Bill would further prioritize transportation infrastructure preservation

Bill would further prioritize transportation infrastructure preservation

Washington state currently has an estimated 10-year gap in transportation infrastructure maintenance and repair, in addition to a $1 billion gap in annual spending. In an effort to change that, Rep. Bob McCaslin (R-4) has introduced HB 1137, which would add resiliency to the state’s transportation system policy goals.

During the 2020 legislative session McCaslin introduced a similar bill, HB 2285. It received a public hearing in the House Transportation Committee but failed to clear the chamber. That same year a WSDOT-backed bill would have removed congestion relief and mobility from among WSDOT’s goals, but it also failed to clear the Transportation Committee.

In recent years, the state of Washington’s roads has become a point of concern for Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) officials. In 2019, WSDOT Deputy Secretary Keith Metcalf warned that the state was on a “glidepath to failure” due to a then-estimated $700 million funding gap for maintenance and preservation of existing roads and bridges. 

Additionally, WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar has noted there is also the hidden cost regarding both congestion and poor road conditions. During his Jan. 14 State of Transportation address to the Senate Transportation Committee, he said that in total, congestion and poor road conditions cost Washington residents and businesses $25 billion annually, adding it’s the equivalent of a $7.88 per gallon gas tax.

“(There’s) a lot of room there for us to invest more and get a return of investment that results in a net savings,” he said.

House Democrats have introduced a 16-year, $25.8 billion transportation package that would increase the gas tax by $.18 per gallon, with some of the funds going toward preservation and maintenance. The state gas tax is currently $.49 per gallon.

Testifying during HB 1137’s Jan. 25 public hearing in the House Transportation Committee, McCaslin said that making preservation and repair a higher priority “benefits the whole state. It utilizes what we already have, so we won’t have to build anything new.”

There are currently six statewide transportation policy goals:

  • Economic vitality
  • Preservation
  • Safety
  • Mobility
  • Environment
  • Stewardship

The bill adds “resilience” to the definition and description of stewardship, though “resilience” itself isn’t defined in the bill. The bill also reorders the goals and ranks preservation at the top.

Aside from costs, another concern among state officials is public safety on state roads. Although traffic volumes dropped significantly in 2020 due to the state-imposed lockdowns, WSDOT’s State of Transportation report found that crash rates have increased.

“This is going to result in increased safety for our roads,” McCaslin said. “It’s going to save lives, actually.”

A total of 17 people offered written testimony on the bill, with 11 in favor and six opposed. No further action is scheduled for HB 1137.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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