Over 70 Washington state business, labor, environmental and local government groups and representatives are expressing support for increased investment in the state’s transportation network. A letter (see below) from the geographically and politically diverse coalition was delivered on Thursday (February 14) to Legislative leaders and Governor Jay Inslee.
The situation in Washington State
Washington ranks #6 on Forbes’ new list of states that will boom in next ten years. Transportation improvements will be critical to fostering that boom.
The state gas tax is 37.5 cents a gallon, and has been raised twice in the last decade. Transportation officials say while increased revenues have allowed the state to invest in system improvements over the last 10 years, the state continues to fall behind in maintaining and preserving the existing transportation system.
In late 2011 a non-partisan committee of transportation interests and elected officials, “Connecting Washington“, studied the state’s transportation needs and finances. They recommended a ten-year, $21 billion state and local transportation multi-modal, maintenance, operations, preservation and capital improvements improvements program. This prioritized program was culled from a larger state and local improvements program estimated to cost $50 billion. In January 2012 the Governor proposed a two-year, $3.6 billion improvements program which the legislature reduced to about $90 million.
The Washington Transportation Commission concludes that as much as $175 to $200 billion may be necessary to meet statewide needs over the next 20 years. Of that total, nearly $41 billion is county-jurisdiction transportation needs, and nearly $29 billion is city-jurisdiction needs.
The legislative outlook
The legislature is focused on seemingly everything BUT transportation: budget and jobs, health care, gun control, family leave. A state Supreme Court ruling requires the legislature to find an additional billion or more for K-12 education, from a budget that’s basically underwater. On top of it all, 2/3 of both chambers are required to pass a tax/fee increase bill, and a number of legislators support passing a bill in 2014 instead of this year.
Conventional wisdom would say a transportation investment bill can’t pass this year. But transportation stakeholders, and key legislators are keeping transportation issues in the conversation, and a strong coalition is emerging to demand action and support legislators. Several proposals have emerged, calling for increasing the gas tax ibetween 8 to 10 cents and raising a number of fees. Stakeholders are looking under all the cushions and may even include a sales tax on bicycles over $400 or $500.
Betting money is on a bill passing in 2014, but as we saw at the federal level a transportation investment bill can pass when you practically least expect it.
The coalition request
The letter says in part:
“The quality of the state’s transportation infrastructure impacts everyone: growers, shippers, manufacturers, a workface of commuters, and families traveling to schools, health care and recreational opportunities.
Today, valuable public assets, including roads of all kinds, bridges, ferries, and buses, are deteriorating due to insufficient investment in their maintenance, operation, and preservation. At current preservation and maintenance funding levels, estimates are that more than half of the surfaces on state roads will be in poor to very poor condition by 2023. Local governments face similar challenges in providing local roads, bike lanes and sidewalks to serve a growing population. And public transit demand will continue growing, increasing in the Central Puget Sound region an estimated 90 percent by 2040, posing a severe challenge for agencies whose funding has been slashed during the recession.
Collectively, these funding gaps create serious risks to public safety, the state’s economic health, business competitiveness, environmental quality, and the health of communities around Washington.”
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