Last week, we argued that the rest of Washington State should simply walk away from a $12.3 billion transportation package being floated by the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus. This chart explains why: Its priorities are exactly the reverse of what people say they want.

MCC vs. Senate Priorities

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A new public survey from the Washington State Transportation Commission released last Friday offers a reality check on negotiations underway in Olympia about what new transportation investments should look like. The survey actually asked people if they had 100 points to devote to transportation priorities—or in this case, let’s call it a dollar—how would they want to spend it?

The public favors a balanced transportation system. State residents would opt to spend 29 cents of every dollar on maintaining our current transportation system; followed by 22 cents on building or expanding roads and other capacity; 20 cents on expanding travel options through transit, bike, pedestrian, and HOV projects; 16 cents on increasing safety; and 13 cents on reducing pollution and boosting environmental benefits.

By contrast, how would the Washington Senate Majority Coalition Caucus leaders spend each dollar generated by an 11.5-cent gas tax increase they’ve proposed? By spending 3 times more money on highway expansions and new roads than their constituents say they want.

Given the same priorities, their transportation package would spend a whopping 76 cents of every dollar on building or expanding highways and roads, plus a tiny bit of new ferry capacity. That leaves precious little left over for everything else. In the most generous analysis possible, their transportation package would spend 17 cents on maintenance, 2 cents on safety, less than 2 cents on transit/bike/pedestrian projects, and arguably 2 cents on environmental benefits (more on that in the notes below).

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  • Ironically, the Majority Coalition Caucus made up of Senate Republicans and led by Sen. Rodney Tom came up with its proposed transportation package after a much touted “listening tour” of the state. Clearly, they weren’t listening very well.

    Notes on Methodology:

    The Washington State Transportation Commission initially published incorrect numbers in response to some portions of question 6 of the survey. We have updated the post and chart with the latest numbers, which only differ by one or two percentage points and do not substantially change the comparison.

    To arrive at percentages in the Senate Majority Coalition proposal, we included the following line items from their Transportation Proposal Balance Sheet in the following categories. In the interest of fairness, we tried to assign credit wherever possible to non-capacity-related categories, and assumed only 40 percent of local distributions would be used for road building. In reality, the MCC proposal would likely focus a greater share of its resources on highway building than our analysis shows:

    • Improving capacity: Improvement projects (highway and road), a new ferry, debt service, and 40 percent of direct distributions to cities and counties.
    • Maintenance: Highway preservation, facilities, traffic operations, new ferry terminals, county road improvement board funding, 60 percent of direct distribution to cities and counties.
    • Safety: Any highway improvement project with the word “safety” prioritized in the title and Washington State Patrol funding.
    • Transit/bikes/pedestrian projects: Grants for transit, vanpool, bicycle, and pedestrian projects, Safe Routes to Schools + Complete Streets
    • Environment:  The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus proposal would actually spend zero money from the gas tax increase on environmental benefits. It eliminated funding for culverts that help fish safely navigate roads and would pay for stormwater projects from a state fund that’s supposed to help clean up toxic sites.

    About 5 percent of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus proposal would fund priorities that are not specifically mentioned in the public survey, such as freight mobility.