Maintenance has been shortchanged so long that urban highways in Washington state are becoming worse than in other states, a new analysis says.
Some 34 percent are in poor condition, as are 22 percent of the state’s rural highways, said Rocky Moretti, researcher for the industry-supported group TRIP in Washington, D.C., whose report was released Tuesday at tripnet.org. Moretti gave a news briefing in Seattle alongside leaders from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, and pro-business Washington Roundtable.
An estimated 21 percent of state bridges are functionally obsolete, and 5 percent are structurally deficient, the report says, while the Washington State Department of Transportation estimates that 110 state-maintained bridges will remain in poor condition for at least five years, the report says.
“Seattle and the Puget Sound is well known for its levels of traffic congestion,” he said, but lately the second problem of crumbling bridges and roads has become acute. “You have to preserve the existing system, but unlike a state where there’s very little growth occurring, you can’t turn your back on modernizing and expanding the system to accommodate economic growth,” Moretti said.
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Though TRIP doesn’t cast blame, much of the problem flows from past decisions by state government, which is currently spending only one-seventh of state DOT funds on maintenance and preservation — while running up massive debts to deliver big-ticket projects including the Highway 99 tunnel and Highway 520 bridge. Even with some 29 maintenance and safety projects planned this summer in northwest Washington, only about half the backlog of 115 lane miles will be repaved.
Tuesday’s briefing comes in support of a $15 billion transportation plan, funded by an 11.7-cent gas tax increase, now being debated in the state Legislature. Steve Mullin, president of Washington Roundtable, said his group supports the plan, even though its $1.3 billion boost for maintenance is less than the business group would like. TRIP estimates the pavement preservation backlog at $1.8 billion by 2025, based on existing cash flows.
Tom Pierson, CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, asserted that a three-mile extension of Highway 167 from Auburn to the Port of Tacoma would fuel 80,000 new jobs, and prevent shippers from bolting to less-congested regions. At $1.6 billion, the “Puget Sound Gateway” project combining Highways 167 and 509 is the largest single piece of the package. Another item, raising $425 million to widen and rebuild another 10 miles of I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass, also serves a huge need for the state’s trade economy, said Mullin.
The report relies on WSDOT data in the public domain, much of it well known to citizens. Similar multibillion-dollar plans have faltered in Olympia or with voters since 2006.