A cautionary preview of Washington’s future, if voters approve Initiative 976, is on display this week high above North Seattle.
The Aurora Bridge, Seattle’s fourth busiest arterial, is showing how tightly the city’s transportation infrastructure is stretched. Washington State Department of Transportation engineers shut down one of the bridge’s three southbound lanes for at least a week to replace a corroded steel beam, which has subjected thousands of drivers to tortuous stop-and-go conditions.
The temporary chokepoint portends the gloomy future for cities and highways across the state if I-976 passes next week. The destructive initiative would drain about $700 million from infrastructure funds annually. This means less money to keep roads safe and stable, and more time lost to capacity-limiting emergency repairs when conditions deteriorate.
Such is the price of ripping up transportation budgets to make car tabs a flat $30. Ballot initiative promoter Tim Eyman’s gimmick would have voters kill off funding for sidewalks, bus routes, police patrol of state highways and other crucial aspects of the state’s transportation network. Voters should make the sensible decision and reject this dangerous proposition.
If I-976 passes, cheap car registrations will be only a token comfort while potholes grow and proliferate, and traffic backs up. The state’s transportation infrastructure is in precarious health even before the votes are counted. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent Washington report card gave the state a C overall for infrastructure, with roads and transit each scoring a C-minus.
Through 2025, I-976 would remove more than $4 billion from state road construction, maintenance and transit. Megaprojects from the Legislature’s 2015 transportation package remaining to be built stretch from the US 395 North Spokane Corridor to the Puget Sound Gateway of SR 167 and 509.
The meat-cleaver attack of I-976 would hit local projects hard as well. The extra vehicle-registration fee that 62 jurisdictions use for infrastructure costs would be stripped away from communities small and large. In Granite Falls, for example, the city levies $20 per car tab to pay for the city’s road projects because the sales-tax base is too small. In Seattle, a voter-approved $80 car-tab surcharge subsidizes King County Metro bus service and prepaid ORCA cards for students.
This money cannot wisely be shifted directly over from Washington’s surplus funds, despite Eyman’s dubious conjecture. State Senate transportation chair Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, warned that a I-976 passage would lead to sweeping cutbacks of services and construction. Washington would survive this needless setback, but the time and money wasted would be immense.
Voters should insist on smarter governance and reject the ham-handed I-976. Then the Legislature should correct the blunder that opened the door for this threat and reform the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax formula to restore public trust.