Transportation Package: a missed opportunity

Our transportation trends are clear: younger adults are driving a lot less than previous generations, more and more people are biking, and the number of older people who will need options other than drive-alone is increasing. Washington has previously adopted laws requiring cutting drive-alone trips, as well as laws requiring cutting climate pollution.

Matthew Green reports from Olympia

Cascade supports efforts to address Washington State’s significant backlog of transportation needs, and has been working for the past several months to promote a forward-looking revenue package to meet the core needs of our communities.

Given this context, and working with a large coalition of businesses, individuals and organizations, Cascade supported the Transportation for Washington “Opportunity for All” Action Plan sent to the legislature.

Unfortunately, the $8.4 billion draft transportation revenue package released this week goes in the wrong direction, and undermines our transportation and climate goals. We oppose it as written, and hope legislators will revisit their priorities.

Washingtonians agree: safety and maintenance should be our top priorities. We should make sure people have safe ways to drive, walk, bike and take transit to get to work, school and stores. And we should invest in maintaining the roads we already have before building more. Yet less than 11 percent of the draft package funds road maintenance, and less than 1% funds targeted safety improvements.

Those who wish to, or are forced to, move around Washington State by means other than driving get little; less than 3 percent of package’s funds would meet the needs of people who use transit, bike or walk. And cities and counties, which have enormous local transportation needs, would receive just 4 percent.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the funds raised would go to new or expanded highways. Just four highway mega-project expansions – expansion of SR 167/SR 509, expansion of I-405, expansion of I-5 in Vancouver, and extension of US 395 in Spokane – account for $2.8 billion upfront, and billions more in debt service. Poll after poll show road expansions are the lowest transportation priority of Washingtonians, but the well-heeled highway lobby continues to push these hugely expensive projects forward.

The package has some small bright spots: it continues modest revenues for ferries, freight and other improvements begun in 2012, and it authorizes local transportation benefit district to raise their own funds to meet some local needs. However, these elements could be approved by the Legislature separately.

The package also provides limited authority for local transit agencies to raise their own funds. Unfortunately, this authority expires in a few years, which will create yet another funding crisis, and it forces agencies to go to a public vote, even as the Legislature itself is avoiding a public vote on the overall package. Again, a better local option authority could be approved by the Legislature separately.

Unfortunately, this revenue package would not build a better transportation network that serves our neighborhoods and the people and businesses who safe places to drive, walk, bike and take transit. It would mainly build more highways, leading to more sprawling, bicycle-unfriendly development and more climate pollution. Washington State needs and deserves better.