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Transporation department faces staggering losses while Washington traffic idles during coronavirus

The Washington State Department of Transportation is losing up to $100 million per month with fewer cars on the road during Washington's coronavirus outbreak.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The lack of traffic on Washington roads makes for a great commute -- if you still have one -- but it is terrible for the state transportation budget which relies heavily on gas taxes.

Things are so bad that state Transportation Secretary Roger Millar sent a letter to Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) employees telling them the statewide lockdown is costing the agency up to $100 million every month. 

"It is staggering," said Rep. Jake Fey, who chairs the House Transportation Committee.

WSDOT is immediately deferring new hires, discontinuing out-of-state travel, suspending new consultant contracts, and delaying all major purchases.

At least 65 different projects are on hold.

Driving is down 40 to 60 percent across the region. Ferry rides are off more than 70 percent.

Ferries will likely stay on a winter schedule well into the summer.

Fey says, combined with the cuts from I-976, coronavirus couldn't have come at a worse time.

"It's tough because we don't have the resources to do the maintenance and preservation work we should already be doing, like replacing bridges that have gone past their life span. It makes for a poor transportation infrastructure all the way around."

Officials say it's still too soon to know the impact on various state projects, or if there will be layoffs. 

States across the country are now asking the federal government for a total of $50 billion to keep transportation departments rolling.

Seeing just how vulnerable Washington is to its 49.4-cent per-gallon gas tax has some thinking once again about a "pay-per-mile" tax.

RELATED: Washington's pay-per-mile tax years out if approved

Even with that, however, you need cars on the road -- and as long as they're not, we will be running on empty for quite some time.

"This is maybe a once-in-a-lifetime experience," says Fey. "Hopefully it's a once in a lifetime experience for us all to get through."

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