Evening rush hour traffic moves along I-5 on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Evening rush hour traffic moves along I-5 on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Cars clogging highways more, data shows; local lawmakers eye solutions

On highways in the central Puget Sound region, delays were up 35%, according to new data from the state Department of Transportation.

EVERETT — More cars on Washington’s highways have local lawmakers looking for ways to encourage other modes of transportation.

Washington drivers logged 34.2 billion miles on state highways last year, according to state data released this month. While that is only a 1.2% increase from 2021, all of that wear and tear is affecting the economy and traffic.

On state highways in the central Puget Sound region, delays were up 35% from the previous year.

Heavy travel on the roads is a sign of an economy bouncing back from the pandemic, said Sreenath Gangula, a transportation safety and systems analyst at the state Department of Transportation.

“However, more miles traveled can mean increased congestion, travel delays and greenhouse gas emissions,” he wrote in an email.

The department recently released the new travel statistics for 2022 in an online dashboard.

Heavy ridership on state highways and city roads can also cause an increase in maintenance needs.

State Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, said an uptick in high-priority road maintenance has left other needs neglected.

“Driving around Snohomish County, I see more trash on the side of the road, the graffiti takes longer to get removed,” he said. “And I think that is really where you see the impact because the same crews that do that are fixing potholes and cracks in the roads.”

The Move Ahead Washington transportation package lawmakers passed last year included $3 billion to preserve existing infrastructure. It also included $3 billion toward increasing reliable transit systems.

But Liias said a lack of funding for road maintenance has come from a decline in revenue from Washington’s gas tax. Since 2016, the state’s gas tax rate has been 49.4 cents per gallon.

More people are driving all-electric cars, and those with newer gas-powered cars are getting better mileage, meaning less tax revenue.

“Our gas tax revenue, the primary way we pay for road maintenance, is not at the same pace as the cost of caring for our roads,” Liias said.

He said the Legislature needs to find ways to adapt to that loss.

“Our crews have to manage these assets to the best of their abilities based on available funding in addition to new facilities or improvements coming online every year,” Gangula wrote.

Liias and state Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, both agree more drivers need to transition to public transportation to avoid heavy traffic and further maintenance issues.

“We need to do everything we can to get people out of their cars, because this area is growing very, very fast, and get people using our mass transit,” Lovick said.

Numbers from the new dashboard show a spike in use of passenger rail and public transportation.

From the previous year, public transportation use was up 35%. The use of Amtrak Cascades’ Washington segment was up 71%.

These increases can largely be attributed to easing pandemic restrictions on public transit. In March 2020, Amtrak halted its route north of Seattle. Service resumed in September 2022.

With more than 380,000 riders in 2022, the numbers still haven’t quite reached those of before the pandemic. In 2019, the Amtrak Cascades saw 753,000 passengers.

“Its not an accident that we added more (Amtrak Cascades) trains,” Liias said. “So when there’s more trains, there’s more people to ride them.”

As for buses, he said, the hours of service haven’t increased dramatically, but more people are beginning to ride buses again.

Since September 2022, youth 18 and under have been able to ride public transportation for free, thanks to the Move Ahead Washington package.

Lovick and Liias both said the youth ride free program is a powerful way to encourage more people to get out of their cars.

“We’re not asking people to switch 100% of the time,” Liias said. “We just want people to consider other options.”

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

Talk to us

More in Local News

The Safeway store at 4128 Rucker Ave., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Mike Henneke / The Herald)
Police: Everett Safeway ex-worker accused of trying to ram customers

The man, 40, was showing symptoms of psychosis, police wrote. Officers found him circling another parking lot off Mukilteo Boulevard.

Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell speaks during a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the 196th ST SW Improvement Project near the 196th and 44th Ave West intersection in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Jarred by anti-Semitic rants, Lynnwood council approves tax increase

Three people spewed hate speech via Zoom at a council meeting this week. Then, the council moved on to regular business.

The county canvassing board certifies election results at the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
General election results stamped official by canvassing board

In Snohomish County, one hand recount will take place. Officials said ballot challenges were down this year.

The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way, which Snohomish County is set to purchase and convert into emergency housing, is seen Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Over $130M for affordable housing set to be approved by County Council

The five-year investment plan of the 0.1% sales tax aims to construct 550 new affordable units.

Two snowboarders head up the mountain in a lift chair on the opening day of ski season at Stevens Pass Ski Area on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, near Skykomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Ski season delayed at Stevens Pass due to minimal snow

Resort originally planned to open Dec. 1. But staff are hopeful this week’s snow will allow guests to hit the slopes soon.

Siblings Qingyun, left, and Ruoyun Li, 12 and 13, respectively, are together on campus at Everett Community College on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, in Everett, Washington. The two are taking a full course load at the community college this semester. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Siblings, age 12 and 13, are youngest students at EvCC campus

Qingyun Li was 11 when he scored a perfect 36 on the ACT test. His sister, Ruoyun, was one point away.

Edmond’s newly elected mayor Mike Rosen on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mayor-elect Rosen wants to ‘make Edmonds politics boring again’

Mike Rosen handily defeated incumbent Mayor Mike Nelson. He talked with The Herald about how he wants to gather the “full input” of residents.

Offloading ferry traffic is stopped to allow pedestrians to cross the street at the Edmonds ferry dock on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018 in Edmonds. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
2-ferry service restored on Edmonds-Kingston route — for a weekend

M/V Salish, one of the system’s smallest vessels, will fill in through Sunday after weeks of one boat on the route.

Marysville Pilchuck High School students talk with Snohomish County council members Jared Mead and Nate Nate Nehring during a Civic Engagement Day event hosted at the county campus on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At Everett event, Mead, Nehring look to bridge partisan gap

Two Snohomish County Council members can pinpoint the day they really started talking about putting civility over partisanship. It was Jan. 6.

A speed camera facing west along 220th Street Southwest on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Traffic cameras, and tickets, come to Edmonds; Mukilteo could be next

New school zone cameras in Edmonds will begin operating in January. Mukilteo is considering enforcement cameras as well.

A suspected gas explosion on Wednesday destroyed a house in the 19700 block of 25TH DR SE in Bothell, Washington. (Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue)
After a newly bought Bothell house exploded, experts urge caution

The owners had closed on their purchase of the house just two days earlier. No one was hurt in the explosion.

3 men charged in armed home invasion near Everett

Prosecutors allege the trio targeted other Asian American homes across Snohomish, Whatcom and King counties.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.