The Metropolitan King County Council is rightly pursuing new ways of paying for roads and bridges, many of which are deteriorating.
IN King County, at least 72 miles of roads and 35 bridges are in such bad shape that officials say they will have to restrict use or close them within the next 25 years.
King County Executive Dow Constantine and Metropolitan King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert wisely assembled a task force to come up with a concrete plan to plug an estimated $260 million annual funding gap. The group, which held its first meeting Aug. 12, plans to deliver proposals in January of next year.
Those fixes are long overdue. Heavy rains and landslides routinely mutilate stretches of deteriorating county roads. Those backward conditions resulted from decades of declining gas- and property-tax revenues and a broken funding structure.
Current funding mechanisms are inadequate, raising only about $90 million of the $350 million total county officials say they need annually to fully fund maintenance, preserve infrastructure, relieve congestion and add capacity.
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The fixes are also lopsided. Most of the roads burden falls on residents of the county’s unincorporated areas. The county’s tax base — and revenues — have shrunk considerably as cities have annexed tens of thousands of residents in formerly unincorporated areas over the last three decades.
Only about 250,000 residents are left to support a network of 1,500 miles of roads and 181 bridges that accommodate more than 1 million trips per day.
Yet hundreds of thousands of people use King County roads to drive to neighboring counties and between cities. County officials should find ways to ensure nonresident drivers also pay a fair share of the costs.
Road funding comes from property taxes, gas taxes and outside governmentgrants. That total amount is expected to decline from $90 million to $85 million by 2017 after the city of Sammamish annexes the Klahanie neighborhood.
This situation is dire.
With current funding, potholes and sinkholes are patched, but underlying issues go untouched. Major repairs happen after emergencies such as roads collapsing from heavy rains or landslides. In March 2014, a landslide took out a lane on May Valley Road near Issaquah that finally was rebuilt this summer — the project was delayed while the county waited for federal money.
King County’s roads have been neglected for too long. The County Council is right to tackle the huge problem.