The trend toward lower gasoline consumption is like a flashing yellow light in the new 20-year plan from the Washington Transportation Commission.
To improve or even maintain mobility in the state, the commission is recommending new ways to raise money beyond the gas tax: wider use of toll charges, a new vehicle excise tax, local tax options and a tax on alternative fuel vehicles.
Currently, fuel tax pays 78 percent of the state’s transportation needs under the current $8.8 billion two-year budget.
That money goes not only for major construction such as the North Spokane Corridor, but also for ferries, rail, the State Patrol and local government.
Average gasoline consumption has fallen steadily since 2000 and will continue to fall, according to projections, meaning that there will be increasingly less money available for the state’s transportation system.
Greater fuel efficiency is a big reason for the decline, along with the current economic recession.
At the same time, efficient transportation is seen as a key to economic vitality in Washington, said Commissioner Carol Moser, of Richland.
“Nearly half of the jobs in our state depend on freight mobility, and we are the most trade-dependent state in the nation,” she said.
Moving Eastern Washington grain to the region’s sea ports is part of the picture.
According to the 20-year plan, the state will have unfunded transportation needs of about $175 billion to $200 billion through 2030, including $69 billion in local and regional projects.
The state is already looking at cutting engineering and technical jobs, reducing ferry service and increasing ferry fares in its current belt-tightening.
The commission is recommending switching from a flat gas tax charge to an indexed charge that would rise with inflation.
Tolls, which have been going up on major Puget Sound projects, may become more widely used in the future, the commission said.
The plan was developed over two years and includes a range of comment from across the state. More than 700 people participated in developing the plan.
For more information, go to wstc.wa.gov.
State adds cars to Grain Train
Included in the state’s wide-ranging transportation system is a program to move Washington grain to port.
Last week, the Washington State Department of Transportation announced that it has purchased 29 additional grain hoppers, bringing its stock to 118 cars serving more than 2,500 cooperative members and farmers.
The acquired railcars will move grain from the northern portions of Eastern Washington to ports on the Columbia River and Puget Sound.
The used cars were purchased and refurbished for $362,500 under a program funded by user fees, according to WSDOT.
The newly acquired hoppers will be sent to work on the Palouse River and Coulee City short line and collect grain primarily between Cheney and Coulee City in the upper Columbia Basin.
Since 1994, the Grain Train program has moved more than 1.2 million tons of grain.
Partners in the program are the port districts of Walla Walla, Moses Lake and Whitman County.
Survey tracks aggressive driving
A novel series of survey questions sponsored by PEMCO Insurance shows that the problem of aggressive driving may have gotten worse in the past year in Washington.
The survey showed a 6-point increase in aggressive driving under a 100-plus-point index that was established through an initial survey in 2009.
The index relied on surveys of more than 600 Washington drivers, who reported instances of aggressive driving as well as polite driving.
Aggressive driving included speeding, failure to yield or tailgating.
Reports of aggressive driving were compared against instances of polite driving, and while polite driving continued to be more prevalent, instances of aggressive driving increased, according to a news release from PEMCO.
Eastern Washington drivers were marginally more aggressive in the survey than Western Washington drivers.
The survey was conducted by Fbk Research in Seattle.