County’s proposed road plan calls for limited service on local streets
September 13, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 8 a.m. Sept. 13, 2011
Some streets in rural and unincorporated areas near Issaquah could receive reduced maintenance and a lower priority for snow removal under a proposal King County leaders unveiled Monday — a plan County Executive Dow Constantine called “triage” for a cash-strapped and deteriorating roads system.
Constantine proposed a plan to prioritize road maintenance, snow removal and storm response on a tiered system.
Important arteries — such as Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast, Preston-Fall City Road Southeast, Southeast Issaquah-Fall City Road and sections of Southeast May Valley Road east of state Route 900 — remain top priorities for maintenance, snow removal and storm cleanup under the proposal.
Streets on a lower tier — including Tiger Mountain Road Southeast, Southeast Klahanie Boulevard and sections of Southeast May Valley Road west of state Route 900 — could receive little or no snow or storm response, especially during major storms. Motorists can expect to see more wear and tear, plus possible lower speed limits, load limits and partial closures.
The plan calls for the county Road Services Division to pull back almost entirely from maintenance, and snow and storm response, on local residential roads in rural and residential areas.
“With fewer revenues, we must manage the most pressing problems that affect the most people with the resources we have,” Constantine said in a statement. “It is, in essence, triage.”
The road proposal is part of the 2012 county budget Constantine is scheduled to roll out Sept. 26.
Under the proposal, the most-used arterials receive the highest level of maintenance, snow and ice removal, and storm response. The lowest-priority roads, meanwhile, someday could be downgraded to gravel.
If the County Council approves the plan as part of the 2012 budget process, the arrangement could take effect in January.
Officials said the system uses objective criteria for ranking the almost 1,600 miles of county roadway into service levels. The criteria include volume of use by motorists, safety requirements, detour length, and whether the road is considered sole-access, a lifeline route or critical for buses.
Local property tax revenue, plus a separate roads levy, support the County Road Fund. The county collects $2.25 per $1,000 in assessed value through the levy.
In recent years, annexations of unincorporated areas into nearby cities, lower property valuations and a dip in gas tax revenue caused the Road Fund to drop 18 percent, from $128 million to $106 million.
Officials said the Road Services Division has eliminated 81 positions so far in 2011 to address the reduced revenue. Constantine’s 2012 budget proposal is expected to call for eliminating another 30 positions from the agency.
“These are financially difficult times throughout the county, and the Road Fund is struggling to keep up with our citizens’ road needs,” County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, Issaquah’s representative on the council, said in a statement. “Revenues for our roads system will continue to greatly decrease as over half of the unincorporated population will ultimately be annexed into cities’ jurisdictions.”
(Lambert joined Constantine at a Road Services Division facility to announce the proposal.)
The annexation of urban unincorporated areas into cities reduces the property tax base for county roads in the unincorporated areas, even as the annexations less the burden on other county services, such as law enforcement and permitting.
“Unfortunately, despite these annexations, the roadway infrastructure the county will have to continue to maintain will remain largely the same,” Lambert continued. “We must prioritize how we spend our revenues in the unincorporated areas so that we can keep our roads as safe and productive as possible.”