WA transportation ‘compromise’ spends billions on highways, ransoms transit but keeps most bike/walk funding

UPDATE 12:10p 7/1: Publicola reports that the revenue portion of the transportation package is headed to Governor Inslee. That includes ST3 authorization and an 11.9 cent gas tax. However, other bills that make up the transportation package, including appropriations for the projects below and bonding for mega projects, are still in limbo.

After not moving an inch for months, the Washington State legislature is moving at lightning speed this week to pass a so-called “compromise” transportation funding package that preserves much of the bike/walk safety and access funding in the version of the package we saw earlier from the House.

But the package also spends many billions on new and expanded highways, includes protections against clean air standards and provides authority for a Sound Transit 3 vote (but at a cost).

The new package of bills has already passed mostly out of the Senate and is expected to hit the House floor today. Stay tuned for updates.

Seattle Transit Blog wrote a scathing post today lambasting the package for holding transit “ransom.” The proposed law only gives Sound Transit the authority to put a $15 billion ST3 measure up for a local vote in 2016 on the condition that, if it passes, the agency gives about $0.5 billion back to the state’s general fund. So billions go directly to highways, but transit gets taxed if local voters pass it. That’s all backwards.

On the other hand, Transportation Choices Coalition and Futurewise are pushing for passage of the bill even with all these problems. There’s also talk of putting the package up for a statewide referendum, which I can’t imagine would pass (and would having it on the ballot impact the outcome of the Move Seattle vote? Hard to say.).

Efforts to preserve the bike/walk safety and access funds proposed by the Democrat-controlled House in April were pretty successful. The compromise package passed by the Republican-controlled Senate includes:

  • Bike/Ped Grant Program ($75M), same as House version
  • Bike/Ped Projects ($89M), effectively down $1M from House version since the Northgate bike/walk bridge was moved to the transit projects list
  • Safe Routes to Schools Grant Program ($56M), same as House version

Thanks to Senator Andy Billig (D-Spokane), the compromise deal also includes a commitment that WSDOT direct $86 million in Federal funds it receives in the next 16 years to Safe Routes to School. This smart use of Federal funding was not in the House version.

If you include this commitment for Federal funds, the total funding for bike/walk projects is about $320 million over 16 years, up from $236 million in the House version.

However, the Complete Streets Grant Program would get $106 million in the compromise package, down $54 million from House version. So that’s a significant safe streets hit between the versions.

Blake Trask, state policy director at Washington Bikes, praised Senators for preserving and even growing bike/walk funding.

“In the context of negotiations, the numbers for walking and biking show that there is a growing bipartisan and statewide interest in improving health and safety, as well as growing local economies through increased bicycling,” he said.

In fact, remember how Senate Transportation Committee Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima) wanted to toll people biking on the 520 Trail earlier this year? Well he’s singing a very different tune today, even adding walking and biking projects in his district to the bill.

Biking and walking are not inherently partisan activities, so it’s great to see the Republican-controlled Senate get on board, even if it is still only a tiny piece of the highways pie. All added together, it’s about 1.5 percent of the $16 billion package (2.1 percent if you add the complete streets and bike-related transit list funds or 6 percent if add all multimodal investments together).

Of course, the package still needs to make it through the House, and you never know how things will change.

Below are some specific bike/walk projects that would be funded by this package (not pictured but included in the transit list: $5.5M for bike share expansion in Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond and Issaquah, and $10M for the Northgate bike/walk bridge):

cTLEAPDoc2015NL-4_0629bikeSo should this package pass? Well, that depends on whether you feel good about getting a better deal next year, I guess. Or —if you’re willing to hold off on ST3 and the other good stuff — the next year or the year after that…

Governor Jay Inslee rolled over on the clean air standards “poison pill,” and neither he nor other legislative leaders have made a significant case against highway expansion spending, either from a climate change perspective or due to their impact on public health, sprawling communities and furthering traffic congestion. The kind of package Washington really needs would have strong investments in maintaining the roads we have, making them all safer for everyone and focusing on true mass transit. But that package feels very far away.

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14 Responses to WA transportation ‘compromise’ spends billions on highways, ransoms transit but keeps most bike/walk funding

  1. Josh says:

    In all, a better compromise than I’d expected given attitudes towards Seattle in most of the rest of the state. I could honestly see some Legislators giving up projects in their own districts just so they could be seen as sticking it to Seattle.

  2. Southeasterner says:

    Unfortunately in ultra-regressive Washington this is probably as good as it gets. Amazing what they are doing to Sound Transit on sales tax and I’m guessing (hoping) Inslee would strike that before passing the bill?

    I guess if you want decent transit funding you have to go to republican controlled states like Arizona, Texas, Utah and Georgia?

  3. Dave F says:

    Although I love bikeshare, I’m surprised to see the state devote money to expanding Pronto east of Lake Washington. I know the legislature hates Seattle, but bikeshare works much better in dense cities than in suburban sprawl. Those expansions are going to make the rest of the system look bad, and bring Seattle down with them.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      But just think of the potential revenue from overage charges on an Issaquah to Seattle ride! :-)

      I think they can be cool additions to some Eastside downtowns even if they aren’t the smash successes you get in denser downtowns.

      • Dave F says:

        ha! I guess any state funding is a good sign that the system is going to grow, so hopefully we get some economies of scale.

  4. asdf2 says:

    Being asked to pay money to the rest of the state for the privilege of paying for our own transit projects with our own money sets a very bad precedent. If it passes (and that’s a very big if, as campaign opponents will certainly exploit this), the state will be encouraged to drive an even tougher bargain for ST 4. Maybe instead of having to pay the rest of the state $500 million, the price will go up to $1-2 billion.

    And if the ST 3 vote fails, the road side still gets all their roads, but the transit side effectively gets nothing.

    The fact that the package does include a token amount of money for walking and biking projects is laudable, but overall, I still think the region would be better off rejecting the proposal and trying again next year.

  5. BellevueTheBikable says:

    First of all, we don’t need these roads and we can’t afford them. I’m 30 with kids and I don’t want to pay for the bonds, cost overruns, and maintenance for these mega road expansions for the rest of my life. I also don’t want to breath the exhaust and risk life and limb for other peoples mere convenience.

    Second of all, why should Seattle be drug across the coals for ST3? It seems like it primarily benefits commuters who live outside of Seattle. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t make deals, but I think the rest of the state is overplaying their hand to say the least. How about we vote no, then when traffic on I5, 405, and 167 gets ways worse the suburbanites can ask again for a more reasonable transit deal. Their situation isn’t getting any better last I checked.

    In the meantime, the solution for Seattle is to find money to pay for safety improvements independent of the state. With the population influx, streets that today are thoroughfares will someday become dense neighborhoods, and people will continue to get hurt if changes aren’t made. Improving safety in some cases will mean reduced level of service for people in cars, and that will make Seattle even less friendly for daily regional commuters. If Seattle can provide affordable family housing with green space for middle and lower class people (not the case now) then less and less people will care about highway 167.

    Finally, as someone who believes that global warming is real, I cannot support building more massive highway projects. Are we going to be so wasteful as to expand the primary enabler for single occupancy vehicles and suburban sprawl with billions of dollars? Consider how you may feel about these fancy highway expansions in 16 years, will you look upon them kindly? Not me. I say not a penny more from my wallet. Stand up and say no!

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  8. Harrison Davignon says:

    Another excuse for oil companies and republicans to make money. If people used transit more often, that means less money for oil companies and maybe less money paid to republicans from oil companies. I will not stand for wasting money on widening roads that don’t need to be widened because it will create more bottleneck traffic jams and more smog and runoff pollution. We need public transit to keep our economy moving forward and reduce pollution and frustration. I’m grateful republicans want to fund bicycle riding and walking. Lets focus money on repairing existing roads and walking, bicycle riding and public transit.

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