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Transportation Update

Transportation continues to be a serious issue for Washington, and judging by the number of news articles on the subject it will be a topic of conversation for weeks to come. AAA remains concerned about the safety of highway users and the growing congestion in our major metropolitan areas, which frustrates motorists and contributes to unsafe conditions.

Several actions during the past few months may shape the state’s transportation future for many years. In May, the legislature approved a comprehensive transportation plan focused on replacing crumbling infrastructure and fixing unsafe highways. It also addresses the public’s concern about lack of accountability.

Perhaps one of the most significant of the reforms was the repositioning of the secretary of transportation to a cabinet-level post reporting directly to the governor rather than to the citizen Transportation Commission. This change was originally recommended by the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation in 2000. Another major accountability measure provides the state’s elected auditor new and wide-ranging powers to conduct performance audits of the state transportation department. These powers include periodic progress reports to the governor, legislature, and general public. 

Transportation policy experts note that the accountability actions of the 2005 legislature—combined with the citizen’s guide to state transportation policies and programs, the “Gray Notebook,” developed by Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald—represent some of the most far-reaching accountability initiatives adopted by any state in the country.

Grabbing most of the headlines, though, is the $8.5 billion, 16-year transportation project package that focuses on safety improvements, freight mobility, and congestion-choke-point relief. More than 150 bridges would receive earthquake retrofitting and a down payment would be made on several large road-safety projects, according to the WSDOT website. Cities and counties also stand to receive additional funding. (For more on the projects scheduled for funding by the 2005 package, go to www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/funding/2005/default.htm.)

Funding for the new projects would come from a variety of sources, including a 9.5-cent-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax. The gas tax must be used for highway purposes according to the 18th Amendment of the state constitution. In July, Initiative 912, which would repeal this gas tax increase, was certified for the November ballot. The gas tax is the only portion of the 2005 funding package that Initiative 912 will impact. (Weight fees and other special charges that were also increased in 2005 and that may be used for non-highway-related projects are not part of the measure.) Voters are encouraged to fully inform themselves on the transportation plan as the campaign continues.

Information for this article was provided by Bruce Agnew, Cascadia Center of the Discovery Institute.

Bruce Agnew

Director, Cascadia Center
Since 1993, Bruce Agnew has been the Policy Director of Seattle-based Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center. The Cascadia Center is a strategic alliance from Vancouver, BC, to Eugene, Oregon, promoting high speed passenger rail, Interstate-5 freight mobility, seamless border crossings, bi-national and bi-state tourism marketing, and sustainable community development. From 1987-93, Mr. Agnew was Chief of Staff for U.S. Representative John Miller from Washington state's first district. Before his congressional service, Bruce Agnew was elected to two terms on the Snohomish County Council, and served as President of the Puget Sound Regional Council in 1985. He is a former member of the Citizen Oversight Panel for Sound Transit, and is a member of the Regional Freight Mobility Roundtable. Mr. Agnew is a 1974 graduate of Stanford University, and a 1977 graduate of U.C. Berkeley, Law School.