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WSDOT: State transportation system “on a glidepath to failure”

At a Sept. 19 meeting of the Joint Transportation Committee, WSDOT Deputy Secretary Keith Metcalf told legislators, “Our state transportation system is on a glidepath to failure, because not enough funding has been set aside to maintain and preserve the system we have for the generations to come. The situation on roads will get worse unless the current funding level changes.”

Metcalf told legislators that WSDOT projects that with the current level of funding, it will spend less than half of what is needed to preserve and properly maintain the system. Annual projected spending levels for all asset management efforts is $550 million per year, while the need is $1.24 billion.

Among the strategies WSDOT is taking to manage the system with limited assets are, starting in the 2021-23 biennium, to no longer invest in chip seal conversions, ramp paving, or pavements with speeds of 40 MPH or lower. Metcalf added that WSDOT will also defer repairs, incur more expensive repairs in the future, use up asset service life and fail to meet public expectations.

Metcalf highlighted some of the major areas of need:

  • 4,000 lane miles of pavement are due for preservation, another 3,600 are past due
  • 15 bridges need replacement, 19 need major rehabilitation
  • 60 steel bridges are due for painting, 39 are past due
  • 56 concrete bridge decks are past due for repair, and 30 more are due
  • 17 of the 22 ferry vessels have a preservation backlog – the average vessel is 28 years old
  • More than 20% of the Palouse River and Coulee City (PCC) is in poor condition and only capable of 10 MPH operations
  • 110, or 39%, of WSDOT facilities are more than 50 years old

“The prosperity of our state is at risk,” Metcalf said. “The transportation system we have here in Washington is the backbone of our economy and to daily life. Our continued prosperity is intrinsically tied to our transportation system’s health.”

Click here to see Metcalf’s powerpoint presentation. Click here to watch his entire testimony before the Committee (about 20 minutes).

AGC has encouraged the Legislature to increase transportation revenue to provide additional preservation and maintenance funds as well as to address yet unfunded needs, such as a new Columbia River Crossing and Highway 2 trestle. Senate Transportation Committee Chair Steve Hobbs introduced a $16 billion package in the 2019 legislative session. It failed to make it through the Legislature but recently, House Transportation Committee Chair Jake Fey has stated that he is working on a funding package to be introduced in the 2020 session.

AGC is opposing Initiative 976, known as the $30 Car Tabs initiative, which will be on the November ballot. If I-976 passes, it will dig an even deeper hole with regard to funding and preserving the state’s transportation system, and it would likely end any political discussion of new funding. Click here to visit the No On I-976 campaign website for more info.

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