Washington business community ups support for operations, preservation

By Eric Sunquist

The Washington Roundtable, a group comprising many of the state’s largest businesses, is urging passage of a nine-cent increase in the fuel tax. What’s most interesting about the proposal, however, is not the revenue ask, but where the group wants the money to go: for major increases in operations and in system preservation.

Washington is no stranger to gas tax hikes, with recent increases passed in 2003 and 2005. But those new revenues were heavily leveraged through bonding to fund a long list of highway capacity projects – projects that at the time seemed necessary to sell the tax.

SSTI’s 2011 review of WSDOT’s sustainability efforts found that the emphasis on construction left little for system preservation.

The business community now agrees, and it wants to bolster WSDOT’s operations budget as well. The Roundtable declares that “First, we must take care of the system we have,” and that “Investing in operations is the first priority for safety.” It recommends an 83 percent increase in highway preservation funding, a 28 percent increase in ferry terminal and vessel preservation, and another 28 percent increase for operations.

The group also recommends spending new fuel tax revenue on five large highway and transit capacity projects that are now under way.

Former Washington Transportation Secretary Douglas MacDonald, who assisted the Roundtable on the recommendation, said the business community has come around to seeing that solving transportation problems is more complicated than simply building new.

“The documentation really is piling up and a sense of urgency (or at least receptivity) comes with it about the backlog of deferred maintenance and the overhang … of crumbling infrastructure on future economic competitiveness,” he said.

“Roundtable members actually have to get their employees to work and their products to market. So they are starting to figure out that there’s a problem, and it’s time to begin to step up to some fixes.”

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director at SSTI.