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.