House Democrats roll out bold $26 billion transportation package proposal
Transit, safety, climate, and equity prioritized like never before
On Tuesday, House Transportation Committee Chair Representative Jake Fey and his fellow Democrats unveiled a $26 billion proposal that would bolster Washington’s transportation system and economy during a time of unprecedented need. If passed, this 16-year plan would begin steering the State away from decades of unfettered highway expansion to a more balanced, measured, and sustainable approach that emphasizes maintenance and preservation, and healthy, accessible multimodal options.
Our Clean & Just Transportation agenda emphasizes the urgency of prioritizing equity in planning and policymaking — and that starts with robust public engagement. We commend Representative Fey and his colleagues for conducting more than 90 listening sessions with community members and stakeholders to inform this bold proposal. As a result, we clearly see a pathway to advancing equity through the package.
Here is how the House Transportation Package proposal stacks up against our Clean & Just Revenue principles:
- Carbon fee – We are excited to see the current proposal could raise up to $8.2 billion in flexible revenue for investments in multimodal transportation and other greenhouse gas reduction strategies, such as electrification, that not only address climate pollution but would provide people with more, cleaner options for getting around.
- Gas tax – The 18-cent increase in gas tax would include full funding for fish culverts. While still a relatively regressive revenue stream, the construction of roads created this environmental catastrophe, and this proposal creates a fix at the source. The package would also index to inflation the full state portion of the gas tax, with the indexed portion going to fund maintenance and preservation of the system.
- Additional progressive options – We believe additional new, more progressive revenue options are available and should also be considered, including a vehicle emissions fee for the purchase of new vehicles and a tax on luxury transportation such as yachts.
On the spending side, we are pleased to see many Clean & Just elements funded, including a third of the entire package dedicated to carbon reduction strategies, and look forward to working with legislators on more details:
- $2.6 billion in transit investments – Includes major increases for special needs, rural mobility, and regional mobility grants, as well as a new tribal transit mobility grant program. All grant program increases are especially beneficial to rural transit agencies. On the capital side, the package funds transit projects plus a new bus facility grant program. This facility grant would greatly benefit all transit agencies with maintenance, preservation, and expansion of non-traditional capital needs. (For comparison, transit received a total of $657 million over 16 years in the final 2015 Connecting Washington package.)
- Transit access/affordability grants – For the first time ever, this proposal would provide assistance to transit agencies to implement low-income fares or other affordability programs ($160 million).
- Safety for people walking and biking – This proposal includes more than four times the investment for bicycle and pedestrian grants/projects, Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets grants than in previous packages. Because active transportation has received disproportionately less investment than roads, there is still an estimated $5.6 billion in statewide need.
- Clean transportation – Green transit grants, ferries and ferry system electrification are allocated approximately $900 million. Additionally, Representative Fey has allocated $2.5 billion for other “carbon reduction investments.” This should include investments in electric transportation infrastructure, other clean fuels, incentive programs, and other carbon reduction strategies within transportation.
- Increasing workforce opportunities – As part of the members’ commitment to equity, the proposal includes investments to support outreach, certification and technical support of Women and Minority-Owned businesses, to increase the diversity of contractors. In addition, there is funding to support apprenticeship programs at WSDOT for formerly incarcerated youth.
- Emphasis on maintenance and preservation – When combined, state and local maintenance and preservation dollars are about equivalent to those dedicated to new roadway projects ($6 billion vs. $6.7 billion). The local grant programs also include an equity criteria to help direct funds to environmental justice communities. Compared to previous packages, this represents a clear response to stakeholder feedback: a significant shift away from expansion and toward prioritizing maintaining, and fixing what we have. For comparison, the 2015 Connecting Washington package spent $8.4 billion on new highway construction and only $1.4 billion on preservation.
Performance-based evaluation is underway
Additionally, to ensure the transportation package is moving Washington toward a clear set of goals that address equity and reduce carbon, Representative Fey is having the package, including potential new projects, evaluated on performance. We are thrilled to see the intention of the Transportation for All Bill implemented early on in this process, and will be working to propose performance measures that demonstrate progress toward a Clean & Just transportation package.
We are also working to understand how Representative Fey’s evaluation is coordinating with WSDOT’s recent work on performance-based evaluation.
More work to do
This proposal contains some positive elements regarding equity and community, and we would like to understand its commitments in greater detail. How much will this proposal help highly impacted communities? How can we ensure that resources are available to engage with communities during implementation?
Another important note is that of the $6.7 billion proposed for state and local projects, Representative Fey has so far only specified a single project for investment — the I-5 Interstate Bridge Replacement (previously the Columbia River Crossing). This means he anticipates negotiations with legislators around choosing projects. We will continue to advocate for performance-based evaluations of potential projects, so that legislators and the public can make transparent and informed decisions on project selection
We look forward to working with Representative Fey to understand where investments in stormwater infrastructure will be included, given that retrofitting our existing transportation system is essential to protect and improve water quality and habitat.
This proposal marks the beginning of many hearings, discussions and negotiations to come. Please sign up to stay engaged.