Friday, June 6, 2008

Transportation Taxes Are Up, but Traffic Congestion is Worse

by Michael Ennis, Director, Center for Transportation Policy and Justin Bryant, Research Intern

In Washington, we pay about 50 different state taxes and fees into the State Transportation Budget each year.

In the 1999-2001 budget, Washington residents paid $2.65 billion in state taxes and fees to fund transportation. In the current biennium, residents are paying about $4.18 billion in transportation tax revenue, a 51.2% increase over the last nine years. That means the buying power of Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has grown significantly in nine years. To put this in perspective, inflation over the same time period rose only 20%.

Tax Burden per Family

There were about 2,271,398 families living in Washington State in 2000. This means each family paid an average of $1,217 in state transportation taxes and fees during the 1999-2001 biennium. Today, Washington family’s shoulder an average transportation tax burden of $1,630. That is a 34% increase in nine years.

These figures do not include local or special district transportation related taxes or fees. For example, families in the Sound Transit district in Pierce, King and Snohomish County pay approximately $200 more in transportation taxes each year.

More spending has not meant congestion relief

Washington officials have nearly doubled the burden of state transportation taxes and fees in the last nine years. On a per capita basis, families are paying a third more in these taxes than they did in 1999. But with all this new spending, are Washingtonians better off?

Despite a 51.2% increase in state transportation taxes and fees, and a huge rise in WSDOT’s buying power, traffic congestion continues to worsen. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, the daily average of vehicle hours of delay on all state highways in 2003 was 82,200 hours. In 2006, the average rose to 103,700 hours, a 26% increase in just four years.

Traffic congestion in the central Puget Sound has also increased. In 2003, the average weekday vehicle hours of delay on the five major commute corridors (I-5, I-90, SR 167, I-405 & SR 520) was 13,250 hours. In 2006, delay in the same five corridors jumped to 23,330 hours, an increase of 76%.


Since 1999, state transportation taxes, not counting Sound Transit or local transportation agencies, have risen sharply, more than double inflation, yet traffic congestion has continued to get worse. Washington Policy Center has recommended five practical transportation principles for improving traffic flow in communities across the state. Our state’s leaders should return transportation policy to a focus on traffic congestion relief, and use their increased buying power to get Washington drivers moving again.

Michael Ennis is the Director of the Center for Transportation at Washington Policy Center. Justin Bryant is a student at the University of Washington and served as an intern at WPC. WPC is a non‐partisan public policy research organization in Seattle and Olympia.