Nearly all of the funding for walking, biking and transit projects in the state Democrats’ Move Ahead Washington funding package has made it through to the latest version of the bill. The House and Senate both voted Thursday to approve the updated package shortly before the end of the 2022 state legislative session.
The package was significantly reworked in the final weeks of the short session after Democrats decided to abandon a fuel exports tax amid outcry from neighboring states that rely on oil from Washington refineries. However, because that revenue source was mostly for highway spending, the walking, biking and transit investments were largely spared from cuts. The reworked package now includes more funding the state operating and public works budgets.
Democrats control the House, Senate and Governor’s Office, and this package would be the party’s first major transportation funding measure since controlling all three. Republicans largely opposed the bill. Versions of the package previously passed the Senate and the House, but the reworked version needed another set of votes before it could head to Governor Inslee’s desk.
Comparing the “pedestrian and bike safety” project list from March 9 to the previously-approved February 14 list, no projects were cut. Two projects received budget boosts (the Usk Bridge shared-use path over the Pend Oreille River and the Bradley Road Safe Routes project in Lyden), but the $10 million “contingency” budget has been removed. So the total allocated to the list decreased by $3.5 million, but the total specifically earmarked for projects increased $6.5 million. Compared to the initial proposal from the start of the session, the list has increased by $20 million.
The WA state House and Senate have released their compromise and final version of #MoveAheadWA and the conference committees have recommended passage.
We're thrilled to share that the final version includes $20 million more in the Bike/Ped Project List!
— Washington Bikes (@WAbikes) March 9, 2022
Here’s the updated list as of March 9:
When you add this $313 million project list to the $290 million for Safe Routes to School, $216 million for a school-based bike program, $278 million for the bike/ped grant program, $146 million for complete streets and $50 million for “connecting communities grants,” the total for the active transportation budget group comes to $1.29 billion.
Compared to previous state transportation packages, this one is an enormous shift in the right direction. Lee Lambert, Executive Director of Washington Bikes, called it “historic and unprecedented” in a press release. The level of investment in walking, biking and transit is vastly higher than previous state funding efforts.
But despite all this change and excitement, there are still a lot of new and expanded highways included in the package. Those projects are even worse when you consider that they are not paid for by driving-related taxes and fees like gas taxes or the abandoned fuel export tax. A joint letter by Front and Centered, 350 Washington, and Disability Rights Washington called out this concern:
“Not only is road expansion harmful, it is doubly so when it is funded with revenue that could be used to meet our other urgent needs, like affordable housing, healthcare, education, rural broadband, potable water, and disaster response. We strongly disagree with the legislature’s use of billions of General Fund and Public Works dollars to expand highways.”
In the end, it was easier to use general fund dollars than it was to cut highway projects or tax oil, and that says something about the state of today’s Democratic Party in Washington. It was a huge lift to get this thing passed without Republican support, but the party also still has a lot of work to do within itself. We can cheer the successes of the package and congratulate those who worked tirelessly to make it happen while also taking notes for the future.