The ballot title doesn’t say, “Cut state transportation funding by $4 billion over the next 10 years impacting every part of Washington; eliminate cities’ ability to use local revenue to fix local roads; delay fixes to dangerous bridges and overpasses; cut funds that support the Washington State Patrol and special transit services for senior citizens and people with disabilities; and slow down our economy.”
It doesn’t say that, but it should.
Initiative-976 is a misleading and dangerous initiative on the November ballot. This initiative cuts transportation funding across the board, with huge impacts on the local, regional and state transportation projects that our growing state desperately needs.
The ramifications are broad, but the first thing to understand is that the cuts will force the Legislature to re-write the transportation budget with less money and ever-increasing costs. Needed projects and services will be cut, and counties across Washington will lose out on important investments, including right here in the Tri-Cities.
The second thing to understand is that I-976 eliminates the ability of communities to form transportation benefit districts (TBDs) and use car tabs to solve our own local problems. This forces every community to be more dependent on Olympia, even though Olympia will have even fewer resources.
Let’s get specific about what this means for the Tri-Cities and other nearby counties.
Our state has added a million people in a dozen years, and the Tri-Cities area is feeling those growing pains.
Our streets are more congested and residents want more options for getting to school, work and home. In the last transportation budget, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, and Walla Walla counties received over $200 million for highway projects (for 2019-2027) and over $15 million in state mobility grants.
I-976 puts much of that at risk, from US-12 Highway Walla Walla Corridor to the I-82 Yakima-Union Gap improvements to the eventual I-82 highway Red Mountain interchange. These are routes that are critical to both our state as a whole and our region in particular.
On a more local scale, Richland, Prosser, Grandview, Mabton, Toppenish, Zillah, Wapato and Yakima all rely on TBDs to solve local problems. Funded are important road and bridge projects and ongoing maintenance, such as pavement repairs, crack sealing, lane striping, street lighting, signals, and pedestrian improvements such as crosswalks, ADA ramp work, and sidewalk repairs.
It doesn’t make sense that a statewide initiative would take away the ability to fund basic local road maintenance, but that’s exactly what it would do. If I-976 passes, it means that no part of your car registration fees are guaranteed to solve problems in your community. All the money will go to Olympia, with no promise it will come back.
It’s not just road projects impacted by I-976, but transit as well. Last year, some of the funds that would be repealed under I-976 helped pay for special needs transit, our vanpool programs and expansion of park and ride facilities here in the Tri-Cities.
I-976 hurts Washington residents in unexpected ways, and Garfield County is a good example. The rural county’s transit service is essentially a free dial-a-ride vanpool, used by seniors and people with disabilities who have no other transportation options for getting to medical appointments and jobs.
The service receives 90 percent of its funding from state mobility grants, which would be significantly cut under I-976. If this initiative passes, Garfield County’s transit service won’t just be facing how to reduce service, but determining if it can run at all.
And last, but certainly not least, I-976 hits us where it really hurts: jobs and commerce.
Our state’s raw materials, agricultural goods and manufactured products depend on effective traffic corridors. Exports support millions of Washington state families, which is why transportation cuts will slow traffic and our economy. For these reasons and more, our region’s business, labor and environmental leaders have all come together to oppose I-976.
It threatens our economy and our environment. It’s just too big a risk.
Say yes to mobility and strong communities by voting NO on I-976.
Nickolas Bumpaous is the President of the Central Washington Building Trades Council. Joel Bouchey is Regional Coordinator, Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors.
To read about the to other side of the debate, click here.