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/