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SEATTLE – The Washington chapter of the Sierra Club and WashPIRG are calling on state leaders to reject both the senate and house transportation committee-approved transportation revenue proposals. Both proposed packages increase taxes to pay overwhelmingly for highway expansions that in many cases are wasteful and unjustified, and that could worsen environmental pollution and climate change emissions. Meanwhile, they shortchange funding for the repair and maintenance of our existing roads and bridges.
“Washington taxpayers deserve a responsible transportation package: one that focuses on repairing and maintaining our roads and bridges, gets our fiscal house in order, and promotes smart growth with multi-modal investments that will enable the state to grow and prosper in the 21st century’” said Bruce Speight, WashPIRG Executive Director. “Both packages fail on all counts.”
“Anyone who cares about how we spend tax dollars should not settle for either of these transportation packages,” said Tim Gould, Sierra Club’s Transportation and Land Use Committee Chair. “They are a bad deal for taxpayers, and they are a bad deal for Washington’s environment. Neither package adequately maintains our crumbling infrastructure; both are overwhelmingly about highway expansion that will contribute to air and water pollution and climate emissions.”
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, both Senate and House propose at least five times more spending for highway expansion and construction than road repair and maintenance.
Both packages include questionable highway expansion projects. For example, the Puget Sound Gateway, funded with a whopping $1.8 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.
Both packages will further strain state debt in the future, making questionable investments even more troubling. 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.”
The increased investment in highway construction and lane capacity could induce more driving and 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.
“The priorities in these packages are backwards. State leaders need to do better than a package that is bad for taxpayers, our transportation system, our environment, and our fiscal future,” said Speight.
While the House transportation committee did remove some bad provisions included in the Senate package-- a trade-off between clean fuels standards and funding for transit, pedestrian, and bicycle programs; and a highway project that was an $85 million giveaway to the coal industry-- these improvements still do not negate the overriding problems with the House package.
“Despite providing authority for Sound Transit to move forward, state leaders have steered our transportation priorities off track,” concluded Gould. “It’s time for 21st century transportation system, not a 1950’s vision of transportation that wastes taxpayer money, pollutes our environment, and ignores realities of climate change and demographic shifts.”
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Sierra Club is now the nation's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, and is involved in environmental education, conservation, and political issues. www.sierraclub.org/washington.
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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