Transportation Project Spending: 2023-2029

“Yeah, that’s great and all, but how are you going to pay for it?” Such is the buzz of a rhetorical torpedo which has sunk a thousand good ideas. The problem with this question isn’t its deeper truth—we live in a world of limited time and resources—but in how selectively it is deployed. Obstructionist deficit hawks fire it to block millions spent on transit and public health, yet silently allow policymakers to allocate trillions towards highways and war. It is not a question of whether we can undertake massive projects—especially in the state of Washington—but which to prioritize.

In contrast to my home state of Illinois, Washington shines as a beacon of fiscal stability: it consistently maintains healthy financial reserves, meticulously plans budgets according to comprehensive economic forecasts, and steadfastly controls its assumption of debts. These far-seeing practices have insulated the state from global economic instability, engendering confidence among bond holders and credit rating agencies alike. The state appears to consistently ask and thoroughly answer the question: “how are you going to pay for that?”

With wise frugality guiding the flow of money though Olympia, we can move on from asking “how are you going to pay for that,” to a deeper question: “why are you going to pay for that?” With increased wildfires threatening the state’s economy, the legislative mandate to address climate change, and the state having explicitly acknowledged transportation represents Washington’s largest source of emissions, how would a wise administration distribute funds?

Funding data below the fold:

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Seattle Needs Plan B for Federal Funding

RapidRide E on 3rd Avenue Credit: SounderBruce

The same day the Seattle City Council approved a design for the Roosevelt RapidRide and endorsed plans to seek federal and state funding for the project, councilmembers were given a dismal prediction on the future of federal transportation funding.

“It’s not a great picture,” said Leslie Pollner, a federal lobbyist for the city. She told councilmembers to expect significant cuts by the federal government in domestic spending, including public safety and transportation.  

The Roosevelt RapidRide project is expected to cost $70 million, with the goal of getting half of that funding from federal and state sources, said Councilmember Rob Johnson before the council voted to approve the preferred alternative Monday.

“If we are unsuccessful in securing in that the department will bring back to us a revised proposal,” Johnson added.

The vote committed the city to fully funding the development phase of the project at a cost of $4.3 million.

The Roosevelt RapidRide, estimated to decrease travel times by 20 percent, runs between downtown and the Roosevelt neighborhood via Eastlake and the University District. The project is one of seven RapidRide projects planned in the city in a partnership between the City and King County Metro. A previous STB post by Calvin Tonini describes the latest iteration of the project.

The city plans to apply for federal government dollars through a Small Starts grant program for both the Roosevelt and Madison RapidRide projects.

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