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Walk, bike and transit funding makes it through adjusted state transportation package

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.

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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.

Here’s the updated list as of March 9:

Pedestrian and Bike safety project list as of March 9. PDF linked in caption.
The pedestrian and bike safety project list as of March 9 (PDF).

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.

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6 responses to “Walk, bike and transit funding makes it through adjusted state transportation package”

  1. ronp

    Really an incredible achievement from all the pro bike, transit, walking groups! It is sad roads will grow but still an amazing thing!

  2. NoSpin

    “But despite all this change and excitement, there are still a lot of new and expanded highways included in the package.”

    Always something to cry about.

    But guess what? Those ‘new and expanded highways’ are ‘expanding’ so they can add the active transportation and transit projects that advocates are always clamoring for!!!

    The expansion of the seismically vulnerable Portage Bay 520 bridge? It’s ‘expanding’ to include a continuation of the 520 bike trail and add in a reversible BRT connection to I-5!!!

    The Gateway Project from Port of Tacoma to Puyallup? It includes new bike bike/ped infrastructure!!!

    The new Columbia River Bridge between Vancouver and Portland? Again, new BRT or Light-Rail plus bike/ped infrastructure – plus eliminating the existing draw-span.

    Seriously – the Move Ahead WA package includes far more than Front & Centered would have ever dreamed of getting six months ago, but they just can’t help finding something to cry about. They’re like the proverbial guy with a Virginia ham, crying ‘cause he has no bread…

    Is Move Ahead WA perfect? Of course not. Nothing is. But it’s time to stop making the perfect the enemy of the far-better-than-you-ever-thought-you’d-have-a-reasonable-chance-of-getting.

  3. eddiew

    NoSpin: the Portage Bay viaduct is expanding to six lanes from four and will include a bike path. The reversible lane connection will be peak direction only; no agency has plans or funding to use BRT on the ramp; in the ELC project under review today, there is a conceptual one-way route. BRT is almost always a two-way all-day frequent service.

    1. NoSpin

      Yes, the Portage Bay improvements include one new additional lane each way – that’s to extend HOV through the entire 520 Corridor, which is exactly the kind of focused improvements our transportation system needs.

      And yes, the BRT lane is reversible – in this case it needs to be because it’s connecting to the reversible I-5 express lanes, which is the only way buses can safely transition on I-5 between 520/SLU (they currently take alternate surface streets)

  4. eddiew

    I disagree with the Legislature; the six lane Portage Bay bridge was overkill. The transit agencies are slow; routes 545, 252, 257, 268, 311, and 545 should have been truncated at the UW Link station any time after March 2016. BRT = bus rapid transit.

    1. NoSpin

      Truncating a route and making riders transfer makes their commute even longer than the delays they are already experiencing – plus adds the inconvenience of the transfer, which is a known deterrent for transit use.

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