WashPIRG calls for rejection of Wash. House and Senate-backed transportation spending plan

WashPIRG is calling on Washington state lawmakers to reject a $15 billion, 16-year transportation plan that the grass-roots public interest research group finds wasteful and unjustified.

Both proposed packages, SB 5987 and SB 5988, increase taxes and borrowing to pay overwhelmingly for highway expansions, said WashPIRG Executive Director Bruce Speight. He added the plan shortchanges funding for repair and maintenance of existing roads and bridges.

“We should repair our crumbling roads and bridges before building new,” he said. “It’s like putting a new roof on your home when your foundation is cracking.”

Speight said, if passed, the planned highway, road and infrastructure improvements could worsen environmental pollution and climate change emissions. Quoting a Federal Highway Administration data study released in January, 382 bridges in Washington were structurally deficient at the end of 2014, an increase of 10 over the 2013 statewide total, and an increase of 16 over the 2012 count.

City and county roads across the state also need repair, but cash-strapped local governments don’t have the money to keep them in good shape. Despite these and other pressing maintenance needs, both the Senate and House propose at least five times more spending for highway expansion and construction than road repair and maintenance.

Speight said both proposals include questionable highway expansion projects. Speight cites the Puget Sound Gateway, funded with $1.8 billion, which receives more funding than the entire highway preservation budget.

Both bills, Speight said, will also create future debt. Part of the plan calls for issuing bonds that would be repaid using monies collected from the state’s share of the fuel tax, which is slated for an 11 cent increase. However, nationwide, state fuel tax collections have been dwindling over the last several years due to more fuel-efficient cars and drivers opting to take public transportation.

WashPIRG argues increased investment in highway construction and lane capacity could induce more driving that would in turn increase carbon emissions, thereby harming the environment.

Speight’s biggest criticism stems from the plan not taking the millennial generation and its transportation preferences into account. “We’re drawing a lot of millennials due to our high volume of high-tech companies here in the Puget Sound region,” he said.

And those millennials are more apt to take public transportation to get to work, or use bike paths or even walk.

“Our concern is with how their [state legislature] is spending money, if we’re going to ask the taxpayers for more we should make sure we’re investing in projects we need to build up the necessary infrastructure without wasting billions on unanalyzed projects that aren’t on our priority list.”