Proposed transportation budgets are far from meeting the needs of those who walk, bike or bus

This week, the chairs of the transportation committees in the Washington State Senate and House of Representatives released their proposed transportation budgets. Both proposals largely maintain the status quo in transportation funding, which is unfortunate. However, a separate transportation revenue package could make things even worse.

Two programs of interest to people who support bicycling and walking would receive about $26 million together over the next two years, up from about $24 million in the last two years. The Safe Routes to Schools grants program and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety grants program help local communities make their roads safer for all users through sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, safety lighting, and educational efforts. They focus on, respectively, the routes that students walk or bike to school and the locations that see the highest number of collisions and injuries involving people who walk or bike.

While we appreciate this funding, it is very far from meeting the need. Less than 20 percent of the projects requested by local communities, many of which were willing to put up their own matching monies, would be funded. With this low rate of funding, but with population and interest in bicycling growing, the backlog of projects will also grow.

A similar program aimed at revitalizing commercial areas – known as Complete Streets grants – was created in 2011, but has never been funded, and remains unfunded in the new budget proposals.

To put this in context, the bicycle and pedestrian programs receive about three-tenths of one percent (0.3%) of the overall transportation budget. Rail, mass transit, ferries, and road maintenance receive substantial, but still not adequate, amounts. Meanwhile, the biggest single chunk of the transportation budget – over $3.3 billion – goes to expanding roads or building new ones.

Plus, that doesn't include funds for the “mega-projects,” the giant highway expansion projects full of new lanes and interchanges on I-5 and I-405, State Routes 167 and 509, the Columbia River Crossing, the Spokane North/South freeway, and more. Those projects are proposed to be funded by a separate transportation revenue package (new taxes). The revenue package was originally intended to tackle the massive backlog of maintenance on the roads we've already built, but in its current form, it provides little for anything besides huge highway expansions.

Cascade will continue to push for greater funding for safe places for people to walk and bike, as well as for transit, road maintenance and managing the polluted stormwater runoff from roads, in both the transportation budget and any revenue package. We will also call for rethinking the highway expansion projects that suck up so much of our public transportation dollars, often result in more sprawl, and usually merely shift traffic congestion from one place to another.

Please contact your legislators today and ask them to support additional transportation funding for people who bicycle and walk.