Tax vote not just about buses
King County’s outlying roads, which are cracking under the stress of traffic growth, would get partial relief from the Proposition 1 tax increase, which directs most of its road funding to cities.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
By now, you’ve likely heard King County officials say bus service would be slashed unless voters approve Proposition 1, a combined sales- tax and car-tab fee increase on this month’s ballot.
What’s not as well-known is that the package includes a large sum of money to sustain roads.
About 40 percent of the revenues, or $51 million next year, is earmarked for city and county street departments, based on population. That money could be spent a variety of ways — from sealing damaged blacktop, to redecking old streets, to building sidewalks, to squeezing in bus lanes.
That’s meant to lend balance, so drivers who don’t necessarily care about Metro, or live away from bus lines, feel they’re getting something for their “yes” vote, besides just higher taxes and fees.
The Seattle City Council has resolved to use its $16.5 million yearly share for neighborhood street repair and projects to help buses travel on schedule.
Kirkland has begun brainstorming with a menu of ideas that outpace its $2.1 million yearly share. Topping the list are sidewalks along school routes, as well as bike lanes, greenways and electronic traffic-information signs. Bellevue hasn’t yet chosen its strategy.
For unincorporated King County — where suburban roads are wearing out and rural roads are being allowed to revert to gravel — the expected $6.4 million is a bandage.
At best, a yes vote would restore most of the maintenance that’s been lost since the 2008 recession, when property-tax income plunged. And that was after the Growth Management Act of the 1990s that saw cities gain land, wealth and population while the county road budget became poor.
There would be more potholes patched with Proposition 1 money, more ditching to reduce landslides and more snow removal, said Brenda Bauer, roads director for the King County Department of Transportation.
But the county, which claims a $130 million need to rebuild its network into first-class condition, won’t be adding new projects.
Instead, the goal is “safety, safety, safety,” emphasized Bauer.
County roads that once carried coal and timber now link thriving suburbs. Meanwhile, their asphalt surfaces following the postwar boom years are exceeding a 40- to 50-year life cycle. The busiest 13 county roads serve 1 million users a day.
Petrovitsky Road links Kent to Renton; May Valley Road links Renton to Issaquah; Duthie Hill Road links Issaquah to Sammamish. The list keeps going.
“If you want to leave your city, you have to take either a state highway or a county road,” Bauer said.
Half the county-road users live inside cities, so none of their property-tax dollars go to county roads.
The county spent $25 million to maintain its 1,500 miles of roadway in 2013, said county spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok. The department cut at least 70 employees after the recession.
Too little, critics say
Local governments devised Proposition 1 as a combined bus-roads package after lawmakers didn’t deliver a statewide gas-tax increase they had hoped for.
Opponents say the share for roads — especially county roads — is too small.
“The only reason it’s part of this ballot measure is to get votes for Metro. I can’t prove it; it’s my opinion,” said Dick Paylor, past chair of the pro-roads Eastside Transportation Association.
And Bob Pishue, transportation analyst for the Washington Policy Center, criticizes some cities’ ideas to use Proposition 1 road money to help buses and bicycles.
“Money dedicated to maintaining roads could actually be used to take away roads from the traveling public,” he writes.
However, Redmond Mayor John Marchione, who chairs the 38-member Sound Cities Association, said he expects about 80 percent of road dollars will go to pavement and bridge repairs.
Redmond’s own priorities will be road overlays, striping projects that include crosswalks, and sidewalk construction, he said.
“Prop. 1 isn’t a full solution for anything,” said April Putney, campaign spokeswoman for Move King County Now. She calls it a start, on the road to stable long-term funding sources for county transit and roads.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @mikelindblom