Soon after opponents of Initiative 976 to cut car-tab taxes sought relief in a Seattle courtroom Tuesday, state transportation officials offered a first glimpse of projects that would be delayed because of the measure.
Dozens of road expansions, transit projects and vehicle purchases for agencies like King County Metro will be put on hold for at least six months, according to a list released by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) on Tuesday.
Washington travelers won’t see stopped machinery or half-done construction efforts because the list only includes projects that aren’t yet underway. However, the list could offer an indication of areas lawmakers will look to make cuts as they grapple with the initiative in January.
Decisions about long-term delays or cancellations will be up to Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Legislature.
The initiative, passed by voters statewide this month, aims to reduce many vehicle-registration fees to $30, roll back Sound Transit car-tab taxes and get rid of local car-tab fees, such as an $80 fee used in Seattle for road maintenance and bus service.
The measure, sponsored by longtime anti-tax activist Tim Eyman, faces a legal challenge from Seattle, King County and others.
Much of the initiative was set to take effect Dec. 5, but a King County Superior Court judge temporarily blocked the measure Wednesday until the court can rule on the constitutionality of the measure. Still, WSDOT says it will pause the projects under direction from Inslee.
Over the next two years, the initiative is expected to cut $451 million in state transportation funds used by WSDOT, or about 7% of the agency’s two-year budget. Soon after Election Day, Inslee asked WSDOT to postpone projects not yet underway. Tuesday was WSDOT’s first indication of specific projects that will be paused.
The agency wanted to “create room for the Legislature and governor to talk about how they want to implement the initiative without continuing to obligate funds,” said WSDOT spokeswoman Kris Rietmann Abrudan.
The list includes some transit projects as well as highway projects meant to add road capacity. The state will not pause projects focused on preserving existing roads, safety, fish passage or certain projects “designed to serve or keep vulnerable populations safe,” including grants to provide safe routes to school.
Included on the list are several Seattle-area projects like an additional lane on northbound Interstate 5 between Seneca Street and Olive Way; King County Metro improvements on the Route 40 to Northgate; and replacement or purchase of 188 new Metro Vanpool vans.
Also targeted for delay are improvements to the HOV-ramp connection at the Highway 520 and Interstate 5 interchange.
State lawmakers will return to Olympia in January to consider changes to the transportation budget. In meetings last week, chairs of the Legislature’s two transportation committees said they are planning to cut budgets regardless of the lawsuit against the initiative.
“We cannot assume that the initiative will be overturned,” said House Transportation Chair Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma. “We have to make the hard decisions that need to be made.”