It’s time to speak up for strong multimodal and clean transportation investments
Senate Transportation Committee Chair Steve Hobbs released his re-vamped Forward Washington proposal for a ~$15 billion, 16-year transportation revenue and investment package this week. This proposal continues the urgent conversation about what it will take to build a transportation system that connects people to opportunities, and put Washington on track for a sustainable and healthy future.
Overall, we want to see an increased proportion of the Hobbs package to Clean & Just investments, and less to new roadways. We will continue to engage on revenue sources and advocate for robust multimodal and clean transportation investments, as well as stronger and more specific equity criteria represented throughout the package.
A cornerstone of the Clean & Just Transportation agenda is to prioritize communities that have been most impacted: by transportation pollution, historic disinvestment and by the devastation of the pandemic. We will be advocating for the Transportation Committee to clarify how this proposal will get Washington on a path toward equity.
Hobbs’ package is funded by a variety of revenue sources, many of which are increases to existing transportation fees or taxes, including a 6-cent increase of the fuel tax that funds a large portion of the package. However, there are several additional items to note:
- Air Quality Surcharge. We are happy to see the progressive, C&J-endorsed fee based on the fuel efficiency on the sale of new vehicles and those being retitled in Washington for the first time as a major contributor to the funds. The current proposed rate is estimated at $276 per new vehicle, on average.
- Statewide Transportation Benefit Assessment. This source – explored in the JTC Statewide Transportation Needs Assessment – includes an assessment on new construction for residential, commercial, and manufacturing projects.
- For-Hire Vehicles and Transportation Network Company Fees. Another source explored by the JTC study, this would charge a new 50-cent per trip fee on taxicabs and TNCs.
- Bicycle Sales and Use Tax. This proposal, a 1% increase above and beyond existing sales tax on bicycles, does not align with our Clean & Just framework, which looks to incentivize this mode of transportation.
- Carbon. The largest portion of revenue in the package could be generated by one of two carbon pricing mechanisms, with one option as a straight fee per metric ton of carbon, and the other a portion of revenue from a Cap and Invest program. These likely will point to policy bills that are still in development, with conversations ongoing.
Lastly, it is critical to note that this package assumes a certain level of bonding, unlike the House proposal, and therefore would require 60% of the vote to pass.
On the spending side, though we are seeing increased investments in multimodal transportation compared to previous Senate proposals, this increase is still significantly lower than what the House has proposed as well as what Senator Saldaña is proposing (additional information on her package is below). This increased investment in multimodal transportation by Senator Hobbs is also unfortunately outweighed heavily by investments in new highway capacity.
- Highways. Though the proportion is an improvement over past packages, unfortunately this package still prioritizes new highway capacity over maintenance and preservation, with more than $6 billion in new roads, compared to only $2.5 billion in maintenance and preservation.
- More than $1 billion in transit investments. Includes increases for special needs transit grants, rural mobility grants, transit coordination grants, a bucket for bus projects and a bus & bus facility grant program. Also includes a small increase to the vanpool grant program.
- Safety for people walking and biking. This proposal includes $200 million for a bike/ped grant program in addition to $100 million each for Complete Streets and Safe Routes to School grants.
- Clean Transportation. Includes $500 million for stormwater improvements, $500 million for unspecified “green investments,” $280 million for ferry electrification and $400 million for grid upgrades for further transportation electrification.
- Transportation Demand Management. Includes a $45 million investment in TDM – including Commute Trip Reduction, which supports incentives and other programming that help people travel sustainably.
- Culverts. Senator Hobbs’ proposal would fully fund culverts, however he has not directly identified a revenue source.
Alternative approach by Senator Rebecca Saldaña
Transportation Committee co-chair Senator Rebecca Saldaña has also drafted her own Evergreen proposal for $18 billion in new investments over 16 years. The package is based on the work she led with the Evergreen Learning Cohort, and contains a mix of elements from both the Hobbs and Fey package. On the revenue side, we are pleased to see both the Air Quality Surcharge (here called the Vehicle Emissions Fee) and a tax on luxury transportation. On the spending side, we see strong investments in the Clean & Just framework, including multimodal investments and clean transportation, as well as a clear priority for maintenance and preservation of our existing system over highway expansion. We appreciate this alternative approach proposed by Senator Saldaña. As the debate continues on crafting a single Senate package, we hope to see more of the Evergreen proposal represented.
During his hearing, Senator Hobbs highlighted that this package prioritizes highly impacted communities. We welcome this opportunity and look forward to learning more, including:
- How is the package structured to ensure this outcome?
- Is the package utilizing screening criteria or other tools to evaluate the outcomes?
- How are communities directly impacted by transportation pollution able to engage in decision making?
- Are there specific projects that reflect the priorities of particularly burdened communities?
Additionally, our coalition would like to understand if and how the Senate proposal would measure progress towards Washington’s adopted transportation policy goals. Historically the legislature has selected projects largely based on politics, not performance. Due to our coalition’s work for Transportation For All, WSDOT has completed an initial draft of a project evaluation model that could guide the legislature in aligning investments with policy goals.
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