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A road usage charge is a per-mile charge drivers would pay based on how much they use Washington State’s road system, as opposed to having drivers pay by the gallon of gas purchased. This approach is similar to how people pay for their utilities, including electricity or water.

The current gas tax funding system is becoming unfair. For the same miles driven, drivers pay widely different amounts for their roadway use based solely on their vehicle’s MPG. This inequity is expected to grow each year as vehicle MPG continues to increase.

“User pays” is a time-tested and familiar principle used by utilities like electricity, water, and cell phones whereby those who use the roadway network and benefit from it are also the ones to pay for it. The pilot project will test how this strategy could be applied to roadway usage in Washington.

A road usage charge system could provide a more stable source of transportation funding than the gas tax, since drivers would pay by the mile instead of by the gallon. This is important as auto manufacturers build cars to meet higher federal fuel-efficiency requirements, and as new hybrid and electric vehicles continue to become more popular and affordable.

This pilot project is testing the road usage charge only as a replacement to the gas tax, not as an additional tax.

For the pilot project, the road usage charge is being looked at as a flat rate of 2.4 cents per mile statewide. This per mile rate is what a driver pays today in gas taxes, if their car gets the state average of 20.5 MPG. Should decision makers decide to explore how a road usage charge could be applied beyond a flat rate, the road usage charge offers more potential flexibility than the gas tax.

The Washington State Transportation Commission and a 25-member stakeholder committee have been researching, assessing, and analyzing this potential replacement for the gas tax since 2012 in close partnership with the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Department of Licensing.

Washington is not the first state to test road usage charging as a potential alternative revenue collection approach. Oregon’s voluntary per-mile charge program has been in place since July 2015 with more than 1,000 participants, and California has a nine-month road usage charging pilot program underway with approximately 5,000 volunteers. Washington is one of seven states to receive a federal grant to pilot alternative user-based revenue collection approaches that the federal government could use to support the Highway Trust Fund: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon, Minnesota and Missouri.

Tolling is used for specific purposes: 1) to pay for a high dollar project like the SR 520 Floating Bridge or the Tacoma Narrows Bridge; or 2) to manage traffic congestion in urban areas like the Express Toll Lanes on I-405 or the HOT Lanes on SR 167. Tolls are only collected when using a specific bridge or roadway, and revenues must be used to support that facility. Road usage charging is being considered as a statewide replacement to the gas tax, to serve as our primary, statewide funding source for all transportation needs including building and maintaining roads, bridges, and the ferry system.

A pilot project is a small-scale, short-term study that helps an organization learn whether and how a concept might work in practice. The pilot process allows an organization to improve upon the design or policies prior to launching a larger-scale project.