday schedule or service changes, including some Dial-A-Ride and fixed-route service that may not run on holidays.
A better way to roll: Washingtonians encouraged to help shape state’s active transportation plan
- Written by Barb Chamberlain, Active Transportation director, WSDOT
WSDOT hosts virtual events Nov. 26 and Dec. 11; online open house through Dec. 15
OLYMPIA – People who live in Washington have an opportunity to help create a vision for a transportation system that supports all modes of travel – including walking, biking and rolling. The Washington State Department of Transportation is updating the state active transportation plan, which serves as the needs assessment for accessible pedestrian and bicyclist connections, and public input is needed.
An online open house is available now through Sunday, Dec. 15, at http://bit.ly/WSDOT-ATP-Online-Open-House with a questionnaire to collect input from Washington residents.
WSDOT will also host virtual events during which staff will share information on the safety, mobility and accessibility issues the plan is intended to address. Those who are interested can register at http://bit.ly/WSDOT-ATP-Virtual2019. Participants will be able to submit questions and comments using the chat function in the presentation software. These will be recorded and available online after the presentations.
- 12 – 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26
- 7 – 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11
Washingtonians are invited to sign up for the plan’s email newsletter to receive future event announcements: http://bit.ly/WSDOT-2019-ATP.
Community events open to the public that WSDOT staff are attending are listed on the Community Events and E-News page of the online open house. This list is updated as new events are added.
Washington’s new multimodal 4-year program of transportation projects ready for review
- Written by Nancy Huntley, Local Programs, WSDOT
WSDOT seeks input on the draft Statewide Transportation Improvement Program from Nov. 18 to Dec. 17
OLYMPIA – Each year, the Washington State Department of Transportation develops the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program from local agency, metropolitan and regional transportation improvement programs. This compilation of prioritized transportation improvement projects is now ready for review and public comment.
The draft 2020-2023 STIP is a four-year program of multimodal transportation projects identified through state, metropolitan, regional, tribal and local agency planning processes. Projects identified as using Federal Highway Administration or Federal Transit Administration funds must be included in the STIP in order to authorize the expenditure of federal funds. More than 1,200 statewide transportation improvement projects using $3.4 billion in federal funds are included in the 2020-23 STIP.
The comment period is the final step of the community engagement process that began locally during development of the individual transportation improvement programs. Comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17. WSDOT will send any comments it receives to the local agency, metropolitan or regional planning organization for their consideration.
About the STIP
The STIP is a four-year, fiscally constrained, prioritized multimodal transportation program of state, local, tribal, and public transportation (transit) projects. The STIP includes highways, streets, roads, railroads, transit-hubs, park-and-ride lots, bridges, sidewalks, bike lanes, ferry terminals, trails and safety projects.
The collaborative effort between WSDOT, local agencies, metropolitan and regional planning organizations ensures projects are consistent with local, regional and state long-range plans. Some county projects are not included in the draft STIP because state law requires counties to complete their transportation improvement programs by the end of the year; those projects are amended into the final STIP in January.
The current 2019-22 STIP can be viewed online and a similar, searchable database of the 2020-23 STIP will be created in January 2020, following FHWA and FTA approval.
How to comment
Prepare now for winter snow and ice
- Written by Barbara LaBoe, WSDOT communications
Studded tires allowed in Washington from Nov. 1 to March 31; stud-free winter tire alternatives are legal year-round
OLYMPIA – With winter fast approaching, now is the time for travelers to make sure they’re prepared for driving in inclement weather.
The Washington State Department of Transportation urges all travelers to start preparing themselves and their vehicles before traveling on snow and ice. Drivers can check out WSDOT's winter driving web page for tips and information. WSDOT also asks travelers to always "know before you go" and get the most up-to-date roadway information before heading out.
“Our crews are ready for winter and work hard to keep roads clear, but as last winter showed, any part of the state can experience severe weather and we need the public’s help as well,” said WSDOT Maintenance Operations Manager James Morin. “Most pass closures are due to spin outs or crashes from vehicles traveling too fast or not having proper winter equipment. Preparing early and staying informed about conditions and restrictions can help keep traffic moving during storms.”
To check conditions and prepare for winter weather:
- Download the WSDOT mobile app.
- Follow WSDOT's regional and pass accounts on Twitter, the agency's Facebooksite and online travel alerts.
- Sign upfor email and/or text updates about road conditions – including Snoqualmie Pass delay text alerts.
- Download, print and carry the WSDOT Winter Driving Guide.
- Get your vehicle ready and plan extra time to cross all mountain passes, including heavily traveled routes such as Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass and White Pass.
- Carry chains and know current traction and chain requirementsfor mountain passes, which are also available on highway-advisory signs, highway-advisory radio and by calling 511.
- Preset your radio to 530 AM and 1610 AM for WSDOT's traffic-information stations.
Alternatives to chains
Although some vehicle manufacturers recommend against the use of tire chains for certain models, that doesn’t excuse travelers from state traction device laws. These requirements exist to help keep all traffic moving safely during extreme winter conditions.
The Washington State Patrol provides an online list of approved, alternative-traction devices that meet state traction requirements. All travelers are reminded to carry chains or approved alternatives whenever crossing mountain passes to be prepared for changing weather conditions and avoid a costly ticket. Failure to obey a tire chains sign can mean a ticket of up to $500. Special chain enforcement patrols will be keeping an eye on mountain passes this winter.
By law, studded tires are legal for use in Washington state only from Nov. 1 through March 31. This applies to all vehicles in Washington, even those traveling from other states, and no personal exemptions or waivers exist.
WSDOT estimates studded tires cause between $20 million and $29 million in pavement damage to state-owned asphalt and concrete roadways each year. Motorists are encouraged to visit a tire dealer to learn more about their options, including stud-free, winter tread traction tires. These type of tires are different than all-season tires, are legal year-round and do not cause the same roadway damage as studded tires. More information about studded-tire restrictions and requirements can be found in the FAQ on the WSP website.
Autonomous vehicle policy and road usage charging focus of WSTC’s Oct. 15 – 16 meeting
- Written by Reema Griffith, WSTC executive director
OLYMPIA – At its October meeting, the Washington State Transportation Commission will take action on policy recommendations to the legislature on testing and deploying autonomous vehicles. The commission also will begin drafting its final report to the legislature assessing whether the state should consider implementing a Road Usage Charge system as a possible replacement to the gas tax.
The meeting starts at 9 a.m. both Tuesday, Oct. 15, and Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the Transportation Building, 310 Maple Park Ave. SE, on the Capitol Campus in Olympia. The commission meeting is open to the public and persons wishing to speak to the commission may do so at public comment times at the end of each day.
On Tuesday morning, the commission will receive a briefing on a study of city transportation needs completed earlier this year for the Joint Transportation Committee. The study concluded that city transportation investments fall short by half of what is needed. In addition to the report’s findings and recommendations, commissioners will hear the reaction from two of the case study cities.
The remainder of Tuesday’s agenda is devoted to the topic of exploring a potential replacement to the gas tax to fund roads and bridges. Because gasoline is taxed by the gallon, as vehicles become more fuel efficient or switch to electric power, gas tax revenue will decline. In 2012, the legislature directed the commission to assess the potential of a road usage charge to replace the gas tax. A Road Usage Charge (RUC) is a per mile charge drivers would pay for the use of the roads, as opposed to paying by the gallon of gas.
The commission, with the assistance of a stakeholder steering committee, has determined that road usage charging is feasible and that over time it can generate more revenue than the gas tax, as cars become more fuel efficient. To test how such a system could work in Washington and evaluate different ways of recording and reporting mileage, more than 2,000 Washington drivers participated in a year-long Washington Road Usage Charge pilot project. With the conclusion of the pilot, the commission is now ready to report on its findings, including the RUC experience of other states.
Oregon, the first state in the country to implement a RUC, now has several hundred vehicles paying by the mile for using its roads. Oregon Department of Transportation staff will brief the commission about legislation enacted in Oregon earlier this year to stabilize and expand its road usage charge program.
Then, the commission will consider the work of its road usage charge steering committee, results and findings from the test-driving phase of the Washington RUC pilot project, and reactions of pilot participants, as it drafts its report recommending next steps. Commissioners will identify preliminary findings and recommendations for the 2020 legislature, and provide direction regarding the RUC Assessment Final Report. They also will discuss a proposal on gathering public input in November on the preliminary recommendations.
On Wednesday, the commission will act on several policy recommendations forwarded to it from a broad-based Autonomous Vehicle (AV) Work Group that includes members from the private sector, state and local government, and the legislature. Established in 2018, the legislature created the AV Work Group to enable Washington state to address the public policy issues raised by emerging AV technology in an informed, thorough, and deliberate manner. The briefing and discussion led by the work group chair and its subcommittees will frame the commission’s report to the Legislature and Governor on testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles in our state.
The commission also will hear a brief update on preparations for tolling the State Route 99 tunnel and receive a report on a recent study of the Interstate 405 express toll lanes by the Washington State Transportation Center. Using data from each trip made on the I-405 express toll lanes during operating hours, demographic data on census block groups, and lane speed, volume, and travel time data, the study reveals insights into how the express toll lanes are used, the benefits they provide to the region, and how these benefits are distributed among different groups of noncommercial users.
For more information about the commission and a complete meeting agenda, visit: www.wstc.wa.gov/
Public invited to comment online about stormwater management plan
- Written by Jana Ratcliff, Environmental Services Office, WSDOT
WSDOT accepting public input Oct. 7 - 18
WSDOT is responsible for managing stormwater from highways, rest areas, park-and-ride lots, ferry terminals and maintenance facilities in urban areas throughout the state. In spring 2019, the state Department of Ecology issued WSDOT a permit that regulates stormwater from these paved surfaces. As part of that permit, WSDOT is required to submit to Ecology a stormwater management plan by Oct. 31, describing how the agency will implement the permit’s requirements.
Any comments WSDOT receives by Oct. 18 will be considered before finalizing the plan this year. WSDOT will consider comments received after the deadline in next year’s plan update.
Managing stormwater from highways and other paved surfaces is important to traveler safety and for water quality in streams and underground water supplies. Untreated, stormwater can carry pollutants downstream and can cause flooding and erosion that might lead to roadway damage.
West Coast transportation commissions gather in Wash. to discuss rural transportation issues, Sept. 16-17
- Written by Reema Griffith, WSTC Executive Director, WSDOT
STEVENSON, Wash. – Transportation challenges unique to rural areas will be highlighted in a meeting between the transportation commissions from Washington state, Oregon and California this month in Stevenson, Washington. Presenters from the three states will lead discussions on rural freight-movement challenges; the connection between reliable rural access, jobs and economic growth; emergency access and enabling response; and road usage charging efforts in all three states.
The tri-state meeting is from 8 a.m. to noon Monday, Sept. 16, and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 17, at Skamania Lodge, 1131 Skamania Lodge Dr., Stevenson. The meeting is open to the public and persons wishing to speak to the commissions may do so during the public comment period at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday.
Following opening remarks from each state’s commission chair, Monday’s meeting kicks off with a panel discussion of the complex supply chains involving trucks, trains, barges and planes that move rural freight from farm to markets across the country and the world. Another panel will focus on reliable transportation access in rural areas. Panelists will discuss how highways, public transportation, rural airports and trails all uniquely contribute to sustainable economic development and opportunity.
On Monday afternoon, commissioners from the three states will tour the regional area on both sides of the Columbia River, and make stops at a few businesses to hear first-hand the transportation challenges they face in moving product and conducting business in a rural setting. The commissioners will also get a briefing on the Hood River Bridge and will view a bicycle-pedestrian facility on Oregon’s Historic Columbia River Highway.
During Tuesday’s meeting, each state will share how it responds to natural disasters – from wildfires to seismic events – and the role transportation agencies and infrastructure plays in response and recovery. Panelists will include an Okanogan County commissioner who has worked on partnerships and planning to better respond to region-wide wildfires, and the mayor of Paradise, California, the town in the Sierra foothills ravaged by fire last fall.
Other meeting topics include a briefing from the administrators of the Federal Highway Administration in each state, and the latest work by each state to address declining revenue from the gas tax as cars and trucks become more fuel-efficient. The three West Coast states lead the nation in developing a road usage charge as an alternative funding source to replace the gas tax.
Since 2009, the Washington State Transportation Commission has met periodically with its colleagues in California and/or Oregon to share strategies for addressing common issues and to identify opportunities for collaboration. During their 2018 meeting, the three state bodies focused on technology and transportation.
The meeting will be webcast live on tvw.org.
For more information about the commission and a complete meeting agenda, visit: www.wstc.wa.gov/