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Drivers like gas tax over pay-by-mile, researchers say

Drivers would pay a tax based on how many miles they drive under a potential gas tax replacement.
Traffic clogs Interstate 5 near downtown Seattle.

The state says relying on a gas tax to pay for state roads won’t pay the bills much longer – cars are just getting too efficient.

A potential replacement for the gas tax isn’t going over too well with drivers. According to researchers with D'Artagnan Consulting, 58 percent of Washington’s drivers oppose switching to a road usage charge.

That system would charge drivers a fee based on how many miles they drive.

Critics during a state meeting Tuesday raised concerns about privacy and said they fear paying a road usage charge in addition to the gas tax.

“This is going to be a replacement,” said Reema Griffith, executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission.

She said state lawmakers have said any road usage charge would replace the gas tax.

“People that will pay this tax, if it’s put in place, will not pay the gas tax. You’re going to pay one or the other,” said Griffith.

"We are not tracking where they drive at all," said commission member Joe Tortorelli.

Despite the negative opinions and concerns, the commission is launching a pilot program in January to test out a road usage charge system.

Volunteer drivers would be able to choose one of five methods to have their mileage recorded. They could pre-pay for miles, pay a quarterly amount based on odometer readings, use one of two on-board devices or log miles driven with a smartphone application. Those interested in volunteering can sign up now.

More than 2,700 interested drivers have volunteered.

The Transportation Commission wants to find drivers from across the state, different ages and races and those who drive different types of vehicles.

During the Tuesday meeting, Griffith emphasized the road usage charge is not a done deal.

“We have to see how it work in a real world,” said Griffith. “We’ve been looking at it in a room, academically.”

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