WA: Funding Shortfall Straining Transportation System

Aug. 11--Washington state's transportation system will fall into a long-term decline under the current funding scheme that relies on motor vehicle fuel tax.

That finding is part of a comprehensive look into the future by the Washington State Transportation Commission.

The commission last week released a draft of its new 20-year transportation plan. It has scheduled a public forum on the plan Sept. 9 at 4 p.m. on the first floor of Spokane's downtown library.

According to the state Department of Transportation, gasoline tax collections are essentially static, bringing in about $1 billion a year. No growth in gas-tax revenue is anticipated, even though the state's economy is rebounding and population continues to increase.

Vehicles are getting better mileage and drivers are finding ways to reduce their trips, leading to the lack of increase in tax collections. This is happening at the same time that much of Washington's road system is getting older and needing repair, the draft plan said.

"Washington's roadways have experienced moderate declines in conditions since the commission's last plan," according to a news release summarizing the plan. The last plan was five years ago.

"Across modes, maintenance and preservation needs remain unmatched by transportation revenues."

In the Spokane region, the DOT announced earlier this year a new protocol for road maintenance that relies more on patching bad pavement and less edge-to-edge repaving.

At the same time, federal gas tax funding for state and local governments is seen as remaining static as well. This is putting more pressure on state and local leaders to come up with money for building and fixing roads.

Spokane voters are being asked this fall to fund ongoing street rehabilitations. The city also implemented in 2010 a $20 annual vehicle license surcharge that is being used for local street projects.

The commission's draft calls for establishing a sustainable funding system.

"Statewide, there is a clear and immediate need for secure, long-term sources of funding for transportation," the agency said. "Continuing the funding status quo will result in declining conditions and performance of Washington's transportation system, due to inadequate maintenance and failure to address growing demand."

Lawmakers over the past two years have failed to reach agreement on new funding.

The commission's draft acknowledges the need to plan for changes in the way people travel, both as they get older and as they turn to public transit or nonmotorized travel.

An economic rebound is causing an increase in freight deliveries, which is putting new strain on the existing transportation system, the commission said.

At the same time, urban areas are seeing increases in people biking, walking and using public transit. Those facilities need to be addressed, the commission said.

The importance of environmental protection and the use of technology also are addressed in the plan, which can be reviewed at wtp2035.com or on the commission website at wstc.wa.gov.

Comments are being accepted at transc@wstc.wa.gov or P.O. Box 47308, Olympia, WA 98504-7308, through Sept. 25.

Highway maintenance

On state highways, repaving work continues on U.S. Highway 2 in the vicinity of Airway Heights during evening and early morning hours starting at 7 p.m.

The same work schedule is being used for a repaving job on U.S. 2 north of Chattaroy Hills.

Work continues this week on I-90 from Barker Road to Stateline, again during off-peak hours starting at 7 p.m.

Pavement sealing is being done on U.S. 2 from Davenport to Creston, causing delays of up to 20 minutes in the work zone.

State Highway 211 from U.S. 2 to state Highway 20 in Pend Oreille County is getting pavement repairs. Delays of up to 20 minutes are possible.

Also, Highway 20 is being repaired from Newport to Usk. Again, delays of 20 minutes are possible.

Chip sealing is scheduled this week on U.S. Highway 195 from Colton to Pullman. Delays of 20 minutes are possible since traffic will be reduced to a single lane through the work area.

Other area projects

--Work on a new bridge on Bruce Road at Peone Creek is about a month ahead of schedule, Spokane County officials said. The roadway should reopen to traffic in October.

--In Spokane, work on Grand Boulevard has moved south where crews are repaving the stretch from 14th to 22nd avenues. High Drive is closed due to reconstruction and utility improvements. Crews are working on Francis Avenue from Division to Crestline streets.

--In Spokane Valley, Appleway Boulevard from Thierman to Park roads is reduced to two lanes for resurfacing, stormwater improvements and sidewalk work. Sprague Avenue from Vista to Herald roads is down to two lanes westbound through September for resurfacing and other work.

Copyright 2014 - The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

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