This afternoon, at a press conference held electronically, the Evergreen State’s Democratic transportation chairs and vice chairs took the wraps off of a proposed transportation package dubbed Move Ahead Washington.
Negotiated by teams led by House Transportation Chair Jake Fey and Senate Transportation Chair Marko Liias, Move Ahead Washington would make substantial, billion-dollar multimodal investments in roads, bridges, ferries, and public transit over the next several years, financed through fund transfers, bonds, and multiple fee increases along with higher taxes on jet fuel and exported fuel.
Republicans were not involved in the crafting of the package, though Fey and Liias stressed to reporters that they are in frequent consultations with their Republican counterparts and will welcome their commentary on the proposal as it gets put under a microscope as part of the usual legislative process.
“Washington is a nationwide leader on so many issues, and we can continue to show our progressive values in the transportation sector,” said Liias. “From letting kids ride free on transit and ferries, to increasing public transit options and investing in pedestrian and road safety projects, this is a win for our entire state.”
“This package is key for an accessible, sustainable future in Washington’s transportation sector,” said Fey. “We’ve worked hard over the last two years to listen to communities all across Washington, and they told us that their top priorities included preserving our infrastructure, finishing projects we’ve started, taking action against climate change, expanding multimodal options, and addressing the harm of past transportation policies. I’m proud that this package reflects all those things to invest in every Washington community.”
“Move Ahead Washington,” unveiled by Senator Liias and Representative Fey today, includes a historic investment in public transit service. said Todd Morrow, Washington State Transit Association Board President and Island Transit Executive Director. “This new funding will significantly improve access to opportunities for all Washingtonians, through public transit service that is more robust, accessible, and environmentally sustainable. It is critical that this package be passed.”
Governor Jay Inslee released a statement declaring his support for the package.
“The Move Ahead Washington proposal will provide major benefits to communities all across our state,” said the governor. “As our state continues to grow, we need to make sure people and businesses have safe, reliable transportation options.”
“Importantly, this package recognizes the need to reduce emissions in our transportation sector by prioritizing billions of dollars to clean transportation initiatives including funding for four new hybrid-electric vessels, support for new state and local decarbonization projects, and historic investments in transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure,” Inslee added.
“I am especially appreciative this package includes funding to replace the I‑5 bridge over the Columbia River; keeps our legal commitment to remove fish passage barriers on our state highways; and continues work on ultra-high-speed rail.”
“I would like to thank House Transportation Chair Jake Fey and Senate Transportation Chair Marko Liias for leading on this effort. I encourage the House and Senate to move this package through session as quickly as possible.”
The basics of Move Ahead Washington
Past Washington State transportation packages have been extremely highway-centric. NPI’s research shows that voters would prefer a more safety and climate focused approach, and Democratic legislators have responded by offering a package that is far more balanced than those of bygone years.
- Highway construction: Legislators are proposing to invest approximately $4 billion in highway projects, including the rebuilding of State Route 520 through Seattle and the Columbia River Crossing.
- Maintenance: The package would provide $3 billion to address the state’s growing road and bridge maintenance needs, which are significant.
- Transit and Multimodal Projects: $3 billion would be invested in public transit and in projects that make walking and biking safer. $150 million would be dedicated to ultra high speed rail planning.
- Ferries: The state would invest in four new hybrid electric vessels as well as the electrification of current vessels and terminal improvements.
With respect to revenue, the package would rely principally on revenue generated from the state’s cap and invest initiative, the Climate Commitment Act, along with federal dollars and a one-time transfer of funds from the operating budget.
Additional revenue would come from selling bonds, taxing exported fuel and jet fuel, and increasing more than half a dozen fees, such as the fee to get an enhanced driver’s license, the stolen vehicle check fee, and dealer temporary permit. However, unlike in past transportation packages, such as those enacted in 2003, 2005, and 2015, this one doesn’t include a gas tax increase.
Delving deeper: Where to go if you want to read more
Here’s the text of the proposed legislation that would authorize the package:
Here are supporting documents:
Where would the transit investments go?
Here is a high level breakdown of the transit investments courtesy of WSTA:
Funding increases for current programs
- $600 million in transportation investments for people with disabilities; doubling the current funding levels.
- $200 million to the Green Transportation Capital Grant Program; doubling the current funding levels
Funding for new transit programs:
- $1.45 billion in Transit Support Grants, formula-based funds that will be distributed to every agency in the state to ensure that those 18 and younger can ride free.
- $400 million in Bus and Bus Facility Grants to support agencies in their capital needs such as bus replacement and expansion, and facility refurbishment, expansion and/or replacement. These grants will provide nearly $50 million per biennium in competitive capital grants.
- $293 million in transit-specific projects to agencies including King County Metro, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, Spokane Transit, C‑TRAN, Kitsap Transit, Intercity Transit, Island Transit, Ben Franklin Transit, Whatcom Transportation Authority, Yakima Transit, Skagit Transit, and Columbia County Public Transportation.
- $80 million to a Tribal Grant Program to support tribal transit service.
The transit project list linked above goes into more detail.
We have been examining the details of the package and have some thoughts.
NPI applauds the decision to abolish fares for Washingtonians under the age of eighteen for all modes (local transit, Amtrak Cascades intercity rail, and ferries). While we would have liked to see fares go away for everyone, this is a good start towards accomplishing that important long term goal.
We’re also glad to see funding for safe routes to school, green transit grants, tribal transit mobility grants, and complete streets.
This proposal definitely offers “big” public transit investments, which a large majority of Washingtonians say that they support, along with prioritizing fish passage, road maintenance, and bridge safety.
Right now, according to WSTA, the state provides transit agencies a collective $265 million every two years. The new funding increase provides an additional $382 million per biennium for a total investment per biennium of nearly $650 million. That’s a meaningful increase, on top of the funding the state is providing to enable all youth to ride transit without paying fares.
We’re glad that money for new ferryboats is included, too, although Washington needs more than what has been proposed in this package.
And it’s good that money is included for safety-oriented projects like the Columbia River Crossing, although those projects need to be designed thoughtfully, without providing for tons of expensive new ramps and massive nearby interchanges.
The Legislature is still proposing to spend significant sums of money on projects that would increase highway capacity, including the widening of State Route 18 and the completion of State Route 167 in Pierce County.
Contrary to what many lawmakers have said, widening highways like SR 18 won’t make them safer, nor will it reduce congestion.
When highways are widened, or when new highways are built, that encourages people to drive more, a phenomenon known as induced demand.
WSDOT knows all about induced demand, but it’s still going ahead with already-conceptualized highway projects that will induce demand.
We have serious concerns about the one time proposal to transfer $2 billion in state revenue out of the operating budget and into transportation. This move doesn’t set a good precedent, and we favor removing it from the package, or at least reducing the amount of money to be transferred.
Our schools, colleges, and universities remain underfunded, and the Legislature needs to dedicate more money to education. While making transit free to ride for youth could help get kids to school, we have utterly failed to properly fund priorities like special education, school nurses, music and the arts, or capital projects to ensure all schoolchildren have safe buildings to learn in. Those needs are no less important than any of the transportation priorities discussed above.
We like this package and will be supporting it, while urging that the operating fund transfer idea be removed from the package.
We thank Senator Liias and Representative Fey for their leadership in putting this together. Making the most of an opportunity to deliver for Washingtonians in a short legislative session is exactly what our lawmakers should be doing.