The good news: Governor Gregoire’s $3.6 billion transportation plan includes a small increase in the oil barrel fee to help pay for maintenance of existing state transportation facilities.
The bad news: The plan does not even mention biking and walking, let alone provide funding for Safe Routes to School and other programs that encourage active alternatives to driving.
Going into the legislative session, it’s up to our representatives to make sure the needs of all Washington residents are met no matter how they get around, and to ensure our state also takes positive steps towards a healthier, safer and more economically and environmentally sustainable future.
Washington State’s largest employment and economic center has the second highest bicycle commuting rate in the country (in fact, 15 percent of people who work in downtown Seattle walk or bike there, and only 34 percent of drive alone). At minimum, the state should fund transportation needs proportionally to how the people of Washington move themselves and their goods today. That means tens of millions of dollars from this plan should go to projects that keep people biking and walking. Anything beyond that would be a wise investment in the future.
And it is an investment that would pay off. Increased walking and biking can save the state an enormous amount of money in healthcare costs, and walking and biking projects create more jobs per dollar spent than highway projects. Given that the state is already juggling a handful of multibillion-dollar car-centric projects (deep bore tunnel, Columbia River Crossing, 520 Bridge I-405 expansion, etc), it is simply unacceptable to leave biking and walking out of this funding plan.
Blake Trask of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington expressed similar concerns with Publicola:
“The [operations and maintenance money] is great, but we’re hoping it can be improved to include some of those active transportation options.” Currently, he said, “This package does not include anything for safe routes to school, anything for bike and pedestrian safety and mobility, anything for active transportation, period.”
Here’s is Cascade Bicycle Club’s response:
Today, Governor Chris Gregoire proposed a $3.6 billion package of transportation investments funded through a suite of fees. Building on the recommendations of the Connecting Washington task force, the proposed package prioritizes operations and maintenance while providing cities and counties with additional options to raise revenue for maintenance and transit.
“We commend Governor Gregoire for proposing a transportation package that prioritizes preserving and extending the life of our current transportation system,” said Chuck Ayers, Executive Director of Cascade Bicycle Club (Cascade). “We also commend the governor for proposing a revenue source that helps reduce our dependence on oil and for providing local jurisdictions with additional revenue options for supplementary improvements. We strongly agree with the governor that Washington needs to ‘build a transportation system that’s better than the other guys’; but that means we must do more than repair the crumbling relics of the past. Across America and around the world, cities, states and countries are investing in and prioritizing their bicycle, pedestrian and transit networks because they are the key to prosperity in the economy of the future; Washington must do the same.”
“Especially during these challenging economic times, if we are going to spend billions of limited taxpayer dollars on our transportation system, we must do more than tread water and maintain the status quo,” said Craig M. Benjamin, Policy and Government Affairs Manager for Cascade. “We should make smart, cost-effective investments that maximize the movement of people and goods in Washington state. Bicycle, pedestrian and transit projects reduce congestion and our dependence on oil, create more jobs than highway construction, improve public health, provide Washingtonians with more options to safely get where they need to go and prepare our state for the future. We thank Gov. Gregoire for starting this important conversation and look forward to working with the legislature and the governor to balance this package with adequate funding for the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety, Safe Routes to School, Complete Streets & Main Street Highways and Regional Mobility grant programs.”
Below is the governor’s transportation plan brief (note that there is literally no mention of walking or biking in this document about the state’s “critical needs”):