Washington state might actually emerge from the political rut of acknowledging the damage of studded tires without doing anything about it.
Included in the Senate transportation budget passed Friday is an annual $15 permit charged to anyone who uses studded tires. If the House and governor sign on, it would mark the first step toward recouping the estimated $18 million to $27 million it costs the state each year to repair damage caused by studs.
Under the bill, motorists using studded tires after Dec. 31, 2013, would have to purchase an annual permit that would be affixed to license plates. Scofflaws would be charged $124 per violation – the same fine for using studded tires out of season – plus the $15 for the permit.
The permits are a start, but they’re too permissive. A bill introduced earlier in the legislative session put the fee at $75, and would’ve raised an estimated $5.2 million annually. A $15 fee would obviously raise a lot less money, though it might gain more votes as the House and Senate hammer out the differences in their transportation packages. Forty-five percent of the proceeds would be deposited into county road funds to ensure that all parts of the state would benefit.
To get an idea of how high the fee would have to be to recoup all the damage, the city of Spokane alone estimates that its annual stud-related costs are about $4.9 million, or about same amount that a $75 fee would raise statewide.
Nonetheless, a permit is the right idea, and perhaps it would force people to think twice about the annual ritual of switching to studded tires. The Washington State Department of Transportation cites credible research that shows studs are advantageous only under icy conditions when temperatures are near the freezing mark. Under more common winter circumstances, such as wet pavement and compacted snow, studless traction tires perform better or just as well. For one thing, it takes longer to stop on wet roads with studded tires.
However, the education process on winter and all-season tires vs. studded tires will take time, and many drivers just won’t feel comfortable without studded tires in the meantime. For this reason, a ban on studded tires is too Draconian. But if a permit system failed to deter usage, lawmakers would have to either raise the fee or institute a prohibition.
Ten states have banned studded tires, including Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Oregon Legislature is considering bills that would either impose a permit system or charge a per-tire fee. About 75 percent of Eastern Washington drivers get around without studded tires. Few drivers use them on the West Side.
At a time when transportation dollars are being squeezed, the state cannot afford to allow the roads to be damaged without recourse. A fee or permit for using studded tires is long overdue. The House and governor should help push us out of this rut.