OLYMPIA—Calling this the beginning of a new era that is bringing new challenges and requiring decisive action, the Washington State Transportation Commission has approved a 20-year transportation plan. Although the plan recognizes that the foundation of our state and local transportation system is strong in many respects, without additional investment, travel will become more difficult as infrastructure deteriorates, congestion increases, and public transportation service is cut.
Investing to maintain capacity and preserve what we have, is identified as the state’s most critical transportation priority in the plan. It also highlights the strong link between the economy, jobs and mobility and says the decline in gas tax revenues puts the whole transportation system at risk.
The Washington Transportation Plan (WTP) 2030 is an overarching policy and spending guide for the governor and legislature’s consideration. WTP 2030 is the result of a two-year, statewide effort that included a significant public process. It evaluates needs and recommends actions to maintain and improve mobility for highways, local roads, mass transit, freight and passenger rail, ferries, barges, airports and biking and walking trails. It also advocates for an integrated approach and better connectivity for all modes of transportation at all levels of government.
“Our transportation needs are growing while our revenues are declining, and that impacts more than just the roads,” said Commissioner Carol Moser who led the planning process. “Nearly half the jobs in our state depend on freight mobility, and we are the most trade dependent state in the nation. As such, the ability to efficiently and freely move from point A to B impacts all of us at some level.”
“Our economic health in the 21st century is dependent on a transportation system built between the 1950’s and 70’s and funded by a tax system that can’t keep up with maintenance, replacement or new needs,” Moser continued. “If we are to remain competitive in the global economy, we must modify our transportation funding structure so that it is less reliant on fossil fuel consumption, use new technologies and strategies to make our existing system more efficient, and prioritize critical freight corridors to ensure our goods can get to market in a timely and cost effective manner.”
According to the plan, total unfunded state, regional and local transportation needs through 2030 are estimated at $175 - $200 billion. This total includes 20-year transit needs estimated at $49 billion to maintain current service levels, and city, county and regional transportation needs estimated at $69 billion. These needs are staggering, while revenues for transportation continue to decline.
In the absence of new revenue being generated to begin to address some of these needs, cuts are being made across the state in every jurisdiction. The Washington Department of Transportation has cut overhead, administration and staff while meeting higher performance standards in recent years. Yet even after cost reduction efforts, current revenues cannot meet the backlog of needs. The Governor is recommending eliminating 400 engineering and technical jobs in this biennium, cutting $87 million in planned capital projects, reducing ferry service, increasing ferry fares and using savings from construction projects that finished under budget to close a $270 million deficit if DOT were to maintain current levels of service.
To avoid further cuts to our transportation system and risk our state’s economic health, the plan recommends the legislature take action in the next two years to generate much needed revenue to address the growing need. Recommendations in the plan include indexing the fuel tax to inflation, placing fees or taxes on alternative fueled vehicles, and giving cities and counties more authority to generate revenue so that they can independently meet their funding needs. These recommendations align with those made a year ago in a report commissioned by the legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee.
In addition, the commission recommends additional funding authority for transit agencies, increased use of tolling where feasible and the continuation of tolls after construction bonds are paid in order to ensure funding is available in the future to maintain the tolled facilities. The commission advocates for a statewide excise tax based on vehicle value to serve as a stable, new source of dedicated funding for Washington State Ferries capital needs.
“Continuous investment in mobility is fundamental to successful businesses, people’s lives and the state’s prosperity,” said Moser. “Every resident must understand that cutting or postponing needed transportation investments today will cost us all more tomorrow.”
“The same principle applies whether we are talking about our roads across the state or our family homes – if we have the choice of paying a little now to repair a leaky roof, versus putting it off for so long that the little repair turns into a complete replacement of the roof, the choice is a clear one and most of us would address the problem now.”
“Investing in transportation not only brings the obvious benefits of improving a road or bridge, but it also equates to more jobs that will be created to build the infrastructure as well as generate jobs that will result from the business growth enabled by the improved mobility. It’s all connected,” Moser said.
The commission recommends developing and expanding use of performance standards and outcome expectations for all new state and local government investments to ensure accountability and value for dollars spent. The Washington State Department of Transportation is already a national leader in using performance measurement, and the recommendation is consistent with the federal government’s increasing focus on performance-based funding.
The Washington Transportation Plan 2030 was developed by the State Transportation Commission at the request of the state legislature. The two-year process included input and guidance from a 15 member advisory committee, city and county governments, regional planning commissions, Native American tribes and public comment representing diverse geographic, economic, environmental and political interests. Five Listening Sessions were held in different regions of the state and more than 700 people commented or participated in creation of the plan.
Other recommendations in the plan include:
Support strategies and investments to better link people and commerce such as transit oriented development, bicycle and pedestrian networks, park and ride lots and broadband access.
Couple land use policy, siting decisions, demand management and transportation needs to leverage the value of existing and future transportation infrastructure investments.
Connect regional economies with improved north-south and east-west passenger train service between major metropolitan areas.
Establish an all-weather transportation system, prioritizing investments that minimize closures affecting agriculture, freight dependent industries and tourism.
Direct aviation taxes and fees to fund investments in airport infrastructure and address growth needs with a focus on the unique characteristics of four regional Special Emphasis areas: Puget Sound, Southwest Washington, Spokane and the Tri-Cities.
Partner with the military to meet the transportation demands and needs of military facilities in the state, including the growth of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where an additional 14,000 soldiers and their families will be stationed in the next five years.
Build an economic advantage by identifying and investing in transportation for industry clusters that create jobs such as aerospace, agriculture, forest products, global health and life sciences, information technology, marine technology and tourism.
Establish a funding source for all levels of government to use in managing stormwater runoff from streets, roads and bridges, including collection and treatment that will help reduce impacts on state waterways consistent with the Clean Water Act.
Continue current tactics and encourage personal actions to reach goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030.
For more information about WTP 2030 or the Commission, please visit: www.wstc.wa.gov