Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

State DOT is doing a good job

The Seattle Times has an important article in today's paper entitled, "How the state spent our gas taxes". The article opens in this way:

In her decade in the Legislature, Rep. Joyce Mulliken, R-Ephrata, had never voted for a tax increase.

She rejected increasing taxes on alcohol this year. She said no to the tax that raised cigarettes 60 cents a pack. She voted against the 2003 nickel-a-gallon gas tax that raised $4.1 billion for transportation.

But last spring she did an extraordinary thing: She said yes when asked to raise the gas tax another 9.5 cents for roads throughout the state.

"This is the first time I've voted for any tax increase of any nature since 1994, when I first took office," Mulliken said.
What prompted Mulliken, a Republican who had never voted for a tax increase before, to take the position she did?
What persuaded her, Mulliken said, was the state's performance with the money raised from the nickel tax that lawmakers approved two years ago, despite her opposition. It paid for a westbound truck lane on Interstate 90 in her district, and the project came in $300,000 under budget and 30 days ahead of schedule.

"I said to the regional manager, 'If the public puts on enough pressure you can come in under budget and early,' " she said.
Proponents of Initiative 912 will tell you that the revenues from the 2005 transportation package will be poured down a black hole, never to be seen again.

They claim the state isn't accountable. They claim the money won't be wisely spent.

They are wrong:
State DOT officials say such criticisms are unfair.

"The state has projects all over the state going well and being delivered on time, yet the residents who don't believe government can do anything is a drumbeat of cynicism," said Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald.

A review of the 13 nickel-tax projects completed by last June found that six came in under budget and eight ahead of schedule. Only one was over budget, another I-90 truck lane project, and one was finished late, a variable-message sign on Highway 395 in Kennewick.

In all, the nickel tax will pay for 225 projects across the state over the next decade.

Looking more broadly, the department has completed 349 construction projects funded by its 2003-05 budget. The work was expected to cost $123 million but came in at $109 million, 11 percent under budget.
The state DOT has been doing a good job. We can trust them to spend our tax dollars wisely. But this shouldn't even be an issue. The real issue is public safety. If we don't fix our broken infrastructure, we will pay the price when a disaster strikes.

That's what proponents of Initiative 912 don't want to talk about. They prefer to cynically focus on the price of gasoline and ignore the consequences of neglecting our transportation system.

And ironically, for all proponents' talk about accountability:
The 9.5-cent gas tax includes $4 million for the auditor to conduct performance audits of the Department of Transportation. If I-912 passes, that money disappears.
Rep. Toby Nixon, who is supposed to be one of two state representatives for NPI's home legislative district, was also interviewed for this article:
Nixon said voters don't distinguish between state highway projects and other transportation spending. Many voters support I-912 because they don't like Sound Transit's $2.4 billion light-rail project or the ongoing drama over the proposed Seattle monorail, he said.

"In the people's mind it's all transportation," Nixon said. "It doesn't matter if it's not a state project. Too much is being wasted and it's not benefiting anyone."

Voters are mad that Seattle wants to spend $4 billion to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel, Nixon said, when it could be repaired for just $1 billion. The state considered, but rejected, repairing the viaduct because experts said the structure is brittle and deteriorating and the soil beneath it is unstable.

Nixon also said the plan to replace the Highway 520 floating bridge with no extra traffic capacity except express lanes won't help with congestion.

"The main need for traffic congestion in my district is the Novelty Hill Road [between Redmond and Carnation], which isn't funded," he said. "Add this to all of the other things people have to complain about and it's no wonder that I-912 will pass overwhelmingly."
What is Toby Nixon's problem? He's got it all confused.

Only people in Seattle are paying for the Central Link light rail line. There sems to be a misconceived notion that everyone in Washington is paying for it. That's not true. Only residents of Sound Transit's North and South King County taxing areas are paying for Link. (See a map of Sound Transit's zones).

The Seattle monorail is the same situation. Nobody else is paying for it.

It's interesting that Nixon mentioned both of those projects - neither is in his district. And his constituents are not paying for either project.

I-912 has nothing to do with either the monorail or Sound Transit's light rail project. In fact, it's people like Toby Nixon that try to establish those false connections. He's encouraging this kind of thinking.

Nixon is seriously deluding himself if he thinks the Alaskan Way Viaduct can be repaired. Note to Nixon and Brett Bader: the Alaskan Way Viaduct is built on an unstable foundation. It can't be repaired.

Why can't Nixon, Bader, et. al just listen to the experts:
Why can’t the viaduct and seawall just be repaired?
The Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall are past their design life and repairs can no longer extend their lives. The viaduct and seawall do not meet today’s seismic standards and were also damaged in the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake. Ongoing inspections have revealed the viaduct has moved and settled, and the seawall’s timber relieving platform has been eaten away by tiny marine crustaceans, called gribbles. Over $5 million has been spent so far on repairs to the viaduct and seawall. Repair costs will be ongoing, continue to escalate, and at some point, repairs will no longer be enough to keep the viaduct and seawall safe for the public.
And we have basically arrived at that point. If a major earthquake strikes, the Alaskan Way Viaduct will pancake, killing people and destroying a lot of property.

Toby Nixon isn't a transportation expert. He doesn't seem to know what he's talking about and he certainly doesn't seem to care about public safety. He just gripes about a problem with congestion in his district.

We have to shed the "it's all about me" self-serving attitude if we want to move forward. The emphasis needs to be on public safety. And it is. That's a good thing.

The state DOT is doing a good job. It is managing projects well and it has set its focus on the right priorities. Voters can have confidence that the state will invest the revenues from the 2005 transportation package wisely.

Vote NO on Initiative 912. Take a stand for safer roadways.

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