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.