Washington’s leaders are failing their constituents on transportation infrastructure. Though Congress is wrangling over a federal bill that could bring billions for our state’s roads and culverts, the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee have been disappointingly slow to fix the neglect that wastes time and fortune. That’s shocking, especially with legislative leaders shrugging about missing the opportunity to act this year.
House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said Friday a tentative schedule for a November 2021 infrastructure special session is unlikely, even though House and Senate transportation chairs were nearing agreement on terms.
“We’ve blown past every deadline in that plan,” she said.
Washingtonians should not have to wait much longer. If legislators cannot find a way to make a special session work this year, they must prove early in 2022 they take this problem seriously and get a transportation deal done.
Six months ago, Inslee declared himself “deeply committed” to enacting a transportation package. Yet, the governor sits, a few lawmakers negotiate and nothing gets accomplished.
Beyond the Capitol Campus, the rust never sleeps. Interstate 5 pavement’s gaps rattle Seattle’s motorists. Hundreds of families wait hours at the Anacortes dock for boats wildly off schedule. Freight trains can run only 10 miles per hour on nearly half the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad because of dilapidated tracks. The West Seattle Bridge has been closed for 19 months. The Washington Department of Transportation counts 30 statewide bridges as needing replacement or “major rehabilitation.”
The Legislature and Gov. Inslee must stop dithering. An infrastructure bill should have emerged in the Legislature’s spring session — or in a special session, as this editorial page called for in both April and May after the state’s transportation secretary diagnosed “a glide path to failure.”
Democratic transportation chairs in the House and Senate differed on what taxes would pay for which projects. Republicans in both chambers stubbornly refused to give an inch on issuing bonds to mitigate a jarring tax increase. Inslee abused his veto power to undermine a legislative bargain that leveraged climate legislation to create political pressure for the transportation package.
The Legislature must break this logjam and get a transportation package to Inslee before other issues consume the political bandwidth. Inslee and climate-focused lawmakers will push more environment bills, policing reforms enacted in 2021 need fine-tuning, the long-term care insurance tax should be adjusted, and foster and child-care systems demand fixes. Those concerns and a long-range tax-code rebalancing all will jockey for attention in the scheduled 60-day session.
Infrastructure should move to the top of the agenda. Lawmakers perennially punt it to refine plans and postpone tax increases. This bad habit keeps projects unbuilt and produces a deferred-maintenance backlog and other skimping.
“The longer we take, the worse it gets,” Senate Transportation Chair Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said.
Washington annually spends only about 40% of the $2 billion WSDOT says is required for maintenance and allots the bare minimum number of ferry crew members with which a vessel can legally sail. That’s a recipe for frailty. The state ought to function on more resilient terms and needs legislators to produce the blueprint.
Cut the deal and fix the bridges. Move toward being a state that properly takes care of the infrastructure taxpayers’ investments built. Washington’s growth in population and economic terms is a leader among states. Its transportation network ought to at least try to keep up.