70% of projects paused by WSDOT are funded by gas tax, not car tabs

Washington Policy Center | MARIYA FROST

Last November, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), under the direction of the Governor, released a list of transportation projects that would be deferred due to the passage of Initiative 976, which reduces or eliminates car tabs.

As it turns out – 18 of the 26 road projects on that list are funded by the gas tax increase that passed in the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package.

Initiative 976 does not impact state gas tax revenue. It impacts state car tab revenue, specifically car tab revenue that is deposited into the Multimodal Account for transit, rail, and other non-highway programs. Though WSDOT officials say they did not consider funding sources when deciding which projects to put on hold, I believe funding sources matter and gas tax-funded projects should be removed from the list.

When the Connecting Washington package was negotiated in 2015, the public trusted that their gas tax dollars would be allocated to the project that they were promised it would pay for. I doubt they would be nearly as supportive of that gas tax increase, which was the largest in state history, had they known WSDOT and the Governor’s Office would move their money out of project accounts to be spent on other things.

WSDOT sent me a spreadsheet that, more or less, gave me the information I needed to determine how projects were funded on the list. Most projects are funded by the Connecting Washington Account, which includes the state gas tax, as well as treasurer’s transfers, deposit earnings, and bond proceeds. But definitely no car tabs:

When I followed up to confirm that my analysis was correct – that 18 of the 26 projects are funded by the gas tax in the Connecting Washington Account (I left out any projects that were funded by licenses, permits and fees in the restricted Motor Vehicle Account) – WSDOT said they couldn’t “confirm [my] understanding.”

WSDOT said that they do not “create revenue sources, appropriate expenditures, or determine the origins and amounts of administrative or statutory transfers. The legislature takes these actions through the budget process or by enacting legislation.” 

WSDOT added that not considering treasurer’s transfers “dismisses some fees that could be impacted by I-976” (incidentally, this contradicts WSDOT’s previous claim that they did not consider funding sources). I followed up to find out what fees would be impacted – and whether the fact that they “could” be impacted means that they “are.” I will update when I know more.

In the meantime, here is the list of projects funded by state gas tax revenue only in the Connecting Washington Account. This list does not include projects that were also funded by licenses, permits and fees in the restricted Motor Vehicle Account, as Initiative 976 impacts this account. I also did not include the one project that received funding from the state Multimodal Account, as this account is also directly impacted by the initiative.

  1. I-5/Northbound On-Ramp at Bakerview – Improvements
  2. I-5/Northbound On-Ramp at Bakerview – Improvements
  3. SR 9/SR 204 Intersection – Improvements
  4. I-90/Raging River Bridge to Bandera Vic – Stormwater Retrofit
  5. SR 14/E of Bingen – Port of Klickitat Access Improvements
  6. SR 501/I-5 to Port of Vancouver – Intersection and Profile Improvements
  7. US 12/Nine Mile Hill to Frenchtown Vic – Build New Highway
  8. US 12/Nine Mile Hill to Frenchtown Vic – Build New Highway
  9. I-90/Easton Hill to W Easton I/C WB – Replace Bridge and Build Detour
  10. SR 240/Richland Corridor Improvements
  11. US 395/Ridgeline Drive – Construct Interchange
  12. US 395/NSC Spokane River to Columbia – Shared Use Path
  13. US 395/NSC Sprague Ave to Spokane River
  14. I-90/Barker to Harvard – Improve Interchanges and Local Roads
  15. I-90/Barker to Harvard – WB on-Ramp Improvement
  16. I-90/Barker to Harvard – Add Lane Harvard Rd Bridge
  17. I-90/Medical Lake I/C to Geiger Field I/C – Reconstruction – Phase 2
  18. SR 520/I-5 Interchange – Improvement

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