September 16, 2013
The news over the summer was a shock: King County only had enough money to repave 7 of its 1,500 miles of roads this season. And the budget would have been zero if not for a last-minute federal grant.
King County Road Services Division Director Brenda Bauer said if funding remains this low 35 bridges will be closed and at least 72 miles of road in unincorporated King County will fail over the next 25 years.
Listening tour cities and dates
The state Senate has put together a statewide “listening tour” to get ideas from the public about what to include in a new package of transportation projects. |
All of the meetings are 6-9 p.m. A list of the locations and addresses is at http://curtisking.src.wastateleg.org/
Here are the dates and cities:
• Sept. 17 Bellevue
• Sept. 18 Everett
• Sept. 23 Wenatchee
• Sept. 24 Yakima
• Sept. 26 Pasco
• Oct. 2 Spokane
• Oct. 7 Vancouver
• Oct. 9 Tacoma
• Oct. 14 Seattle
• Oct. 15 Bellingham
A coalition of cities and counties — including King County and Seattle — has approached state legislators seeking either a statewide transportation funding package or options to raise taxes locally. But state lawmakers haven't been able to get past a major sticking point: a new Columbia River bridge.
Gov. Jay Inslee has called for a broad transportation package without funding for the bridge that some Republicans had opposed. Inslee said he wants lawmakers from both parties to develop a funding plan in the coming weeks.
“If connections break down because the funding structure is broken, everyone suffers,” Bauer said.
The Senate has organized a statewide “listening tour” to get ideas from residents about what to include in a new package. The tour is spearheaded by Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way.
“What we have right now are critical infrastructure needs across our state and insufficient resources to address them,” said King in a release. “To be successful in moving forward we know that we're going to need the support of the public, which is why these meetings are so important.”
The first stop is tomorrow in Bellevue, and more cities have been added because the turnout is expected to be high.
“So many people were interested in attending that we had to add a few more to accommodate the overflow,” King said. “It's a good day in state government when there are so many people interested in participating that you have to increase the number of meetings.”
In an Aug. 8 letter to state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, King offered four reasons why the House and Senate couldn't pass a transportation package.
media reports about problems on WSDOT projects
public opposition to the revenue package
confusion over the scope and cost of projects, like the $1.8 billion Puget Sound Gateway project
The governor's refusal to consider a Columbia River bridge without light rail
While state lawmakers struggle with the problem, municipalities such as King County suffer.
Bauer said the county's maintenance staff has been reduced by about half. In 2010, there were about 320 people in maintenance. By the end of 2014, there are expected to be 190.
“We've been laying off since 2009,” she said, with about 250 cuts in that time frame. Another 20 are expected by the end of 2014.
“We expect that as capital projects come to an end in 2014 there will be (more) positions that we don't need anymore,” Bauer said. The county doesn't have any new bridges in the pipeline until 2017.
Tight budgets also will be felt this winter. Bauer said snow plowing and deicing will done on 10 percent of county roads instead of the typical 30 percent. Regional connector roads will get priority.
“That's huge,” she said. “That means a lot of communities that need to get to work and medical care cannot get out.”
Real estate boom
It's been a different story for the city of Seattle. Funding for road maintenance and other projects benefit from the .5 percent real estate excise tax (REET) assessed on every real estate transaction. The city maintains 3,952 miles of roads and 159 bridges.
City Budget Director Beth Goldberg said a big increase in commercial real estate transactions has helped a lot and residential transactions are also up. This has paved the way for a larger road maintenance budget: from $27.1 million in 2010 to $34.8 million in the 2014 endorsed budget.
Road maintenance funds come from the gas tax, vehicle license fees, the general fund and the Bridging the Gap Levy. The city also uses proceeds from the sale of its rubble yard to fund major maintenance on arterials.
“It's been a good source of revenue for us, but not entirely reliable,” Goldberg said about REET. The city curtails spending in lean years but enjoys boom years like in 2007 when Columbia Center was sold twice.
“There's a never-ending need to maintain a government's assets,” she said. “However, there are expenditures that can be scaled (over time).”
For example, the city last year eliminated its chip seal program due to funding constraints, but Mayor Mike McGinn reinstated it this year and added a crack seal program to help maintain up to 67 miles of streets. Funding came from the general fund.
Bauer said many county roads are in tax districts with low-value properties. Cities have been annexing parts of unincorporated King County, grabbing tax revenues but leaving the county responsible for the infrastructure.
Bauer said about 250,000 people live in unincorporated King County, but there are 1 million trips a day on county roads. She said half of the traffic on high-volume county roads comes from people who live in cities but don't pay for those roads.
On top of that, Bauer said Metro Transit is facing a 17 percent decline in hours for bus routes due to reduced sales taxes, which could put more cars on the road. She said about 70 percent of bus routes could be affected.
In King County, crews used to repave 40 to 45 miles of road every year. That maintains the surface but not the underpinnings. Bauer said some roads built during World War II need to be rebuilt, not just repaved.
The county expects a new road to last 20 years before needing an overlay, but as roads age, the overlay interval narrows. Once a road is 40 to 50 years old, it needs major rehab or reconstruction. Bauer said 70 percent of the county's arterials need to be rebuilt.
The county's 1,500 miles of road and 180 bridges are worth about $39 billion. Bauer said a good rule of thumb for annual maintenance is 1 percent of the total asset value, which would be about $390 million.
That number is out of reach, but Bauer said it should be somewhere between $12 million and $15 million yearly. That would allow overlays on all arterials on a 12-year schedule and local roads on a 30-year schedule.
Benjamin Minnick can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.