Roundtable Urges Transportation Investment

Aerial Photo of 520 Bridge Construction near Medina
520 Bridge Construction near Medina

Crosscut reported today on a press conference by Steve Mullin, the head of the Washington Roundtable urging the Legislature to pass a transportation package, and touting a Boston Consulting Group study that the package would generate a lot of economic activity in the next 30 years – far more than the cost of the projects.

The Washington Roundtable argued Tuesday that passing $7 billion worth of transportation improvements in the 2015 legislative session would create $42 billion worth of economic benefits to Washington in the next 30 years.
Report: Inaction on transportation is expensive for state, public

I totally agree.

The article then goes on to talk about the specifics of the package that the House passed in 2013, and the one discussed by the Senate but never passed. Both packages had deep flaws for the 48th district, and I would not have supported them on final passage unless the flaws had been fixed. The House showed it has the votes to pass an investment package (even if flawed) and the Senate never got their bill out of committee. I’ve written before on the flaws in the Senate package (here) and what I would need to have in a package to vote for it. In short:

  1. Fund the 520 bridge project completion. Absent a funding package this year we will have to reapply for federal permits and reconstruct the entire team. The costs of the project only increase with inflation.
  2. Have a “coverage ratio” that meets the expectations of the bond market. The gas tax is a declining resource as more and more people drive hybrid and electric cars, and bonding too much of it isn’t prudent. This is like the bank not giving you a mortgage if you are spending too high a percentage of your income on debt payments. You can interpret this concern as “be fiscally prudent.”
  3. Fund an adequate amount of ongoing maintenance for our existing roadways.
  4. Allow King County to make investments in its transit system with reasonable local taxes, not the proposal the county put before the voters.

The Senate package failed all four tests, and the House package failed #1. It is hard to construct a package that has enough money in it to build the projects the state needs without having a gas tax increase too high for many of the more rural members to support. My guess is that we will need to increase revenue in different ways than just the gas tax, perhaps gradually imposing tolls on all the major roadways in the “box” around Lake Washington. Revenue raised in this way would need to stay in King County, and the county would still need to get our share of new statewide revenue from the gas tax that needs to be part of a package.

I’m not an expert on all the items going into an investment package, but I do know that it’s hard to pull these things together. The packages done a decade ago were incredibly contentious, but also incredibly important to our economy. We need to finish the job.

Author: Ross

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.

4 thoughts on “Roundtable Urges Transportation Investment”

  1. It’s a list of 4 things. There are lots of things I’d like to have – interchanges on 520 at 24th and 148th to enable transit-oriented development in the Spring District, but we still need to meet concurrency to get stuff built. Bike/Ped is important too, but providing money to cities can make that happen locally where most of the need is. I wanted to point out big structural things I thought were crucial.

    The 520 bike trail is a great part of the 520 work – makes the cross-lake route really work for commuters. Cascade Bike Club has done great work providing input to make it work. Mostly though, the state highways aren’t set up for bikes and peds, but city streets are. Making sure they have the money to make things work is important.

    I said the money needs to stay in King COunty. I think governance is a big issue – King County should get to decide the projects they want if they are raising the money. The county and our cities can prioritize that work. Making Wenatchee do stuff they aren’t interested in doing and probably isn’t the highest value investment doesn’t make it easier to get a deal done.

  2. I agree with your criticisms but we need funding for walk/bike projects too, particularly but not limited to safe routes to school. Driving is decreasing or at least flatlining. WSDOT just released a forecast which actually uses recent data to make the forecast.

    We need to provide people alternatives. Particularly on the Eastside, many people are struggling to own cars yet our options here are slim (and paying more to drive in 405 HOT lanes doesn’t help these people).

    Transit is an important part but we also need our cities to be able to get us safely to transit on foot and/or bike. A transportation package must fund walk/bike projects at a higher rate rather than continue to spend on highways as if the driving growth models from 10, 20 years ago still made sense.

    I am all for tolls or other ways to get the users of our roads to pay for more of the cost. But taking 100% of the money generated and keeping it for highway maintenance and constructions is shortsighted when you look at realistic predictions of driving trends. Maintenance? Yes, absolutely. But we need to make sure some of this money can go towards the things that will solve our transportation problems (transit, walk, bike).

  3. I couldn’t agree more. My preference is to pass a gas tax covers everything but short of that toll the box and keep the money in King County.

    Regardless though, we gotta get this done.

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