Transportation developments: full of sound and fury…

Lots of developments on the transportation front, including a terrifying NY Times article about gas tax shortfalls nationally and (here’s the terrifying part) Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s proposal to replace the gas tax with a general sales tax.

Here in Washington State, the short version (read on for the long version) is that there are lots of transportation proposals floating around Olympia but everybody seems to think that nothing will happen this year and that instead there will be a transportation package on the ballot in Nov 2014. Our job is to push for a carbon-tax-based transportation package that will reduce carbon emissions and unite business, labor, greens, and social justice advocates.

The convention wisdom about the current state of play in Olympia is captured in this City Club video from Jan 11 featuring House and Senate leaders Frank Chopp, Ed Murray, J.T. Wilcox, and Rodney Tom. The transportation discussion starts at 00:53:50, and at 01:00:00 there are answers to a carbon tax question from Chuck Lare (who sent me this link and is a member of the KC Metro Bus Drivers union, ATU 587). Here are some key quotes from these segments:

Ed Murray: I don’t think this year is the year for a transportation package. But I think this is the year to begin that discussion, to look at what that package would look like.

Rodney Tom: I think the key to a transportation package is making sure we’re very specific, and so I think this year is the year to put it together. I think it’s important that the new governor go out and sell it. But that’s how we passed it before. If you just say “We’re going to have a lot of money and we’re going to spend it wisely…” [that won't work.] People want to know what projects in their districts [are going to be funded.] And that’s how we’re going to pass it. I think we put it together this year, we put it together with specific projects in mind. I think that that’s going to take up at least a year to get everybody on board and get that project sold. I think it is a key element for the governor to take leadership on that.

Rodney Tom: No matter what we do next year — whether we pass it in the legislature, [in which case] it’s going to get a referendum, or if it goes out to the people — there will be a vote on a transportation package next November of 2014.

Ed Murray (on carbon taxes): We need to show business that a carbon tax could actually benefit them.

For anybody looking for more info on the various transportation proposals out there, here’s a partial (maybe even complete?) list. Dollar figures are totals covering the next 10 years.

  1. A February 14 open letter from state leaders (including Washington Conservation Voters executive director Brendon Cechovic) calls for a “comprehensive statewide transportation transportation investment and funding package that makes a significant down payment on the $50 billion need identified by the Connecting Washington Task Force.” (More on Connecting Washington in #3 below.)
  2. Democrats in the state House are going to unveil a $6 billion transportation proposal on Wednesday Feb 20. According to the Seattle Times, “[House Transportation Committee chair Judy] Clibborn said she expects to have backing from both business and labor for the proposal, which would include money for a wide variety of projects including a new bridge over the Columbia River, as well as funds for projects on Interstate 405 and the Interstate 90 mountain passes… She said the $6 billion figure was a starting point. “The one thing I’ve heard from everybody is they want more,” she said Tuesday.”"
  3. The Jan 2012 Connecting Washington task force identified $8 billion in unfunded maintenance needs ($3.1 billion at the state level, $4.9 billion for city and county roads and bridges) and $2 billion to restore transit service to 2008 levels, for a total shortfall of $10 billion, plus many tens of billions more for new capacity and other projects.
  4. Outgoing Gov Gregoire’s Dec 2012 “Building a Better Future” document provides a good summary of the existing situation, including unfunded needs for I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass ($390 million), North Spokane Corridor ($1.3 billion), Columbia River Crossing ($450 million or more), 520 bridge ($1.4 billion), SR 167 ($1.5 billion), SR 509 ($1.3 billion), I-405 ($1.8 billion), and I-5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord ($820 million). Gregoire also proposed an apparently short-lived idea to impose an excise tax on motor fuels in order to raise $450 million per year to fund yellow school bus transportation programs.
  5. Jay Inslee’s transportation plan doesn’t include a funding proposal but does include support for maintenance and for the Columbia River Crossing, SR 520, I-90, SR 509, SR 167, North Spokane Corridor, I-405, and “air access to underserved regions”.
  6. The Washington Roundtable wants $3.1 billion for maintenance of state infrastructure and $3.4 billion for new capacity, paid for with a 9 cent gas tax and a 0.6% motor vehicle excise tax [MVET]. (Note that their plan includes all of the $3.1 billion in unfunded state-level maintenance identified in the Connecting Washington report but none of the $4.9 billion in unfunded city- and county-level maintenance identified in that report.)
  7. The AWB legislative agenda doesn’t include a funding proposal but does note that “current state transportation funding sources are proving inadequate to meet current needs, address project backlogs, and build new capacity”, including “critically important major projects such as I-405, SR 520, SR 167 and SR 509, I-5 at the Columbia River Crossing, the North Spokane Corridor and I-90 over the Cascade summit.” AWB supports “development and adoption of a comprehensive transportation package by the 2013 legislature”. Elsewhere in their agenda they indicate support for the “supermajority voe for tax increases” and opposition to “state carbon pricing policies, including carbon tax schemes”, but this KUOW story on January 7 notes that “Somewhat surprisingly, [AWB president Don] Brunell doesn’t dismiss the possibility of taxing carbon as a means to pay for transportation infrastructure: “I think you have to look at the whole spectrum and if carbon tax is part of that spectrum you have to look at it,” he says.”
  8. The Transportation for Washington proposal, from a coalition led by Futurewise and Transportation Choices, calls for adding $3 billion in maintenance funding and $6 billion in funding for transit and other alternatives. A carbon tax is included on a list of possible funding sources.
  9. Seattle mayor Mike McGinn, King County executive Dow Constantine, and the Sound Cities Association endorsed a Dec 2012 proposal under which the state would pass an 8-cent gas tax (with 65% of the proceeds going to the state and the rest to cities and counties) and would also provide localities with additional funding options such as the the ability to seek a motor vehicle excise tax of up to 1.5%. More details from this Seattle Times article.
  10. The $7.6 billion December 2012 Washington State Transportation Commission proposal includes a 10-cent gas tax to fund maintenance, with the estimated $2.6 billion in revenue split between the state ($1.5 billion) and cities and counties ($1.1 billion), plus a motor vehicle excise tax of 1.5%, with the estimated $5 billion in revenue dedicated to capital projects and transit. (Localities would have the option of adding an addition 0.5% MVET.) The proposal notes that these revenues fall short of a “short list” of uncompleted projects that totals $9.5 billion and includes $400 million to finish projects from the 2001 and 2003 legislative proposals (Nickel and TPA packages), $1.4 billion for SR 520, $1.3 billion for North Spokane Corridor (US 395), $386 million for I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass, $360 million for Hwy 12, $450 million for the Columbia River Crossing, $1.2 billion for SR 509, $1.5 billion for SR 167, and $2.6 billion for I-405. The report notes that an “average driver” logs 12,000 miles a year and averages 20 miles a gallon, i.e., uses 600 gallons of gasoline a year. It also notes (based on historic data) that 57% of vehicle miles traveled are on the state system and 43% are on city and county roads, with the city/county split being 62% / 38%, and that ferries historically get 20% of WashDOT funds (with 80% going to highways).

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