Where next for King County’s $20 billion roads program?

Detail from the draft Regional Roads Network Map

Elected leaders from across King County will gather on February 2 to consider legislative strategy and revenue options for the Regional Transportation System Initiative. A Technical Committee of City and County staff have identified $20 billion of regional roads improvements (in 2018 constant dollars) to be funded by 2040. With that analysis in hand, the next step is to consider how to fund this program. Many of the options before the Elected Officials Committee require approval by the Legislature and/or voters.

The RTSI was convened in early 2016 by King County and the Sound Cities Association (King County cities other than Seattle). Staff have met regularly to identify needs and funding options. The scope of the effort encompasses principal and collector arterials and state routes in the County. The RTSI effort does not include freeways and major highways, which are generally state-funded, or transit infrastructure.

The work of the RTSI has its roots in concerns about roads in the unincorporated areas of the County. The 2016 report of the Bridges and Roads Task Force identified a funding gap of $350 million per year for maintenance of bridges and roads. There is a structural gap in funding infrastructure in unincorporated areas because annexations have removed much of the tax base and what remains outside of the cities is small relative to the rural population. Unincorporated King County has 12% of the County’s population, but only 9% of the property tax base and 3% of taxable sales.

That discussion about rural roads and bridges expanded dramatically to encompass many of the roads needs of all the suburban cities. Many communities face heavy demands on their roads due to traffic passing through to other places. It was the task of the technical staff to think systematically about those demands. Bringing the traffic woes of the suburban cities into the conversation meant more local projects to appeal to more voters, but also ballooned the size of the task.

A little less than half the estimated cost, or $9.1 billion, is generally classified as maintenance and preservation. That’s a broad category that includes pavement and replacement of structures, but also enhancements such as ITS, lighting, storm water and non-motorized improvements. The remainder, $10.6 billion, are capacity projects drawn either from PSRC Transportation 2040 models or local comprehensive plan project lists.

Continue reading “Where next for King County’s $20 billion roads program?”

Is a roads ballot measure in our future?

Detail from the draft Regional Roads Network Map

For several months, a group of King County cities and other stakeholders have been meeting as part of a Regional Transportation System Initiative (RTSI). Their goal is to identify a funding solution for County roads and regional arterials in King County. A Technical Committee is working to define the scope of the regional roads network and its unmet needs. An Elected Officials Committee had their first meeting last Tuesday, considering a strategy for a regional package with funding options that could be authorized by the Legislature in 2018.

The RTSI is convened by Sound Cities Association (SCA) and King County. SCA represents the cities of King County other than Seattle. Seattle staff are also participating. Other staff support is provided by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC).

While billed as a transportation system initiative, what is taking form is a roads program. As described by SCA, “while significant investments were recently approved for the larger system of freeways, major highways, and high-capacity transit, there remains a significant funding shortfall to address mobility and maintenance on the system of principal arterials, state routes, and collector arterials that connect communities in King County”.

The Technical Committee identified a draft regional network of some 1,366 center-line miles of King County roads. These comprise principal arterials (32%), minor arterials (54%), other freight routes (2%), frequent transit routes (6%), and county-designated arterials (6%). Those categories overlap so there are, for instance, other frequent transit routes within the principal and minor arterials.

It will be up to the Elected Officials Committee to define funding options, and to take those to the Legislature in the 2018 session. Their preferences have not been publicly discussed, but a County-wide Transportation Benefit District (TBD) is preferred by rural members of the King County Council  and some mayors. TBDs have limited taxing authority, and could levy up to 0.2% sales tax and $100 MVET with voter approval. The intent to work with the Legislature suggests higher taxes or other funding sources. Continue reading “Is a roads ballot measure in our future?”