Cars ride the Walla Walla ferry from Seattle to Bremerton on Aug. 4. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Cars ride the Walla Walla ferry from Seattle to Bremerton on Aug. 4. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Too few dollars spent to repair roads, bridges and ferries

Lawmakers told that lack of maintenance funds has transportation system ‘in a glide path to failure.’

OLYMPIA — Highway pavement is cracking, ferries are breaking down, and bridge decks are wearing out.

It’s a worsening dilemma because the level of funding to preserve and properly maintain such infrastructure is inadequate, a top state transportation official told lawmakers Thursday.

“Unfortunately Washington’s transportation system is in a glide path to failure,” said Deputy Secretary of Transportation Keith Metcalf in a presentation to the Joint Transportation Committee. The panel is made up of Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate transportation committees.

The state will spend an average of $550 million a year on preservation and maintenance in the next decade, he said. But it needs to be putting closer to $1.25 billion annually into the effort, he said.

Transportation officials estimate 3,600 lane miles of pavement are overdue for preservation, 15 bridges need replacement and 19 others require major rehabilitation and 56 concrete bridge decks are past due for repair.

Washington State Ferries’ fleet racked up 622 days of unscheduled maintenance in the 2019 fiscal year, Metcalf said. That’s a byproduct of having a fleet of vessels that are on average 28 years old.

Faced with this annual funding gap of $690 million, the agency looks to use dollars in ways that extend the useful life of existing infrastructure. For example, rather than repave a 10-mile stretch of highway, the state will look to patch smaller areas on heavily-used routes, he said.

“We are merely slowing the rate of decline of our infrastructure,” he said. ““We’re not funded to make the right investments at the right time, which increases costs. We are accepting financial liability for the deferrals.”

Lowest priorities won’t get done.

Starting in the 2012-23 biennium, WSDOT will not repave existing on- and off-ramps at interchanges, or state highways with speed limits lower than 40 mph.

Typically, those interchange ramps need repaving every 20 to 25 years, according to the agency. A number of ramps currently need to be repaved but won’t be done because of the funding shortfall, they said.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, a member of the Joint Transportation Committee, wasn’t surprised by Metcalf’s report.

“I’ve been tracking these issues for some time,” said Hobbs, who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “I’ve been very concerned about the trend.”

In 2015, lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee pushed through a 16-year, $16 billion package of transportation improvements that provided a $100 million-a-year boost in preservation dollars.

It lessened but did not eliminate the funding gap.

In the 2019 session, Hobbs put forth another package. It called for $16.6 billion in spending over 10 years with $1 billion earmarked for maintaining and improving highways, bridges and ferries. He sought to raise the money with a gas tax hike and new fees on carbon emissions and development.

The proposal didn’t receive a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate nor did it have the backing of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

Hobbs declined to say if he’ll try again in 2020.

If someone does put out a transportation package in the future, he said, it will be important to detail where preservation dollars will be spent. Lawmakers and residents are becoming more attuned to the preservation needs and are likely to be more supportive if they can see exactly how those dollars will be used.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

Photo of promotional recruitment banner used by Auburn Police Department at Petpalooza. The banner features Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson, who is awaiting trial for the 2019 murder and assault of Jesse Sarey. Photo courtesy of Jeff Trimble
Auburn police use photo of embattled officer on recruitment banner

Families of people killed by Jeffrey Nelson, who’s awaiting trial for murder, speak out over use of his photo at Petpalooza.

T
Use your King County library card to explore the outdoors

KCLS cardholders can check out a Discover Pass for two weeks to explore public lands.

Monkeypox virus. Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control.
King County identifies first presumptive monkeypox case

The illness is not as easily transmitted compared to COVID-19, according to health officer.

This screenshot from Auburn Police Department bodycam footage shows an officer about to fire his weapon and kill dog on May 13, 2022.
Auburn police shoot dog, and owner claims it wasn’t justified

See videos of attack as well as bodycam footage of officer firing at dog.

File photo.
King County Council approves creation of Cannabis Safety Taskforce amid rash of dispensary robberies

The multi-agency task force will cooperate to find ways to improve safety in the cash-only industry.

Screenshot from ORCA website
New ORCA system launches for regional transit across the Puget Sound

Overhaul includes new website, mobile application and digital business account manager.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII (Episode 4): Foster mom wants accountability in Auburn cop’s upcoming murder trial

Special podcast series explores Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

Diane Renee Erdmann and Bernard Ross Hansen. Photos courtesy of FBI
FBI arrests Auburn couple after 11-day manhunt

The couple was previously convicted for fraud and skipped sentencing on April 29.

Most Read