Washington Officials Want to Spend American Rescue Plan Funding on Highway Projects

Despite broader intentions, federal economic relief continues to get redirected to automobile-focused infrastructure.

2 minute read

February 1, 2022, 6:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Highway 520

oksana.perkins / Shutterstock

Washington State has one of the most aggressive approaches to climate change in the nation and a governor who promotes a climate-friendly agenda. The same governor, however, also wants to funnel a federal windfall to automobile infrastructure.

"Gov. Jay Inslee wants to use a half-billion dollars in federal pandemic relief money to keep up with rapid cost increases on the Highway 520 bridge replacement, and widenings for [Seattle's] combined Interstate 405/Highway 167 program," reports Mike Lindblom for the Seattle Times.

According to Lindblom, both projects are behind schedule. The need for more funding to get the projects across the finish line inspired the governor and state legislators to consider a gas tax increase in 2021 and approve a carbon pricing scheme that will go into effect in 2023.

In a noteworthy twist in how the article is framed, Lindblom compares the increasing costs of highway construction in Washington State to the more widely documented troubles the state is having keeping costs down for capital investments in the public transit sector.

Highway inflation isn’t as well-known as Sound Transit’s current $6.5 billion funding shortfall in three counties, blamed largely on land prices and estimating errors. They’re related, because Sound Transit’s Stride bus rapid transit on I-405, which voters approved to begin in 2024, is already delayed until 2027 or 2028, and would slip further if the state loses more time on I-405 roadbuilding that provides bus-entrance lanes, and new toll lanes where buses could move fast along the freeway.

Linblom also notes the opportunity cost of using the federal funding from the American Rescue Plan for behind schedule, over budget highway widening projects: "those are dollars states may apply to other infrastructure such as water and sewer projects, or even human services."

More details about the history of the Highway 520 bridge and Interstate 405/Highway 167 programs are included in the source article below.

Thursday, January 27, 2022 in The Seattle Times

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