Madam Chair and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to comment today. My name is Bruce Speight, and I am the Executive Director of WashPIRG, the Washington Public Interest Research Group. WashPIRG is a statewide non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization. We represent thousands of members across the state.
I am here to oppose this bill (SB 5987). The spending priorities in this bill are backwards.
Our roads and bridges are crumbling. According to new Federal Highway Administration data, there were 382 structurally deficient bridges in Washington at the end of 2014, an increase of 10 over the 2013 statewide total, and an increase of 16 over the 2012 count. When bridges are left in structurally deficient condition, they are more prone to safety issues that can endanger residents. They also become increasingly more expensive to fix the longer they are allowed to remain structurally deficient.
Washington residents are driving less. The average driver drove nearly 1,000 fewer miles in 2013 than in 2002. Total driving on state roads has been roughly flat for more than a decade, and per capita driving on all roads has fallen more than 9 percent – the equivalent of every driver taking a one-month break from their car each year.
These changes are no surprise as they are consistent with a national trend and changing demographic trends. Millennials, now the largest generation in numbers, are traveling in different ways than their parents did, while increasing how much they bike, walk, and take transit. At the same time, Baby Boomers, the second largest generation, are retiring and entering a phase of their lives in which they will likely drive less.
In fact, Washington’s official driving forecast has been revised from last September, and now reflects the state’s new opinion that driving totals in the future will reflect modest growth, similar to the observed patterns of the past decade, and will then be followed by a slight decline. In other words, WSDOT’s own driving forecasts reflect the growing empirical evidence of a long-term slowdown in the growth of vehicle travel, our state budget priorities should too. Slowly but steadily, these driving declines are reducing our appetite for car travel—and that shift should be reflected in our spending priorities as well.
Yet, despite these trends, our state’s own revised forecasts, and crumbling infrastructure, this bill significantly increases spending on highway construction and increased lane capacity, while giving short shrift to repair and maintenance and other modes, including transit and biking.
To make matters worse, a significant increase in highway capacity could worsen climate change emissions from the transportation sector, which is already the largest source of emissions, accounting for half of our state’s emissions. And because traffic hasn’t grown as projected, gasoline and tolling revenues are down, increasing debt service and spiraling nearly out of control. And because so much of the state’s gas revenue is going to pay off old debts, state and local governments simply don’t have the money to keep existing streets and roads in good repair—let alone complete projects, such as the SR-520 bridge, that we’ve already started. And there’s even less money left for the transportation priorities where demand is actually growing, such as walking, transit, and biking.
WashPIRG urges you to fix it first, get our fiscal house in order by reducing debt service, and adopt a transportation budget that reflects the way we get around now, by rejecting unneeded highway expansions and increasing funding for repair, maintenance and multi-modalism.
Emphasizing highway expansion while the number of structurally deficient bridges is on the rise is like building an addition on your home when the roof is leaking. Prioritizing highway expansion and neglecting investments in transit and bike improvements is like a business investing in typewriters in the 21st century for its staff – not only will it waste money and not solve their problems, they’ll fall behind competitors quickly. Washington needs fix-it-first priorities and 21st century investments.
If we are going to ask taxpayers to spend more money on our transportation system, we should do it responsibly. This bill does the opposite – doing a disservice to taxpayers, Washington’s economy and our transportation system.
Thank you for opportunity to testify today.