Seattle’s Terrifying Maintenance Backlog

SDOT Chart of Cost vs Time illustrating cost of deferred maintenance

A reader sent in this recent presentation from SDOT’s Bridge Maintenance Program, and it’s pretty grim reading if you care about the quality and serviceability of Seattle’s streets and bridges.  Some of the top line numbers have been out there for a while, but they bear repeating:

  • SDOT’s deferred maintenance backlog was $1.8 billion in 2010.
  • To “break even”, and prevent the backlog from growing, the city needs to spend about $190 million per year on maintenance.
  • The city is currently spending $50 million per year.
  • The Bridging the Gap program does not come anywhere close to reducing this backlog.

This reinforces a point which Martin and guest contributor Alex Broner made recently: there is an effectively infinite amount of work which could be done in Seattle with 18th-Amendment encumbered gas tax money to bring our roads back into a sound condition. Gas tax, as Martin has pointed out, is extremely efficient to collect, provides an excellent incentive to consume less fuel, requires no new legal or bureaucratic structure, and carries no privacy concerns.

In a rational universe, voters and political leaders would understand that fixing existing problems is a high priority, and would move to address them as such; instead, leaders promote shiny new projects that are almost certainly less essential, and voters continue to reward them for doing so. Road maintenance spending has become like bus stop consolidation or route restructuring: work that’s crucial to our future as a dense and growing city, but is prevented by the direct democracy and political culture of our present.

Comments

  1. Jim Cusick says

    Is Seattle collecting enough in gas tax revenue, and how do you ensure these repairs are made and not redirected to said shiny new projects?

    • Brent says

      The “enough revenue” argument is irrelevant. It’s like saying we shouldn’t tax tobacco more because it still isn’t enough to pay the cost of national health care (much less the more expensive national health insurers’ care that we seem to have to settle for to get any votes from the politicians). Everything government does depends, and should have, multiple revenue streams.

      Of course, there will be those who say “I already pay taxes for this, so why should I have to pay twice?” The simple answer is “You didn’t pay the full cost or your full share, so the difference has to be made up somewhere.”

      • Jim Cusick says

        So what are you arguing for? More local property taxes? Higher MVET? Higher gas taxes?

        If Seattle wants to raise each of these locally, then let the public decide. If it’s a good plan, they’ll vote for it.

        I don’t live in Seattle, so I don’t care, since whatever ‘improvements’ you make will just make it easier for me to drive when I need to go down there.

        From my perspective, I’d be damn sure that my gas tax revenue was going to the roads I use, not to increase SOV capacity on non-local through roads, (i.e. I-5, SR-99, I-405).

        Again, how do you plan to do this?

        If you don’t trust a public vote, then tell us the candidate you think is best suited to make your decision for you.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Jim, this is exactly the point – we need more local options. Anti-tax SUBURBAN legislators stop us from doing so because they want our votes to fund their statewide packages.

      • Jim Cusick says

        So is the argument for additional gas taxes, locally imposed for local road improvements?

    • Bruce Nourish says

      Seattle collects minimal revenue through gas tax, as far as I can tell. If you look up page “VI-75″ in this document, you’ll see only about $13 million directly from fuel taxes, although some state or federal grants could well have come from state or federal fuel tax.

      • Anandakos says

        Bruce is right. Most city streets are maintained from city “general revenues” (property taxes mostly, plus the city sales tax and other small levies). The state probably does a little “revenue sharing” for major arterials, but it’s pretty minor. Seattle is going to have to shoulder this burden itself.

      • Andrew Smith says

        . The state probably does a little “revenue sharing” for major arterials, but it’s pretty minor. Seattle is going to have to shoulder this burden itself.

        There are a few roads the state helps pay for (SR-99, SR-522, etc.) but these are few and far between.

  2. Brent says

    The classic problem with getting full funding for something people are willing to vote for is that those are then the projects the politicians put up for a vote, while using the general fund for the less sexy governmental expenses. Those who vote No aren’t all voting against those projects, per se, but against giving the government more money to do the other things that are not on the ballot.

    There is no silver bullet, but it would be nice to have elected officials who actually prioritized the need-to-do things when it comes to the general budget. Unfortunately, our pay-to-play politics has things like public subsidies for a basketball arena and the Mercer beautification project cutting in line.

    I still recall when the city council voted to lift the $400 lid on individual contributions to council candidates, enabling that limit to rise a whole lot faster than the rate of inflation. Among those still in politics, Peter Steinbrueck and Nick Licata voted No. Richard Conlin voted Yes.

    • Nathanael says

      “it would be nice to have elected officials who actually prioritized the need-to-do things when it comes to the general budget.”

      We got that with the last mayor of the small city I live just outside of. It was shocking and surprising, as it hadn’t happened for 30 years. She was awesome.

  3. Rob says

    The picture is worse when one considers how transportation has been financed over the past decade. Bridging the gap (like the most recent statewide gas tax increases) has used bond financing to accelerate how much can be achieved during the first ten years (when electeds can take credit), but at the cost of giving up that revenue source for transportation purposes for the ten-to-twenty years following. The result is that over time, more transportation funds are spent on financing charges than on transportation.

    There’s no way to go without borrowing for really big things, but when it’s done as a matter of course for things like maintenance and preservation, the hole just gets deeper. Really, roads, streets, sidewalks, transit service and drainage all ought to be treated as a public right-of-way utility, funded (on a pay-as-you-go basis) adequately to maintain them at the minimum life-cycle cost. Local gas taxes, MVET or cordon tolls would all be fine ways to fund that, but property-based utility fees based on their average trip generation could also make sense.

    • mic says

      I totally agree with the exception of tolls. They are a very inefficient way to collect taxes, with from 1/3 to 1/2 going towards the cost of collection – often times to out of state back rooms. This is money that disappears from the local economy, and kills the multiplier effect of having dollars circulating.
      So taxes keep rising while services keep shrinking. Not a good formula.

      • Rob says

        1/3 to 1/2 is a vast overstatement. Yes tolls cost more to collect than gas taxes, but nowhere near that much more, but tolls also help manage demand to match capacity, just as demand for every other scarce good is managed by market economies. It’s the low hanging fruit for managing demand for car use.

      • Eric H says

        Tolling is also more difficult to evade and avoid than gas taxes. Far more difficult, depending on the corridor.

      • Andrew Smith says

        Tolling is also more difficult to evade and avoid than gas taxes. Far more difficult, depending on the corridor.

        Large trucks do the most damage, so they should have a MVT tax. It’s ridiculous when you drive (or ride the bus) on common trucking routes and see how horrible the roads are, knowing who is cause the wear and seeing them pay nothing near their fair share.

      • Bernie says

        Large trucks pay a large MVET already. Albeit probably not enough to fully pay for the road damage they cause. I’d note that buses cause more damage than a truck of equivalent weight because of their frequent stops on local roads; usually with no additional reinforcement to prevent damage. That’s a cost that’s never factored in. Sure we could demand higher weight fees and in some cases that’s probably a good idea. But for the most part those costs will be passed along to consumers so in the end it’s the same thing as a VAT.

      • mic says

        Hwy 520 is keeping about 2/3 of what they collect for the project. Hwy 167 HOT lanes are just now breaking even. Tolling is very expensive when you add it all up. Sending a statement to your local gas station on gallons pumped? Not so much.

      • Bernie says

        The cost of tolling is much higher than collecting the gas tax. But tolling acts as a traffic demand management system which the gas tax can never do. Overall trips were reduce something like 10% by tolling 520. That’s poof, gone, not diverted or shifted to a different time of day. The sayings can be as “little” as reduced roadway maintenance to eliminating the need for an additional lane. Those are pretty significant savings to which you can add the value of time saved from congestion reduction.

      • mic says

        Tolling disguises the massive tax on the ‘typical’ trip across the bridge.
        Let’s say the Round Trip from home is 30 miles, and my car get 30 mpg and the total RT toll is $5.00 (just to keep the math easy).
        Also assume Gas costs $5.00 a gallon, less the current taxes.
        Effectively, gas on that consumer would have to rise to $10 to raise the same gross revenue as tolling.
        As for the elasticity of price on consumption, if you raised the price of gas to $10, you would see at least a 10% drop in traffic – probably much more, so tolling is not the silver bullet of demand management as you suggest. I’d call it more of a blunt instrument.

      • Bernie says

        1st, it doesn’t matter what the price of gas is the tax stays the same. Raising the gas tax would decrease VMT but has no effect on when or where those miles are driven. More likely to be the optional Sunday drive than commuting to work which does nothing to decrease congestion. The gas tax is the blunt instrument. Tolls OTOH target specific bottle necks like 167 and or extremely high cost roadways; like SR520. Since increasing the gas tax doesn’t address peak demand it won’t generate the huge savings of eliminating lanes that sit empty all but a few hours out of the day. TDM in the form of variable tolls as there are on SR-1167 have shown that they can preemptively deal with congestion in real time.

      • Andrew Smith says

        But for the most part those costs will be passed along to consumers so in the end it’s the same thing as a VAT.

        Assuming companies don’t figure out how to drive less.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        Here’s some really good reading about tolling and the Highway Trust Fund: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-77

        Some of the highlights…
        1. If the gas tax had been indexed for inflation in 1993, we would be paying about 29 cents per gallon today,
        2. 92.5% of the money in the Highway Trust Fund comes from gasoline and diesel fuel taxes,
        3. on average, a hybrid car getting 40mpg contributes about $53/year for the HTF, an SUV getting about 16mpg contributes about $132, a small truck getting about 8mpg contributes about $411/year and a large combi truck/trailer will contribute about $3363/year,
        5. according to a 1997 AASHTO report, “a commercial truck with five axles weighing 80,000 pounds imposes roadway damage equivalent to the damage imposed by 24,000 passenger cars”,
        6. the current gas tax rate of 18.4 cents/gallon would need to increase to 31.6 cents/gallon to fund current federal highway spending levels and if we want to create a system that pays for all needed maintenance, the gas tax would need to increase to 46.6 cents/gallon.

      • Bernie says

        Reducing time and miles driven is already a big concern for transportation companies. UPS for example runs algorithms that weigh the benefit of right turns even if it results in a slightly longer distance. Fuel economy is the holy grail for long distance trucking. Increasing the cost of gas accelerates the time frame in which it becomes cost effective to replace rigs with newer more fuel efficient models. But in the final analysis it all comes down to costs that are passed on to the consumer. Of course it’s purely an advantage to public transit since it’s no cost to them.

      • Aleks says

        Also, the way that tolling is currently implemented doesn’t scale very well. In contrast, consider what Oregon is doing with the VMT. You set a per-mile rate, and then you allow people to have a GPS so that they can get discounts for driving at off-peak times or on private roads. It ends up functioning as a toll on all roads, for the price of tolling a single freeway (roughly).

      • Nathanael says

        “I’d note that buses cause more damage than a truck of equivalent weight because of their frequent stops on local roads; usually with no additional reinforcement to prevent damage. That’s a cost that’s never factored in”

        So replace ‘em with streetcars. :wink:

        There’s a similar rule with trucks. You can’t avoid short-haul trucking, but get rid of long-haul trucking by putting it on the rails.

      • Rob says

        Yes, but when you scale it that way, it no longer has a location-specific demand management role. A rule use tax is important, but the right-of-way is also a scarce commodity and a price system is needed to begin balancing demand and supply in specific locations.

        VMT taxes are just like gas taxes in that they are a consumption tax. But they’re more expensive to collect than gas taxes (just like tolls), and they don’t provide an incentive to use a more fuel efficient vehicle – the main rationale for abandoning the gas tax. Yet the VMT tax would still have the same drawback as the gas tax — it would not rise with inflation unless indexed, and would be just as hard to increase. If I could choose a gas tax with indexing or a VMT tax, I’d take the indexed gas tax any day. I can think of few things more important than incentivizing the shift to electric vehicles, so losing taxes to subsidize that choice seems like a good thing, not a bad one.

      • Nathanael says

        “UPS for example runs algorithms that weigh the benefit of right turns even if it results in a slightly longer distance. Fuel economy is the holy grail for long distance trucking.”

        As of a few years ago, UPS was the largest single corporate customer of the US railroad industry. (FedEx or one of the other truckers may have ousted them from that position.) They know what’s efficient.

      • Aleks says

        Yes, but when you scale it that way, it no longer has a location-specific demand management role.

        Maybe I didn’t explain myself well. For people who want to save money, a GPS-based VMT would charge different prices depending on where and when you drove. Rates would be highest for crossing a bridge in the peak direction during rush hour, and lowest when driving on local access roads at midnight. For people who are worried about privacy, an odometer-based VMT would charge the highest rate for all driving, regardless of where or when. This serves the demand-management role, while also allowing people to pay more to avoid GPS tracking.

        I don’t see why gas taxes and VMT taxes are contradictory. Both of them are excellent Pigovian taxes. The gas tax compensates for the environmental costs of burning fuel, while the VMT tax compensates for the damage to roads and the space taken up on congested roadways by large vehicles. I think the best tax regime would include both.

      • Aleks says

        Also, for what it’s worth, I see the space taken up by cars as far more of a problem than the fuel they burn. Cars have turned our cities into giant overgrown suburbs, where even going to the grocery store requires a trip in a vehicle. Electric vehicles do nothing to help us achieve density, and density is the real solution to our environmental woes.

  4. RapidRider says

    Are there any taxes on buying or installing studded tires in Seattle, King County or Washington? I see cars that their drivers insist on having them the full, legal period of November through April, when really, there’s no more than three days a year they’d actually need them. During this time, I’m sure they add a good chunk of cost to the maintenance backlog.

    • Brett says

      +1

      I don’t quite know how to handle this. One option would be a large fee on the purchase of studded tires, but then people might buy them out of state, particularly in Eastern Washington. Alternatively you could require a permit to use them (sort of a proof of payment system). Even then people might demand that the funds collected be spread out according to the zip codes they are used in. Ughh.

      I grew up in Spokane and my family used studded tires on each of our vehicles. With how good studless snow tires have gotten, it seems like they are less necessary these days. That said, really good studless snow tires are expensive, so I can see the appeal of the studs.

      • Bernie says

        Yes there is a fee for getting tires studded that goes toward roads. Probably not high enough. WA banned steel studs many years ago. The aluminum studs do considerably less damage to the roads. It’s really only a problem in Eastern Washington and the mountain passes where a large percentage of vehicles are using studded tires. Brett is correct that the current generation of studless winter tires are excellent and they are also expensive. But probably no more so than a decent winter tire and the addition of studs. Studs actually increase stopping distance on wet pavement. In Western Washington, unless you’re driving up to the mountains every weekend that’s 99.9% of your driving so studded tires are making your car less safe.

        What’s atrocious is Metro’s use of chains. Chains, especially on a bus rip up the pavement like nobodies business. Surely there are cable chains that could be designed to take the stress which would do less damage. I’m betting Metro uses a lot of retread tires, or should be. It seems rotating through a winter tread compound with walnut shells in the “rubber” would not only prevent snowpocalypse but make buses safer on days like today when it was 31 degrees and foggy.

      • David B. says

        How about reflecting the fact that a vehicle has paid the studded-tire tax by issuing it differently-designed (unique color perhaps? a border?) license tabs. Then law enforcement could conduct random enforcement of vehicles parked on the streets. Checking for unlicensed studded tires would also be part of the new standard procedure when cops do a traffic stop. Have Washington plates, studs, and no special license tab? Big, big fine. (It has to be big enough that the expected value of being fined, i.e. the probability of being caught times the value of the fine, is greater than the tax.)

      • Mike Orr says

        People beat up Metro for buses getting stuck whenver it snows. They basically told Metro to get reliable or else, and they tossed out the mayor for good measure. The consequence of this is that Metro buses have chains at the slightest chance of snow. Do you want smooth tires or do you want buses not getting stuck at 56th & University Way? (I lived there for 14 years and every single snowstorm buses got stuck there until chains became universal.)

      • Bernie says

        Winter tires can be just as effective as chains. I see countless instances where the chains break because they are running on bare pavement. That won’t keep buses moving. The buses used to have wheel sanders. I’ve heard they had some reliability issues but if that’s the case they should be fixed not abandon. If the buses must use chains then they should be cable chains which aren’t as prone to breakage and don’t destroy the roads nearly as bad as link chains. Finally, plowing the trouble spots and prioritizing transit routes should be happening in hours, not days. The city and Metro should have detachable plows they can fit to some of their maintenance vehicles since it doesn’t make sense to have enough dedicated snow plows to quickly clear the routes in a city where we only have significant snowfall every 3-5 years.

    • David L says

      This is a huge issue. Studded tires on a normal car do more damage to the road than a loaded semi.

      There should be an annual tax on use, with a special sticker to indicate you’ve paid the tax for that season. That way, enforcement is as simple as pulling over vehicles with studs (which are easy to hear and see) that don’t have the sticker. The tax should be enough to remove the incentive to use studs rather than modern snow tires, which (as Brett indicates) are really extraordinarily good.

    • Lack Thereof says

      They should have been banned ages ago. Their advantage over studless snow tires is minor, and in the conditions severe enough for that advantage to show, you should really be chained up anyway.

      WSDOT doesn’t even use studded tires on their plows, and has been begging Olympia to ban them for a very long time.

    • Orv says

      Michigan banned studded tires decades ago. And no, it’s not all flat there — Houghton, MI gets 200+ inches of snow a year and has hills that will match any in Seattle. Studless snow tires have gotten really effective, to the point where the only surface where studded tires are more effective is bare ice. I’d argue for a phase-out.

  5. says

    Is it clear that we want to maintain all of these structures in their current form? Or may be it is okay if we let some of them go to ground, be torn down, and replaced with something else (or not).

    If it’s politically easier to build a shiny new object than maintain an old one, then letting the older structures go to ground might be a good idea. And, in fact, providing the various DOTs with enough money to maintain the structures becomes detrimental in the sense that there’s no longer incentive to tear down the structure (and then build something new, or not).

    I’m certainly not going to advocate for letting everything remain unmaintained—and it may well be that SDOT needs a high maintenance budget—but I suspect that some of that budget gap is best filled by getting politicians to rally around the next shiny new object.

    • GuyOnBeaconHill says

      That’s exactly what was done with the South Park bridge. When it became unsafe, there wasn’t enough money available for repairs, so it was closed.

    • Anandakos says

      Jeffrey,

      I’m sorry, but this is a half-baked idea. It might work for arterial bridges which often suffer from volume growth in excess of capacity, but for street surfaces it’s crazy. The cost to tear up a complete street down to the base and repave it is far greater than maintaining the surface to a serviceable standard.

      • says

        @Anandakos — attack the straw man all you want, but I really didn’t suggest we shouldn’t maintain pavement on surface streets. And, I specifically suggested that SDOT might need a larger maintenance budget to maintain repairs.

        I’m just saying that, realistically, some of that maintenance budget gap probably is filled by ‘shiny new projects’. And further, that it is not necessarily a bad thing.

      • Nathanael says

        On the other hand, replacing the high-maintenance asphalt surface with low-maintenance brick might make a lot of sense….

      • Orv says

        I don’t think brick is low-maintenance under car traffic. It’s also very rough, and dangerously slick for bicyclists when wet.

  6. John Bailo says

    Now that Good2Go has been established, why doesn’t Seattle toll the Fremont and University Bridges?

    Seems like it would bring in millions and perhaps force more people on to transit.

    • GuyOnBeaconHill says

      Good2Go is a state program and any money collected would go to the state (and likely be subject to the 18th Amendment). If Seattle wants a revenue stream to fund City projects, then it needs to create and administer the program in City Hall. The advantage of a City tax or fee is that the revenue collected by the City would, presumably, not be restricted by the 18th Amendment.

      • Rob says

        Tolls are not restricted by the 18th amendment. But state-collected tolls are restricted by whatever restrictions the legislature chooses to apply.

        Local governments can enact tolls using transportation benefit districts.

    • David L says

      Because tolling local bridges without tolling the Aurora Bridge and the Ship Canal Bridge would be completely pointless.

      A small toll on all six Ship Canal crossings would not necessarily be a bad thing.

  7. Andrew Smith says

    In a rational universe, voters and political leaders would understand that fixing existing problems is a high priority, and would move to address them as such; instead, leaders promote shiny new projects that are almost certainly less essential, and voters continue to reward them for doing so.

    1) What are the “shiny new projects” you say Seattle leaders are promoting? I am having a hard time even coming up with a single project in Seattle like this; even the DBT is a replacement project of sorts.

    2) It’s actually sort of rational, if perverse, for voters to canibalise existing infrastructure rather than pay more money. If your income is declining or flat – as the average american family’s has been for the last 30+ years – you do not want to contribute an ever rising portion of your income to the state, even if it makes you worse off because things are getting worse anyway (to understand why the costs are rising, look into “Baumol’s cost disease”).

    The real failure here is the state’s inability to adequately train its workforce. I am a software engineer and at least one recruiter contacts me every day offering me a job, or at least a chance at a job. I play in a band with a drummer who’s a refrigeration technician and he simply cannot find qualified workers for his company, to the point where they pay five-figure bonuses and six-figure salaries to start. All the while, unemployment is 8%, and finding a job as a janitor at Seattle Public Schools is a competitive contest.

    If incomes were rising, these infrastructure costs wouldn’t seem a burden to voters, but since incomes aren’t rising they do, and we all suffer.

    • Bruce Nourish says

      Spokane Street Viaduct project, Mercer Corridor project (although the latter did end up getting a bunch of money from the feds), the rail projects in the TMP, unrelated projects which count against our bonding capacity, like building a new arena. Not necessarily bad projects on their own merits (and this is not the place to discuss those merits), but they further add to the city’s operations or bonding burden.

      If we end up in a city with a great new arena, one BART-like subway, and a few streetcar lines, but we can’t patch our arterial streets faster than potholes appear, we (and/or our elected officials) have shot ourselves mightily in the feet.

      • Andrew Smith says

        SSV and Mercer are both maintanence projects. They aren’t literal “fill in the pothole” projects, but those aren’t brand new things.

        Or are you saying those would never have shown up in the maintanence backlog?

      • JohnS says

        How much of either project was maintenance and how much was ‘let’s make it look pretty and shiny’? I can’t answer the question with specifics, but I’m pretty sure the answer is not zero.

        Bruce’s point is valid, IMO, that we are adding to the bonding burden and are still very much incapable of keeping up with routine maintenance. The State has the same problem.

      • Eric H says

        Bruce: This seems like false equivalence. The city’s population has grown substantially over the past two decades, along with its transportation needs. If these needs are not met with new infrastructure, that load would default to the existing infrastructure, which would proceed to crumble even faster.

        No, the need to take care of the old stuff doesn’t go away. But pointing at existing needs was one of many tactics used to stall construction on a rail system that has, over time, become more necessary even as it became more expensive.

      • says

        SSV and Mercer Corridor projects are significant expenditures on “improving” the facility in some way. They are NOT simply maintenance/replacement projects.

        I distrust agency-reported “backlog” statistics unless I can see the entire project list and verify that they are not padded with improvement/capacity expansion/”safety” widening projects. I haven’t yet checked if SDOT’s list includes these.

      • says

        If we end up in a city with a great new arena, one BART-like subway, and a few streetcar lines, but we can’t patch our arterial streets faster than potholes appear, we (and/or our elected officials) have shot ourselves mightily in the feet.

        Have we ever managed to patch potholes faster than they appear? The premise of this whole discussion, as I understand it, is that Seattle (and perhaps elsewhere) is headed in an unsustainable direction with respect to its transportation infrastructure. That premise may well be true (I haven’t yet decided), but I’m not convinced this situation is historically really that unique. In Seattle’s 140 year history, has it ever had a fully funded transportation infrastructure maintenance budget? And if so, did that period of time truly have better transportation infrastructure than today? If the answer is no to either of those questions, then it doesn’t disprove the premise, but it does suggest that there’s more to maintaining our transportation infrastructure than simply the maintenance budget and filling potholes.

        Personally, I suspect that much of the gap is made up through projects that don’t count as maintenance, but instead are billed as ‘shiny new projects’.

      • cascadianone says

        Jeff Early, my understanding is that it is cheaper to fill potholes frequently on the surface of a roadway than it is to ignore it and have to repair the deeper layers of the roadbed beneath it down the line.

      • Rob says

        Have we ever managed to patch potholes faster than they appear?

        The problem isn’t potholes, it’s letting the road foundation get so damaged that a complete street build is needed. Seattle has prioritized roads that can be fixed easily over those with severe foundation damage for decades. You can get ahead of potholes and still have an increasing preservation deficit.

      • Gern Blanston says

        I hate to say it as a long-time rail advocate, but Bruce hits the nail on the head at least as it relates to the rail projects in the TMP. It’s duplicitous to tout all the new rail plans they’re filling the TMP with knowing all along that there is NO money to build any of it and there’s this huge backlog of unfunded basic maintenance looming out there.

        While it’s great to plan for the long term, it’s irresponsible to ignore the steady deterioration happening now.

    • Mike Orr says

      You also have to ask whether the old things will best meet our needs even if they are refurbished. Merely maintaining existing infrastructure means being captive to decisions made fifty years ago, or in other words, a future of car dependence and inadequate transit ROW when we can ill afford this. Yes, we should maintain local roads so they don’t become more expensive to replace later, but when you don’t have any other revenue sources for Link and streetcars and RapidRide stations we should have built forty years ago, sometimes you have to dip into the maintenance fund. Those are also “backlogs” and “maintenance”, just like resurfacing roads are.

    • Brian in Seattle says

      Is it the state’s inadequacy or corporate America’s unwillingness to intensively train anyone these days aka apprenticeships and on the job training? But that’s a discussion for another topic :)

    • Nathanael says

      “I play in a band with a drummer who’s a refrigeration technician and he simply cannot find qualified workers for his company,”

      He should be doing on-the-job training, like American companies did in the 1950s.

      It’s simply lazy to expect all your workers to be trained before you hire them.

      • Nathanael says

        Now, I realize some jobs, especially in engineering subspecialties, require so many years of training that this is impractical, but most jobs are simply not like that — “refrigeration technician” is something where you could take any hardworking, reasonably intelligent person off the street and train them up in less than a year.

      • Orv says

        That’s one of the problems with the job market today, in general — no one wants to hire entry-level people and train them. They want someone else to do the training. If not enough pre-trained people who want to work for entry-level salaries exist, then they ask the government to issue more worker visas.

  8. Brian in Seattle says

    I personally think the rise of social spending has taken money away from the basic infrastructure and maintenance budgets of the general fund. One can argue where the cities’ priorities should lie in regards to spending , but a city should be taking care of the visible infrastructure before spending it on social programs.

    Take care of the basics and most people won’t care how the city spends the rest of its budget.

    • Nathanael says

      In the “old days” of the 19th century, a lot of the infrastructure spending WAS social spending: public restrooms, public street sweeping, public baths. Public schools! Later on, public housing!

      There’s been some odd move towards “market-oriented” social spending, which is arguably a big mistake.

  9. Cinesea says

    Now that Bridging the Gap is nearly complete, and the city will ask for another levy, I still wonder where did that money go? I look at the improvements on Greenwood Avenue North, where they completely re-did the street FOR SEVEN BLOCKS. 105th to 112th are really nice and smooth, with curbs and sidewalks, etc. But, 112th to 145th are horrible to drive on. I would much rather have had the whole road resurfaced than have SEVEN BLOCKS completely redone from the bottom up. You can make the argument that resurfacing will have had to be redone in about 10 years, but at least for those 10 years Greenwood Avenue would be pleasant to drive on–and ride the bus on!–instead of all the holes and cracks we have to deal with now. Sure, its nice to have 85th looking so nice and pretty after all the reconstruction, but how about resurfacing that road and then also resurfacing Northgate Way/105th as well?

    • Brian in Seattle says

      I’m pretty sure Northgate Way/105th is being done this year if you check out the Bridging the Gap Website.

    • Bruce Nourish says

      As Brian says, Northgate/105th is coming up in spring.

      And I’m pretty sure if they could have got away with just resurfacing Greenwood, they would have done so. Sometimes the subgrade is just crap, and you have to dig it all out to make a new foundation in order for the surface to remain smooth.

    • Lack Thereof says

      Simple resurfacing will not cut it for Greenwood. You’d never even get 10 years out of it. The foundation was seriously compromised. Take a look at the stretches of 23rd Ave that were resurfaced last year as a bandaid while the CD waits for it’s turn at the BTG rebuild dollars – they’re already splitting, sinking, and breaking apart.

      BTG prioritized fast, small projects first. Everything that could be handled with simple resurfacing was done in the first few years. Now that we’re in the tail end, we’re left with just the megaprojects: Northgate/105th in 2013, and 23rd Ave in 2014. Both are not simple resurfacing, but complete foundation-up rebuilds of at least the outer lanes.

      Also, if you see holes and cracks, REPORT THEM IMMEDIATELY.

    • Nathanael says

      The City has an awful lot of bridges.

      Bridges are expensive to maintain. I know you need them over water, and they’re nice to have over long-distance rail lines (Amtrak/Sounder), but they start being a problem when you’ve got lots and lots of really complicated, really wide bridges.

  10. asdf says

    Part of the damage that buses do to roads comes down to our choices of routing. If we stick to running buses on major arterials that would need to be built to accommodate lots of truck traffic anyway, we leave less impact on the roads than if we insist on having buses meander through neighborhoods.

    In particular here, I’m talking about the B-line’s 152nd St. deviation. In the long run, how much more is the city of Redmond going to have to spend on street maintenance compared to if the B-line just stayed on 156th? At 10-15 minutes all day every day, that’s a lot of buses pounding the pavement of a road that gets very little large vehicle traffic except for buses.

    • Lack Thereof says

      Metro already has to clear bus routing choices with the local city transportation department. The city DOT will bill Metro for any work required to bring the road up to a standard that can support bus traffic. If the price is too high, Metro will not use the road.

      Seattle’s situation is kind of unique, because so very many of our routes were established long before that kind of review happened, and are grandfathered in.

      • Jim Cusick says

        @ Lack Thereof

        “The city DOT will bill Metro for any work required to bring the road up to a standard that can support bus traffic. If the price is too high, Metro will not use the road.”

        Wait, I though the major argument for bus systems was their flexibility.
        They can use ‘the roads that are already there’.

        If SDOT is doing this, meaning that buses require their own level of infrastructure, then that changes a lot of cost/benefit equations, even for local service.

      • Mike Orr says

        Well, yes. Steel rails last a lot longer than asphalt. That’s one of the reasons for these streetcars.

      • asdf says

        Yes – and bringing 152nd St. up to the standards of handling an articulated bus pounding on it all day every day every 15 minutes – when the adjacent 156th St. was already at those standards – is a hidden cost of the B-line’s deviation. This on top of the additional service hours required to actually operate it.

  11. David B. says

    You think the bridges are bad, try the streets, particularly the secondary streets. There’s streets in Capitol Hill and Queen Anne which are surfaced in an asphalt type that has not been widely used since before World War II. Many of Seattle’s non-arterial streets are on a 160-year (!) maintenance cycle. No, I am not making this up, it’s right on page 7 of this document:

    http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/am/Section%207%20%20%20%20Pavement%20%20.pdf

    • Nathanael says

      160 year maintenance cycle is a bit long even for brick and cobblestone (which really will last for over 50 years on a minor street). Asphalt won’t last *nearly* that long.

  12. Orv says

    This isn’t just a Seattle problem — it’s a problem everywhere. In my own home state of Michigan, some counties are reverting paved roads to gravel because they just don’t have the money to repave them. We just don’t seem, as a country, to have the resources now to maintain what we built 60 years ago.

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