November 2, 2010
County cannot wait for rural roads fix
Many of the roads and bridges in unincorporated King County are old and getting older. The money is not there to maintain them. Innovative, new funding models are needed. And elected leaders need the political courage to enact them, even if they are unpopular.
The county’s infrastructure needs are serious and looming, and money is short. But 30 percent to 40 percent of roads could fail in the next decade. Less than 60 percent of the system’s maintenance needs can be met in the next few years with current funding.
The situation should not be a surprise, and yet the county’s recently released Strategic Plan for Road Services reads like it is.
Where was the foresight? Transportation revenue is falling for several reasons, some of which should have been expected. The gas tax supports road work. Gas mileage has risen for decades. It is not hard to predict that gas tax revenue would likewise decrease.
The current funding model is unsustainable. In 2011, the King County Department of Transportation would need $240 million to restore and maintain the current system. It needs between $120 million and $130 million to slow the current rate of decline. It will collect about $102 million.
New funding models are required. Do they exist? Yes. But many are politically unpopular. Too bad, politicians, it’s your job!
Residents of unincorporated King County have to pay for the roads they depend on. But King County has begun dipping into its roads fund to use $4 million to pay for traffic enforcement. While enforcement is important, so is preventing road and bridge failures.
Given the dire circumstances, the county must consider saving money by relaxing county environmental regulations until the economy improves.
One option is for King County to potentially save money by putting maintenance work out to bid to take advantage of the weak construction market, letting the county’s own transportation department enter the bid process.
The gas tax must be scrapped and replaced with a more equitable vehicle-miles-traveled tax to more accurately reflect usage of the system.
Citizens must pay attention and give politicians the necessary support to enact changes before our roads and bridges crumble.