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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: Gas taxes – soon to be marked on the pump – already stretched thin

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 27, 2017

If you like reading nutrition labels at the grocery store, you’ll love what’s coming to the state’s gas pumps.

Thanks to a budget amendment proposed by a Republican legislator from Wenatchee, and its unanimous approval by legislators, stickers are being affixed to state fuel pumps breaking down how much motorists pay in state and federal gas taxes.

The sticker program, which began Oct. 30, is meant to be informative and may fuel a resistance to higher gas taxes, Rep. Cary Condotta told the Seattle Times. The stickers show that taxes account for about a quarter of what you pay at the pump.

“I’m certainly getting a lot of feedback about it, all positive,” Condotta said. “It could make it more difficult to raise taxes.”

Currently, gas taxes account for 67.8 cents per gallon, a number made up largely from the state’s share. At 49.4 cents per gallon, Washington has the second-highest gas tax in the country.

Condotta’s plan to raise awareness about the gas tax is great, but it’s missing the most important part of it all. The gas tax does a miserable job paying for our roads. As transportation construction costs keep going up, revenues from the gas tax – the primary source for funding such construction – remain largely flat.

State officials are quick to point out that the state’s highways are almost entirely funded by the gas tax. The breakdown of each gallon’s 49.4 cents goes to various state and local projects, with a little bit toward bond payments, but the largest share goes to projects picked by the Legislature.

Nearly 12 cents motorists pay for every gallon of gas funds the state transportation funding plan, Connecting Washington. In 2015 and 2016, the state spent $16 billion on transportation infrastructure, including $9.4 billion on state highways and local roads, $1.4 billion on maintenance and $1.3 billion on “non-highway” projects, such as bikeways, rail and transit.

It’s a lot of money, but not enough. Spokane’s roads were, and are, so bad off that voters passed a levy to pay for local streets from property taxes. The gas tax does not pay for your neighborhood street. Your house does.

Not to mention the federal government’s share of the gas tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon, the same it’s been since 1993. The feds’ take goes to the Highway Trust Fund, which has struggled to keep afloat. From 2008 to 2010, the Treasury transferred $35 billion to the fund to keep it from zeroing out. In 2014, Congress passed a nearly $11 billion stopgap measure to temporarily replenish the fund, which was a month away from running out of money.

The fact of the matter is the gas tax doesn’t cover our transportation system’s needs, but politics get in the way of change. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AAA auto club, American Trucking Association and the AFL-CIO have all called for the federal gas tax to be raised. Presidents and lawmakers have resisted the calls. Until now.

According to the Washington Post, President Donald Trump is considering an increase in the gas tax to help pay for the massive $1 trillion infrastructure program he promised on the campaign trail. The idea of a 7-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase was floated before House members by Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, in October.

In an interview with Bloomberg News earlier this year, Trump said a gas tax increase was “something that I would certainly consider … if we earmarked money toward the highways.”

The state’s share of the gas tax, while much larger than the federal share, may also see some changes soon.

The Washington State Transportation Commission is about to launch a pilot project in which about 2,000 volunteers will pay a mock tax on the number of miles they drive on Washington state roads, rather than on the amount of gas they use.

The pilot program, which has been seeking volunteers for the last few months, will get started in late January or early February.

We’re a ways off from paying tax by the mile. The Legislature will have to approve any changes, including decisions about the appropriate per-mile charge, and whether there should be different rates for different vehicles, among other things.

Until then, pay by the gallon, and check out those stickers, which will be fastened to pumps over the next three years during inspections by the weights and measures division of the Washington state Department of Agriculture.

Got a transportation question you want answered? Write nickd@spokesman.com.

Have a say in state transportation funding

Speaking of how the state spends its money, a draft of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program is open for public comment.

So now’s your time to weigh in.

The program is a four-year program that prioritizes the state’s many multimodal transportation needs and their funding.

WSDOT is asking for public review and comment through Wednesday, Dec. 20, on the program. Check out the online program of projects, which have been identified through state, city, regional, tribal and local planning processes.

More than 1,400 statewide transportation improvement projects using $3.5 billion in federal funds are included in the upcoming four-year program. Federally funded projects must be included in the state’s program before the Federal Highway Administration or Federal Transit Administration can authorize the expenditure of federal funds.

Email your comments to huntlen@wsdot.wa.gov.

Or, go retro and fax them to 360-705-6822.

Or, go really retro and send your written comments to: Nancy Huntley, WSDOT, P.O. Box 47390, Olympia, WA 98504-7390.

Riverfront Park work nearly done, road opens

One of the first projects of Riverfront Park’s renovation is nearly complete, and the road it was affecting is open.

The right, northernmost lane of Spokane Falls Boulevard has reopened between Stevens and Wall streets. This stretch of road was closed due to construction surrounding the Looff Carrousel. Farther west, the road has reopened near the new ice ribbon, which will be open to the public Dec. 8. The sidewalk remains closed for the most part.

Division repaving

nearing completion

Division between Francis and the Division Y is almost done, with just minor items underway. According to WSDOT, a new layer of hot mix asphalt will preserve the underlying roadway structure and provide a smooth driving surface.

The $1.7 million project is being done by CPM/Inland Asphalt Company.

Rando transpo news from around the world

Officials at a Tokyo subway line issued an apology earlier this month for the “tremendous nuisance” it caused after one of the express trains left 20 seconds early. According to Japan Times, the Metropolitan Intercity Railway Co. said the Tsukuba Express train linking Tokyo and its northern suburbs pulled out of Minami-Nagareyama Station at 9:44:20 instead of 9:44:40.

“We deeply apologize for causing a tremendous nuisance to customers,” the company said, noting that “there was no complaint from customers over this incident.”

In London, that wonderful scent of fresh brewed coffee may be coming from an unlikely source: a bus exhaust pipe. According to the BBC, a biofuel created from coffee waste will be used in the fleet of Transport for London. London-based Technology firm bio-bean estimates it will take 2.5 million cups of coffee to create enough biofuel to run a London bus for a year, similar to the intake of a daily newspaper reporter.

Lastly, the dilapidated subways of New York City have been on a long road to ruin, thanks to the short-sighted and politically expedient choices of elected decision makers, according to a huge New York Times investigation. In related news: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority hopes to do away with the outdated, if polite, phrase “ladies and gentlemen” and replace it with gender-inclusive language such as “passengers,” “riders” and “everyone” during announcements, according to local TV station PIX11. It’s part of the MTA’s effort to improve communication.

“We’re fundamentally changing the way we talk with riders to give them better and clearer information,” said MTA spokesman Jon Weinstein said.

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