The bus stop near Paul Tabayoyon’s home in Yakima has no designated sidewalk or bench. So he waits in a neighbor’s yard or on the street when catching a ride.
That’s felt dangerous for Tabayoyon, who became disabled from a back injury and relied on transit to get around between 2015 and 2018.
He has slowly recovered and now borrows a family member’s car. But during the time of his disability, taking transit was an uphill battle — sometimes literally.
Buses in Yakima don’t run early enough on weekends for him to get to his church for volunteer work. Commuting from his home to school at the Yakima Valley College could take an hour, compared to a 10-minute drive. And the bus stop near his grocery store is at the bottom of a hill, so the walk back while carrying groceries could be difficult.
“Our bus system is very modern and clean, but there’s just not enough service,” said Tabayoyon, 51, who testified about his transportation concerns at a state legislative hearing this spring.
Advocates for people with disabilities, communities of color and environmentally focused groups are urging state lawmakers to devote more money to transit service and pedestrian- and bicycle-focused projects. They say the funding is especially needed outside of dense urban areas, where alternatives to driving are particularly scarce.
The state House and Senate are considering several multibillion-dollar proposals stretching over multiple years that would fund road and bridge construction, new ferries, transit and other work. The proposals call for higher gasoline taxes, new carbon fees and other revenue sources to fund the work.
No deal on a package had been reached as of Thursday, and the prospect of an agreement before the legislative session is scheduled to end Sunday didn’t seem likely.
Opponents of the proposals say too much attention is focused on roads, highways and bridges. If no deal is reached, they say they will raise their concerns again next year.
“These packages do not, in our opinion, invest enough in the infrastructure needs in Central Washington in general, but particularly where we find more communities of color,” said Giovanni Severino, a policy organizer for the Latino Community Fund, which serves about 10,000 people annually in Yakima.
Allocating more money for public transportation would increase mobility access for local residents, Severino said.
The leading plan from the House, sponsored by Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, would spend about $6.2 billion on transit, van pools, Amtrak, freight rail, ferry electrification and grants to build bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure. That’s roughly 20% of his overall package and more than double what State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, would spend on those same types of programs in his Forward Washington plan.
Fey said he “would love” to devote more spending to transit but the sources of revenue are constraining. “It should be more and we’ll see if we can find a way to do that in this process,” but “it’s a substantial increase from where things have been done in the past.”
Washington’s gas tax funds most of the state’s transportation projects, but the state constitution requires that revenue to be used for road projects, not transit.
Hobbs, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, defended his proposal by saying the vast majority of the money would go toward repairing existing roads and highways — not building new ones.
“I could see myself going a little higher” on spending for transit, bike and pedestrian projects, Hobbs said, “but not too much because then you’d have to raise more taxes and people have tolerance levels for how much taxes they can do.”
Municipalities across the state, particularly those in more sparsely populated areas, say they have a laundry list of transit-oriented project ideas but are limited by available funding.
Yakima’s city engineer, Bill Preston, said public transportation needs and walking and biking projects are always important, but “sometimes the wants may outweigh what can actually be done.”
“It is difficult for local agencies to provide that funding themselves, so if the state could provide that, it would be much needed revenue the local agencies do not have,” he said.
While Washington provides regional grants to aid local transit efforts, communities must match 20% of the amount given. “We need help,” Preston said.
Sammamish Mayor Karen Moran also said she’d like to see more frequent transit service in her city to help travelers get to job centers and recreational sites around the Puget Sound region.
“You can’t just have two runs during the day. You’re going to have to have a more frequent bus schedule to get people to ride the bus,” she said.
State money could help fund bus shelters and curb lane cutouts that could make buses faster and a more attractive option, especially during the rainy season, Sammamish Councilmember Tom Odell said. He’d like to see sidewalks and crosswalks near every bus stop.
“I’ve had to run for my life a couple of times, trying to get across the street during heavy traffic,” he said.
Bill Franz, the public works director for the city of Lynnwood, said he would like to get state funding to design wider sidewalks and add street trees in the downtown area, to make it “more walking friendly and pleasant for all users.”
The area near 196th Street Southwest and 44th Street West, adjacent to Interstate 5, could especially benefit from new streets to break up the large blocks, he said.
“They’re very expensive because we have to buy the right of way,” he said.
But Franz predicts the timeline for those projects is at least 15 years out. As it is, Lynnwood is still seeking money for an overpass across Poplar Way — a project need identified in the early 2000s, he said.
“It is really a big puzzle to try to figure out how to bring the whole system along as best as possible with dollars that never go far enough,” he said. “After doing this for 20 years, through every grant process, there’s always a list of projects that are good projects that just don’t get funded because there’s never enough money to go around.”