BELLEVUE, Wash. – Jack Miller got so frustrated driving over a bumpy stretch of Interstate 405 in Bellevue, he did something out of the ordinary.
“It caused me to write a letter,” he said. “And I’m not a letter writer.”
He wanted to know why that stretch of road – which Miller described as driving over a “washboard” – got new, wider ramps but was never repaved. So he put his thoughts into a brief email sent to the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT):
“It’s really rotten, shaking parts from my car and fillings from my teeth,” Miller wrote.
To Miller, this pointed to a larger issue about transportation funding.
“My thought is, if you’re going to spend money, spend it on infrastructure first,” he said.
When a special session kicks off Monday, state lawmakers might take up a proposed revenue package that could put billions toward transportation. Much of the funding would come from a 10-cent gas tax hike.
“We’re encouraged that there’s a lot of conversation going on,” said Steve Mullin with Washington Roundtable.
But Mullin’s group is concerned that there is too much focus on new projects and not enough money going toward old roads that are withering away.
“It’s really foolish when you think about it from the big picture to spend lot of money on new projects when we let our existing roads sort of go to pot,” Mullin said.
He pointed to aging I-5, which is 50 years old, even though it was only supposed to last 20 or 30 years. Right now the state can only afford to fix spots that are deemed “the worst of the worst.”
“When you have a road like this that’s an essential economic corridor that gets a lot of use, it wears out,” Mullin said. “And we need to take steps to upgrade it.”
But Representative Judy Clibborn, who has been pushing to pass a transportation revenue package this year, said there just is not enough money to satisfy everyone.
“Everybody came in and said the same thing: ‘Oh, that’s very nice, but we want more,’” Clibborn told KING earlier this year. “I don’t know that you can do more. I think you have to take your bite at the apple when it comes.”
The proposed transportation package does include some improvement projects that many would like to see, including widening of I-405 and I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass, extensions of Highways 167 and 509, and improvements to traffic around Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The plan also reserves nearly $1 billion for highway maintenance and preservation.
As for Miller, his letter did get a response from WSDOT, which plans to resurface that washboard-like stretch of I-405 this summer.
Washington Roundtable also thinks money needs to be focused on finishing projects in critical corridors. That includes expansion of I-405 between Renton and Bellevue, widening I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass for 10 miles and fully funding the new 520 floating bridge.