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Transportation Deal Wasteful, Misguided, Environmentally Irresponsible

WashPIRG Calls on State Reps to Reject the Deal, Get Priorities Right
For Immediate Release

SEATTLE – WashPIRG is calling on state representatives to reject the transportation deal, as wasteful and full of misplaced priorities.  WashPIRG has opposed previous iterations of the transportation package because they would increase taxes to pay overwhelmingly for highway expansions that are largely unjustified, and would worsen pollution and climate change emissions – all while shortchanging funding for the repair and maintenance of our existing roads and bridges.  

The deal crafted by state leaders will worsen the state of repair of Washington’s transportation system – reducing the ratio of funding to bridge repair and maintenance and doubling down on funding for questionable projects such as the Puget Sound Gateway.  This deal as well includes a “poison pill” that will prevent a low carbon fuel standard, one of the strategies that could reduce climate pollution and mitigate the climate impacts of increased driving, a likely result of excessive highway expansion spending.  The package also is likely to undermine future funding for transit, bike or pedestrian infrastructure by wasting a gas tax hike on spending for more highways expansions and putting the state deep in debt.

“Deal-making in Olympia has made a bad deal worse, and should make it a whole lot easier for legislators to reject,” said Bruce Speight, WashPIRG Executive Director.  “Frankly, it’s hard to understand how any legislator, Democrat or Republican, could support a package that undermines efforts to curb climate emissions in the transportation sector, wastes taxpayer money by investing in unneeded highway expansions, increases debt service for questionable projects, and neglects other critical infrastructure needs like bridge repair and transit investment. Legislators should just say no!”

The transportation deal is bad for Washington in the following ways:

• Neglects repair and maintenance of roads and bridges: According to new Federal Highway Administration data released in January, 382 bridges in Washington were structurally deficient at the end of 2014, an increase of 10 over the 2013 statewide total, and an increase of 16 over the 2012 count.  City and county roads across the state also need repair, but cash-strapped local governments simply don’t have the money to keep them in good shape.  Despite these and other pressing maintenance needs, this transportation deal approved a meager $1.3 billion over the next 16 years for repair and preservation. The deal approves nearly seven times as much funding for new highway construction.  

• Could increase environmental harm: The deal increases investment in highway construction and lane capacity, which could worsen climate change emissions from the transportation sector, which is already the state’s largest source of GHG emissions.  In addition, more highways could contribute to increased storm-water runoff and water pollution.

• Undermines climate action: The Governor has agreed to a “poison pill” that prevents a low carbon fuel standard, one of the strategies that could reduce climate pollution.  This deal would spend billions on new highway expansions which increase how much we drive and make global warming worse, while also taking away one of the best tools to reduce the climate impacts of increased driving.

• Biggest piece is a waste: The deal includes questionable highway expansion projects.  For example, the Puget Sound Gateway funded with a whopping $1.9 billion, receives more funding than the entire highway preservation budget.  This project is based on plans conceived 65 years ago, without any real updates to reflect current needs.  While proponents tout that it is important for trade, most trade in Washington will not benefit from the project: airplanes and soybean meal, which account for more than half of all exports, aren’t shipped through either of these ports.  Hundreds of petitions and dozens of opposition letters signed by members of the community, local elected officials, small business owners, and students were delivered to state legislators urging them to cut wasteful highway spending on projects like the Puget Sound Gateway.

• A bad deal for taxpayers: The deal will further strain the debt situation for the future, so it’s particularly troubling that it is proposing questionable investments.  Washington state treasurer James McIntire warned the legislature about the risks of increased bonding, saying that aggressive issuance of highway construction bonds backed by fuel taxes “will limit funds for maintenance and operation costs and can affect the state’s ability to share [fuel tax] revenue with local governments. Ultimately, staying on this path can stress the general fund and negatively affect Washington’s strong credit rating – which could in turn significantly increase borrowing costs for the state across the board.” 

“Washington needs a forward-thinking transportation investment package that wisely and responsibly builds the system we need for the 21st century.  Unfortunately, this deal fails on all counts.  State representatives should reject this deal and craft a package that will meet our needs and enable the state to grow and prosper in the 21st century,” concluded Speight.

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WashPIRG is a statewide non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization that stands up to powerful special interests.   www.washpirg.org.  

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