Dear Friends and Neighbors,
In my last e-mail update I talked about the transportation forums being held around the state by the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus. The forums have concluded and while I was able to attend the one in Wenatchee, I am still interested in hearing your comments and opinion about the proposed transportation tax revenue plan. Please consider taking this short transportation survey and forward to anyone you feel would be interested in taking the survey.
No decisions have been made, so it is still important to me and many other legislators to receive your input. If there is going to be a large gas-tax hike on the table, I want to make sure people have had the opportunity to share their opinions.
No one questions the importance of our transportation infrastructure, but to ensure strong bipartisan support and guarantee all voices are being heard on this issue, we need to make sure a revenue package discussion begins with reforms. It is essential we see some accountability and responsible use of gas tax dollars in our transportation system before taxpayers are asked to pay more.
The reforms need to be first in the transportation debate and not an afterthought. If reforms don't happen first, those of us in Olympia are all too familiar with what will happen – they will get ignored. These are not just feel-good proposed reforms to be used as negotiating tools. They are important to restore the public's trust after many botched transportation construction projects:
- SR 520 pontoon design failure – $84 million and counting (initially $71 million);
- SR 520 tolling delay — $40 million in forgone tolls and $12 million not collected in legal damages for the breach of the contract;
- Columbia River Crossing design — $172 as of March 2013;
- Three years ago, WSDOT built a ramp in the wrong place at the I-5 and SR 16 interchange in Tacoma and had to tear it down — cost to taxpayers $900,000;
- The history of the Chetzemoka Ferry — went into service three months late (November 2010) and $15 million over the estimated cost of construction. One of the smallest ferries in the state's fleet, yet pound for pound it's the most expensive ferry ever built anywhere at $80.1 million. Ferry engineers who work on board the vessels have been vocal about the boat's list, fuel consumption and vibration problems. It has been out of service a number of times for repairs related to these issues.
When citizens of Washington are footing the bill for these errors, I do not think it is too much to ask for some accountability and transparency in our transportation system. In fact, we should not ask for one extra dime until we are sure these items are fixed and we have addressed some of the mistakes made in the past. With reforms in place, we may find out tax increases and more funds are not needed if our current transportation dollars are spent efficiently.
Here is a brief summary of some of the transportation reforms that should be under consideration:
- Require the Washington State Department of Transportation to report costly errors to the Legislature and put forward solutions to avoid making the same mistake twice;
- Return sales tax from transportation construction to the transportation budget;
- Implement state auditor's recommendations to reform the Ferry Capital Program;
- Open a dialogue about prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements;
- Streamline environmental permitting;
- Add congestion relief to the state's required list of transportation priorities;
- Use of Public-Private Partnerships; and
- Reform the state's regional transit authority boards.
Please let me know if you have any questions. This is may be the biggest issue we face in the upcoming session, if not sooner, and your feedback is important. Again, I hope you will fill out the survey and share your comments and concerns. I will share the results of the survey in the near future.