Washington's transportation plan must focus on roads

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Gov. Jay Inslee is correct. A $10 billion to $12 billion upgrade of the state’s transportation infrastructure is essential for economic development and critical in convincing The Boeing Co. to build its new 777X jetliner in Washington.

However, the project is in serious doubt. The Legislature can’t agree on how to structure a mega transportation package.

Republicans, who control the Senate, and Democrats, who control the House, are each taking a partisan approach. Each side is hoping to engage in old fashioned deal making — quid pro quo (“something for something” in Latin).

It’s not working. Not even close. Neither side is eager to negotiate with the other, mostly for ideological reasons.

In addition, the public won’t stand for the added costs of heaping expenses on expenses for things that fit under the transportation Christmas tree.

Lawmakers need to focus on the specific goal of overhauling the highways and bridges.

But at this point House Democrats would like to use new revenue on bus services, bike paths and sidewalks.

In addition, the Senate wants at least some of the sales tax money currently collected for transportation — about $750 million a year — to be taken out of the general fund into a special transportation fund so it can’t be used to fund general day-to-day government operations.

Democrats aren’t budging on that one because they want flexibility in budgeting.

Everybody wants something!

House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn told The Seattle Times she has been besieged with transportation funding requests when legislators met recently for committee hearings.

Clibborn said people told her, “You know, I kind of like the project I have in the package, but for just another $200 million, you could do this. I’d say, ‘You’re the fifth person who’s said that.’ ”

Washingtonians would be more likely to accept new taxes if they were certain the money would be spent only for new roads and bridges such as was done in Walla Walla.

In 2012, Walla Walla voters approved raising the sales tax 0.2 percent to bring in $1 million a year to overhaul, not just patch, streets. The approach was embraced because steps were taken to focus on the worst roads and also establish a separate taxing district so the road money could not be used for any other purpose.

Rose Street from Ninth Avenue to the College Place border was revamped this summer. It’s not only smooth, but it’s a symbol of a pact the City Council made with citizens that the city would use their money as promised.

The state must also set clear expectations in contracts and withhold full payment until the work is done properly. The new bridge in Seattle could cost taxpayers an extra $400 million or so because of serious pontoon problems.

State lawmakers could have similar success if they stick to using every penny of new revenue to overhauling roads and bridges.

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