Go to the Washington transportation department’s website and you’ll find this:
Our highest priority is maintaining and preserving the safe and long-lasting performance of existing infrastructure, facilities and services.
But go to the new transportation package proposed by the House Democrats and you’ll find a funding arrangement that looks like this:
The House package represents a perplexing starting point for discussing transportation funding. The state has a massive backlog of deferred road maintenance, and a well-considered “fix-it-first” policy that prioritizes preserving existing roads over building new ones. Yet the House transportation package would devote nearly six times as much money to highway expansions as it would spend on maintenance.
Stranger still, the package completely neglects the two biggest highway projects currently underway, both of which will require new money from the state. The 520 bridge replacement faces a $1.4 billion shortfall, while the Alaska Way Viaduct replacement is shy at least $235 million, according to the latest toll revenue projections. Assuming that the state still intends to pay for those projects, it will have to devote more than $1.6 billion in additional money to highway construction—pushing maintenance even further into the background.
No one doubts that state and local roads need some meaningful TLC. But an honest reading of the numbers should raise serious doubts about whether highway expansions are necessary. As Sightline has documented over and over again, traffic volumes on state highways have remained roughly flat for a decade, and the state has consistently predicted rising traffic volumes that simply aren’t showing up on the roads.
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With traffic flat, now’s the perfect time to prioritize maintenance over new construction. So it’s unfortunate that the House Democrats seem to be adopting something like a “fix it last” posture.
Notes: The figures in this chart come directly from the official summary of the legislative package. You can find more detail here, including specific highway expansion proposals here. Depending on how you do the counting, it might be possible to argue that either or both categories should show more funding. For example, the package also dedicates $675 million to “local government assistance,” some of which can be spent on maintaining local roads, plus $61 million for “complete streets,” which could partially fund some forms of maintenance. (If you counted all of these funds toward road maintenance, it would notch up the category to 16% of the package.) On the other hand, the package also sets aside almost $2.2 billion for “protecting current infrastructure,” a category that includes funding for freight mobility projects that could amount to additional road and highway expansions.
Graphic design by Devin Porter at GoodMeasures.biz.