The Seattle City Council voted Monday to seek more information this fall before choosing how to spend a new $20 annual car-tab fee — and a possible $100 million bond sale for transportation projects.

The fee was initially proposed late last year to solve a backlog in bridge maintenance, and an April draft plan called for three-fourths of the money to be spent there. Monday’s ordinance instructs the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to produce a $75 million list of bridge needs, such as new drawspan lift motors.

But in discussions this month, council members talked about honoring ideas from SDOT and the public to favor sidewalks, bike lanes and traffic calming. A council-created community outreach process this spring called for reducing the emphasis on bridges and instead spend three-quarters of the $7.2 million annual car-tab revenue on safer-street projects.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Madrona Venture Group and PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Monday’s 8-0 vote, which includes an amendment by Councilmember Dan Strauss, removed a clause saying the council planned to devote 75% of the money to bridges. The final version also says SDOT will wait until 2022 to sell bonds backed by the car-tab fees.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said waiting until the fall gives Seattle time to learn how much money the Biden administration’s infrastructure plans and Washington state Legislature might provide. The city also will get fresh data on priorities such as Vision Zero, the city’s goal to eliminate traffic deaths and severe injuries by 2030.


“By bonding … we can push forward a Green New Deal-esque type of proposal here,” Mosqueda said.

The $20 car-tab fee increase begins July 1, adding to another $20 currently collected for general street uses, such as pothole repair.

Doug Trumm, executive director of The Urbanist blog, testified Monday: “The bridge maintenance backlog is a big issue, but the city failing to meet its basic responsibility to keep public streets safe and accessible is also a crisis. Twenty-four people died in crashes on Seattle streets last year, and 10 people already died this year.”

Following the vote, Councilmember Alex Pedersen issued a statement advocating that “tens of millions of dollars” go to bridges.

“Our bridges are not going to fix themselves — we need to stop kicking the can down the road and instead think bigger and bolder to build back better with bonds as we emerge from the COVID pandemic,” Pedersen said.