When the county adopted the update to the Growth Management required comprehensive land use plan in 2005 a list of transportation projects was included. These projects were identified as necessary to support the next 20 years of growth.
“During last year’s budget discussions it became apparent that the county was $263 million short of being able to fund the projects we had promised our citizens only a few years ago,” said Councilmember Dave Gossett. “Roughly 2/3s of the projects the county promised to complete by 2025 would not be constructed.”
During the budget there was a great deal of discussion of this problem. Councilmembers requested information on which projects would not be completed, how this might impact land use, and strategies to complete the projects. The Executive’s response was that these issues would be most appropriately addressed during the 2015 comprehensive plan update.
“We discovered a few weeks ago that the Executive’s 2011 transportation plan was based on the assumption of a $20 car tab fee and two property tax increases totaling over 15%,” said Gossett. “When we analyzed what would happen without these major tax increases it became clear that in the long term the problem was significantly greater than $263 million. More importantly, in the short term the road budget was potentially bankrupt in 2014.”
Public Works staff presented updated options at the September 6 Public Works Committee meeting which avoided the fund going into debt. Since the funding shortfall is structural and not related to the economy all the proposed cuts would be permanent, not temporary. The options included cuts of up to 20% in Public Works staff. Capital projects designed to address safety and traffic issues would be cut by 1/3. Maintenance would also face major cuts.
“Providing a strong transportation system is the most important thing the county can do to promote economic growth and jobs. If we want the new 737 built here we have to provide for ways for workers and freight to get to and from work,” said Gossett. “This transportation crisis must be addressed.”
Council staff will be working with Executive staff to provide a complete review of the road funds status at the next meeting on October 4. The Council will receive Executive Reardon’s 2012 budget and 2012-2017 transportation plan on September 30.
“During the 2012 budget process I plan to focus on the road fund crisis,” said Gossett. “We have to be transparent and let the public know what the options are. We cannot expect job growth if we don’t have a transportation system that works.”