With support from labor and business communities, Councilmembers Alex Pedersen, Lisa Herbold, and Andrew J. Lewis today proposed legislation to use Vehicle Licensing Fees to boost maintenance of multimodal bridges throughout Seattle. Vehicle Licensing Fees, which were previously set at $80, would move from $20 to $40 under the new legislation, as authorized by RCW 36.73.065 and RCW 82.80.140. The legislation would raise an additional $3.6 million in 2021 and an additional $7.2 million in subsequent years. The Councilmembers propose to direct the additional funding to bridges with high-frequency public transit.
The Seattle City Auditor recently published a report on the city’s bridges indicating high unmet needs for bridge maintenance. The engineering standard for bridge maintenance in Seattle ranges from $34 million to $102 million per year, and yet the current level for is only $10 million approximately. The city needs to add $24 million at the very least to meet the lowest estimate of maintenance needs. The City Council Budget Chair’s initial balance package restores or funds several transportation projects while adding $4 million to bridge maintenance. By tapping the adjusted vehicle license fees, this legislation would invest another $3.6 million to double the Council’s addition to $7.6 million. This represents an incremental increase to begin meeting a clear need.
“Underfunding our bridge infrastructure increases the risk of harm and ends up costing taxpayers more later, so let’s listen to the independent audit and increase bridge maintenance now to keep our people and economy moving,” said Councilmember Pedersen, Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee. Councilmember Pedersen has written extensively about the need for increased bridge maintenance in Seattle on his website.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold added, “The impending decision whether to repair or replace the West Seattle Bridge highlights the importance of ongoing investment in maintenance of Seattle’s bridges. Bridges are critical not only to residents and local businesses, but also to our regional economy.”
“District 7 is stitched together by bridges we depend on for reliable bus service and freight mobility for our working waterfront,” Councilmember Lewis said. “We need to step up our commitment to this critical infrastructure.”
Billy Hetherington, Political Director for Laborers Local 242, added, “We know that in this world of COVID-19, the movement of goods and services have been essential to our daily lives as we try our best to work from home and social distance from our fellow citizens. We have seen the impacts a shutdown of a major bridge can have on the lives of Seattle’s residents. The West Seattle bridge is nowhere near the oldest in the city nor was it considered in “Poor” condition at the time of its shutdown. The Auditor’s reports calls for $34 to $100 million to adequately fund the preservation of SDOT’s bridge infrastructure, so this measure represents the bare minimum. Preservation and maintenance of our roads and bridges, throughout the state, has been overlooked for decades so I am happy to see Councilmembers making a stand to show this is a priority moving forward.”
“May 23, 2013, was a perfect example of how bridge closures can impact our lives,” said Pedro Espinoza of Pacific NW Regional Council of Carpenters. “A span of the bridge carrying Interstate 5 over the Skagit River collapsed, severely impacting the movement of Washington State goods and services. We need more funding for bridge maintenance in order to avoid events like this in the future.”
Heather Kurtenbach, Political Director for Ironworkers Local 86, said, “Seattle’s bridges are in need of extra care and attention. Using funds from Vehicle Licensing Fees will allow the city to begin reinvesting in the maintenance of our bridges.”
Local business leaders also support the legislation. Executive Director Erin Goodman of the SODO Business Improvement Area shared, “SODO is the industrial heart of Seattle, and during COVID-19 we have seen how many essential businesses are located here including food and supply distribution, PPE manufacturing, and more vital activities. Increased funding for bridge maintenance is necessary to support these essential businesses and their operations throughout our region.”