Collaboration in Civic Spheres

WSDOT: Transportation funding needs to be fixed

by Matt Rosenberg August 25th, 2011

OVERVIEW: Last year the Puget Sound Regional Council issued a landmark report titled Transportation 2040 which found that baseline surface transportation needs in the four counties in and around Seattle would require $64 billion more in toll, tax and fee funding by 2040 than the $125 billion in transportation monies already anticipated in that timeframe. Major drivers are a 36 percent increase in population in the four counties by 2040 and a 51 percent increase in jobs, according to the report. Statewide population growth in Washington is also expected to be substantial, estimated at 1 percent annually through 2030.
At a two-day meeting earlier this month of the Washington state legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee held at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Wash., as part of a current study process on public-private partnerships, state transportation chief Paula J. Hammond sounded a warning about the limited effect and declining purchasing power of the state gas tax, versus sizable needs over coming decades for surface transportation maintenance, operations and preservation work, plus safety improvements and congestion relief projects. Hammond emphasized the important financial and policy roles she believes the federal and state governments will have to play, and identified additional current funding options as regional tolling, regional and local taxes, truck weight fees, and ferry and transit fare hikes. She concluded, “there is a risk to our transportation system performance by not investing.” However, the prospect of wider regional tolling in Central Puget Sound would be restricted significantly if voters approve Initiative 1125 in November.

KEY LINK: “Connecting Washington: Forces Affecting The State’s Transportation System,” Washington State Department of Transportation Sec. Paula J. Hammond, July 27, 2011


  • Vehicles miles travelled statewide are expected to rise from 56.5 billion in 2010 to 60 billion in 2020, freight to grow five percent annually between 2008 and 2035 and transit ridership in Central Puget Sound 90 percent by 2040.
  • The state’s main transportation funding source, the gas tax is “limited, committed and doesn’t keep up with inflation and growing demand.” The state gas tax of 37.5 cents per gallon in actuality only delivers 8 cents per gallon for new maintenance and operations, preservation, safety improvements and congestion relief projects because 14.5 cents per gallon go for 421 dedicated projects tied to the 2003 and 2005 incremental gas tax hikes, 11 cents per gallon goes to cities and counties for local roads and four cents per gallon is for debt service on past highway and ferry projects.
  • Projected state gas tax revenues from March 2007 to 2023 have turned out to be too high, now by an estimated $4.9 billion, due to a weak economic recovery from the recession and growing use of more fuel-efficient and alternative-powered vehicles. Additionally, the state gas tax’s purchasing power has been eroded. From 2001 to 2011, inflation-adjusted state gas tax revenues actually dropped 49 percent, due to a major increase in the Construction Cost Index.
  • Local, county and regional governments which also fund road and transit project have also been hard hit by the recession. County road funding depends largely on property values and real estate taxes, which have both declined sharply. The sales tax revenues which fund the lion’s share of transit projects dropped 12.7 percent from 2008 to 2009. Yet as revenue for transit shrinks, demand is peaking.
  • Current circumstances and trends unfolding over the last several years pose a big question about how the state and federal governments will respond to surface transportation needs in Washington, what state and federal revenues will be made available, and how. Additional current funding options include regional tolls approved by the state, regional and local taxes, truck weight fees, and ferry and transit fare hikes.
  • Sec. Hammond posits, “there is a risk to our transportation system performance by not investing.”
  • RELATED: “State Considers Tolls For I-5 Express Lanes,” Seattle Times, July 13, 2011.

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