Users of studded tires should pay fair share

The OlympianMarch 26, 2013 

Before asking voters for a sizable increase in the state gas tax to pay for road repairs and maintenance, lawmakers should consider every other available option open to them. A permit fee for the use of studded tires, for example.

Studded tires cause millions of dollars of damage to state roads every year. No one doubts that fact. It is also true that a small percentage of motorists persist in using the destructive tires, despite the wide variety of equally effective substitutes.

According to the state Department of Transportation, “The abrasion on pavement surfaces caused by studded tires wears down pavement at a much greater rate. Rutting damage ... is limited to state routes, primarily the interstates, due to the higher speeds and volumes. Rutting leads to safety issues ....”

It’s easy logic, then, to expect those causing damage to roadways with studded tires to pay a fair share of the cost of repairs.

The Legislature should pass a measure introduced by Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver to impose a $75 annual permit fee authorizing a vehicle owner to use studded tires. The permit would include a sticker for the vehicle’s license plate.

Vehicles found using studded tires without having obtained a permit would pay a traffic fine in addition to the $75 annual permit fee.

The bill also directs all the collected permit fees to be used for preservation of state highways.

It’s a sensible bill consistent with the user-pay approach that is becoming a more prevalent method of funding government programs and services.

Although Senate Bill 5583 remains in the transportation committee, it should be considered necessary to implement the budget.

It seems odd that Benton, a strict anti-tax Republican senator, would suggest a new fee on some motorists, but he argues that it “is not about raising revenue or taxation but rather about ensuring that people are paying their fair share for the damage they cause.”

We would prefer a total ban on studded tires and eliminate the additional wear and tear on our roadways, and WSDOT agrees. But rural residents argue that studs work better on icy roads than all-weather tires.

If not a ban, then it is reasonable for studded tire users to offset the cost of the damage they inflict on our highways.

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