Our Transportation System at Risk
A comprehensive and effective transportation system is critical to our state’s future and economic well being. If freight and goods are caught up in traffic, the consequential costs are borne by all of us. If businesses and citizens of our state cannot rely on our transportation system to get them from point A to B reliably, we all suffer and our economy weakens. While growth occurs around us, our infrastructure is aging and slowly crumbling, with many roads in our state reverting back to gravel at unprecedented rates. It is not widely known that our nation today is investing less than half of what it invested in infrastructure 50 years ago, yet our population and the miles traveled has grown exponentially. As decision makers work to identify ways to sustain our transportation system and address growing needs into the future, we must all work together to identify solutions that will sustain our state and maintain the quality of life we all have come to value and expect, going forward. Without this, our transportation system is truly at risk.
As the Washington Transportation Plan 2030 reveals, various factors have created an immediate need for additional revenue for state, county and city transportation systems, including ferries, transit, rail and aviation facilities. By conservative estimates, at least $175 - $200 billion is needed to meet statewide needs over the next 20 years. Meanwhile revenues collected from the state gas tax (which are dedicated to transportation purposes) are on the decline, all while our state’s debt levels for transportation continue to grow, peaking in 2019 when we will see 42% of our state’s transportation revenues going towards making our debt payments.
To better understand the local transportation needs across the state, the Legislature directed the Commission to prepare a list of Regional Transportation Priority Projects. The Commission worked in cooperation with the Regional & Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organizations and delivered the final report to the Legislature in January 2011. The report contains the top 20 priority projects for each region, including road and bridge projects on city streets, county roads and state highways as well as projects that would improve airports, transit facilities, sidewalks and bike lanes.
The funding needs of our state transportation system is also very important. Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond identified the growing needs and challenges our system faces in a recent presentation made to the Governor’s Connecting Washington Task Force, who is charged with identifying a sustainable 10-year funding plan for transportation. The presentation identifies the major Transportation Needs in Washington State. Less obvious are the many Forces Affecting the State's Transportation System. We often don’t realize how seemingly unrelated factors like population growth, unemployment and the overall economy impacts our ability to fund and improve our transportation system. But indeed, it is all connected.
The Commission travels around the state four times a year, meeting in different cities to hear from local officials and leaders on their city and county transportation needs and challenges. As part of these meetings, we provide a statewide perspective on transportation revenue and needs by sharing Transportation 101 which offers a general overview of how transportation is funded in this state, and what the path forward is if we are to achieve long-term growth and prosperity.
One of the biggest challenges our state faces is identifying a sustainable, long-term funding structure for Washington State Ferries (WSF). The Commission prepared and submitted a Long-Term Ferry Funding Study to the Legislature in 2009. This report identifies the funding challenges faced by WSF as well as providing key findings and recommendations on possible long-term funding sources for the ferry system. To date, these recommendations have not been implemented, but are under consideration as decision makers work to identify solutions aimed at maintaining and improving the nation’s largest ferry system, and a key piece of our state highway system.