PORTLAND - Washington and Oregon are getting serious about finding a replacement for the gas tax. Steadily improving fuel efficiency in cars is eroding the primary source of road funding in the Northwest. A new report to the 2013 Washington Legislature finds it "feasible" to have drivers pay by the mile instead. In Oregon, lawmakers have actually drafted legislation to do just that.

Suburban Portland SUV owner Mary Olson has possibly glimpsed the future of how we'll pay for roads, although it's tricky to spot.

Oregon, Washington Consider I-5 Bridge Toll

Dec 13, 2012
Photo by Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

One of the biggest traffic choke-points in the Northwest is the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver. Replacing it will be one of the region’s most expensive construction projects in a generation. Lawmakers in Salem and Olympia are considering funding packages to replace the bridge. A key question is whether enough drivers will pay the tolls planners say are needed to finance the project. Correspondent Chris Lehman reports.

Colin Fogarty

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber is stepping up the pressure on state lawmakers to make funding a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River a top priority. The Democrat made his case for a new span between Portland and Vancouver at a gathering of business leaders Monday.

Photo courtesy Link Transit

In the last couple years, you've seen mass-produced, 100 percent electric cars take to the streets in the Northwest. In the same vein, now come the first battery powered buses. And we're not talking about trolley buses that get juice from overhead wires, as correspondent Tom Banse explains.

North Cascades Highway Closed

Nov 19, 2012

The North Cascades Highway is closed. The Washington State Department of Transportation closed the highway at noon Monday because of a danger of heavy snow and avalanche.

WSDOT / Flickr

There’s a lot of talk these days about tolls to pay for new state highway projects and bridges. Most drivers reluctantly pay up. But some will go miles out of their way to avoid a toll. That can clog local roads. Now one small Washington city is considering a toll of its own.

President Obama has announced that the Columbia River Crossing -- and three other infrastructure projects around the nation -- will be expedited.

Northwest drivers could be paying more at the pump.   That’s because this week’s refinery fire in California is likely to affect gas prices.  Ruby de Luna has more.

Analysts say get ready to pay as much as four dollars or more per gallon. You can blame the refinery fire in California for the spike. But what does that have to do with fuel prices here?

Overstreet: “We’re locked together at the hip by refinery system on the West Coast.”

Oregon Department of Transportation

Two passenger trains commissioned by the state of Oregon are months behind schedule. The trains were due to arrive nearly two months ago and enter service this fall at a cost of $36 million. But they haven't even left the factory in Wisconsin yet.

ODOT / Flickr

A joint effort in Oregon and Washington to make sure truckers are following safety rules turned up a higher than expected number of weary drivers. More than a quarter of drivers inspected in Oregon were found to be on the road when they shouldn't have been.

Photo by Scott Granneman / Flickr

This week crews are cleaning up about 30 train cars full of coal that overturned near Mesa, in Eastern Washington. The accident has raised questions about proposed increased train shipments of coal through the nearby Columbia River Gorge. Correspondent Anna King has more.

County Payments Included In Transportation Bill

Jun 28, 2012

Congressman Greg Walden says a one-year extension of federal payments for timber-dependent counties is included in the Transportation bill. Walden predicts the bill could come to a floor vote by Friday.

The proposal would secure $100 million dollars for places like Josephine, Curry, and Lane Counties. All three counties have struggled to raise revenue as timber harvests have dwindled. Walden acknowledged the revenue problems in timber country have dragged out over the years with extension after extension.  But he sees the issue coming to a head with this last payment.

University of Idaho and City of Moscow officials held a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for a new $2 million Intermodal Transit Center on the Palouse. The facility will be located on the east end of the university campus and serve as a hub for regional buses, taxis, and other transportation services. This is UI President Duane Nellis.

Nellis: “This type of facility is something that I think is important for our community, that is a community that we are looking to grow in a quality way, toward sustainable development.”

520 Bridge Workers Caught Drinking On The Job

May 23, 2012
Photo credit: Jelson25 / Wikimedia Commons

KOMO 4 Television broadcast a story showing workers on the 520 Bridge construction project drinking on the job. Washington State Department of Transportation is launching an investigation looking into the details.

KOMO’s story caught employees walking into work carrying two twelve packs of beer on a Friday afternoon. Hidden cameras also showed several workers swigging back bottles of beer at their desks, allegedly during work hours.

The workers are employees of KGM, a joint venture firm of Kiewit, General and Manson. The company won the bid to design and build the 520 floating bridge. The contract is worth $586 million.

WSDOT Communications Director Steve Pierce says the company is highly regarded. He isn’t worried about the quality of their work.

Photo by Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

A new bus service in the Northwest makes some eye-catching promises: Extra legroom, non-stop service between major cities, and fares starting at just a dollar. Boltbus could change the way people travel between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, BC. Correspondent Chris Lehman wanted to see which is better: Boltbus or an Amtrak train.

United States Senate

Senator Maria Cantwell and Spokane’s Mayor Condon implore the U.S. Department of Transportation to offer a grant for the North Spokane Corridor.

US Senator Cantwell says the corridor is the missing link in the Eastern Washington transportation system.

“In fact the North Spokane Corridor is my top project priority and so that’s why we are here today, to say that we want to see this funding.”

Photo courtesy WSDOT

Fresh snow in the mountains has slightly delayed the reopening of one high mountain pass in the Washington Cascades. Highway crews are on track to reopen two other scenic cross state routes before Memorial Day. Correspondent Tom Banse reports the snowpack is deeper than average for this time of year in Washington, north Idaho and the northern Oregon Cascades.

Photo credit: Wikimedia user Kantor.JH / Wikimedia Commons

Oregon drivers have an extra week before they must remove studded tires from their vehicles. The Oregon Department of Transportation extended the season through April 9th. The traditional deadline is April 1.
Weather forecasts are calling for difficult driving conditions in snow zones during the first week of April.

Photo Credit: Andres Engels / Wikimedia commons

Competition in the nascent market for person-to-person car rentals is heating up. The latest entrant regionally says it can help any car owner in the Northwest temporarily rent their wheels to a friend or stranger.

Photo credit: Wikimedia user Evolstephanieberkeley / Wikimedia Commons

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The state of Washington is opening the door to a new flavor of car rental, as Oregon and California have already done. The Washington Legislature just voted to tweak the auto insurance rules so you can rent your wheels to friends or strangers when you're not using your car yourself.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Transportation / U.S. Department of Transportation

Grant money from the U.S. Department of Transportation will help fund ongoing studies looking at critical transportation issues in the Northwest.
Transportation issues affect all of us, whether it’s simply wondering why that red traffic light is blinking, or wondering why the commuter traffic is jammed up again.

Washington State transportation officials say they'll issue refunds after a glitch in the tolling system on the Highway 520 bridge caused drivers to be overcharged twenty-five cents.

Motorists who made the trip between Seattle and Bellevue from January seventeenth to twenty-fifth will get a refund, even those who were billed correctly. The twenty-five-cent transaction fee is charged for those who travel the bridge infrequently and pay by the license plate.

State officials say the billing problem was related to the toll equipment's internal clock.

Oil refiner Tesoro is investigating the deadly Friday morning explosion in Anacortes. But the company does not yet have an explanation for the incident. The blast at the oil refinery killed four Tesoro workers and gravely injured three others. Senior Vice President Lynn Westfall said in a press conference Friday that the explosion occurred near a heating and cooling area. 

The Idaho legislature adjourned for the year last night. Lawmakers spent much of the final day on a last-minute attempt to ban texting while driving. But in a surprise, the bill failed.

Supporters of a texting ban thought they had a compromise that would satisfy members of the House and the Senate. Each chamber had easily approved a bill that would have set fines at 50-dollars for the first texting ticket and 100-dollars for each subsequent one.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Starting June 10th, police officers in Washington will be able to pull over drivers who've got a cell phone pressed to their ear. Same goes for people who text while behind the wheel. Governor Chris Gregoire [today] Friday signed legislation making it a primary offense.