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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Washington drivers wracked up 60 billion miles last year

Washington drivers logged more than 60 billion miles on public roadways in 2016.

If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.

For reference, the spacecraft Voyager 1, which famously flew by Saturn in 1980, is the most distant human-made object in the universe. Launched in 1977, it left our solar system in 2012 and is currently jetting far into interstellar space. And it’s only 13 billion miles away.

For motorists, the 60 billion vehicle miles traveled set a record, thanks to a growing economy and population. But it brought more congestion to major corridors across the state, according to a new report from the Washington State Department of Transportation examining the state’s vast transportation network.

The report notes that gas prices plummeted, from $4.01 per gallon in 2012 to $2.47 last year, which is also a factor in the mind-boggling number of miles we drive.

A few other highlights from the report:

    More than 40 percent of all carbon emissions in Washington state came from our tailpipes.

    About 28 percent of Washingtonians used alternative transportation to commute, with a record 233 million transit rides in 2016.

    There were 24,624 plug-in electric vehicles registered with the state.

The report, called Gray Notebook 67, generally covers the period from 2014 to 2016 and is a mix of good and bad news.

While highway pavement degraded faster than WSDOT could fix it, the state’s bridges were in pretty good shape. Seven percent of the state’s pavement was in poor condition, up a percentage point from the previous period looked at by WSDOT. Nearly 92 percent of state-owned bridges were in fair or better condition.

Spokane doesn’t merit many mentions in the report, but it does note that the work to add passing lanes on U.S. 195 between Spangle and Colfax is on schedule for a completion date of November 2018. Work on the North Spokane Corridor also gets highlighted, but only to say that its design and right-of-way acquisition is on schedule.

Casualties on state roads remained an issue despite a goal set by the governor and Legislature to eliminate all traffic fatalities by 2030. Traffic killed 537 people in 2015 and 2016. Pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for 106 of those deaths. In other words, pedestrians and bicyclists represented nearly 20 percent of fatalities while accounting for less than 5 percent of trips taken.

The good news is the rate of traffic fatalities dipped, down to 0.88 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. Also, the average amount of time it took WSDOT’s highway incident response teams to clear public roads of stalled cars and other objects in the way of traffic stands at less than 13 minutes, which helped prevent countless secondary collisions or crashes.

The transportation department also graded its rest areas, which get about 24 million visitors a year. Their score: a solid B.

So next time you pull over for a quick respite, take a moment to enjoy the just-above-average facilities and ponder how you’re contributing to the tens of billions of miles traveled, outpacing the probe that took a grand tour of our solar system’s gaseous giants and is about seven years away from running out of power.

And be thankful, because that poor probe is nowhere near a rest area.

Got a transportation question you want answered? Write

Street closures

Wall Street in downtown Spokane between Spokane Falls Boulevard and Main Avenue will be closed Monday through Friday as Walker Construction works on the skywalk connecting River Park Square to the former Macy’s building, now called the M.

Rowan Avenue between Morton and Perry streets near Whitman Elementary is completely closed through Wednesday to lay a sewer line.

Northwest Boulevard between Grace and Buckeye avenues will be closed Monday through Friday for cable installation by CenturyLink.

Riverside Avenue between Hemlock Street and Clarke Avenue will be closed Monday through Friday for undisclosed reasons. The same goes for Montgomery Avenue between Ruby and Lidgerwood streets.

Snow removal

The city of Spokane is asking residents to park on the “odd side” of the street in residential areas for the entire snow season, which runs from Nov. 15 to March 15. By that, they mean the side with odd-numbered addresses.

Leaf pick-up continues

Spokane’s street maintenance team is removing fallen leaves from the streets, which will take four to six weeks to complete.

For this week through Dec. 18, crews will be in the areas of Comstock Park, Lincoln Heights, South Freya and East Sprague, so be sure to move cars from the roadway to help out.

Call the Leaf Hotline at (509) 625-7737 to find out the next day’s work areas.