WSDOT more than $1 billion in the red, gets ‘basically a bag of beer nuts’ in federal funds

Jan 12, 2021, 5:08 AM | Updated: 10:42 am
SR 99 tunnel tolls, WSDOT...
WSDOT signs at the SR 99 tunnel in Seattle. (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

Almost everyone hitting up lawmakers this legislative session will have their hands out, trying to make up for revenue lost to the pandemic. One of the biggest asks might come from the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

WSDOT’s revenue projections, just like everyone else’s, took a beating in 2020 and continue to do so. Fewer people driving to work equals fewer gas tax dollars to fund projects and maintenance. Fewer ferry trips also equals fewer fares and less money in the bank account.

WSDOT head Roger Millar said the agency is coming up $1.3 billion short of its projections. It will be asking the Legislature to help make up those funds. Does that mean new taxes? Does that mean an increase in the gas tax? We have already talked about the need to increase tolling prices to help those facilities, since there are also fewer tolling dollars out there.

Millar said there are going to have to be some serious conversations.

“It’s concerning that we’re not in a bright, shiny revenue circumstance, but we’ve all been here before,” he said. “We need to remain calm as we address this.”

One thing is certain, Millar said, which is that some much needed projects are going to have to be pushed back. The projects that won’t be deferred are related to fish passage work. Governor Inslee has made it quite clear that the state will continue to spend aggressively to replace culverts that impede fish. That work is also under a federal court mandate.

Millar said the state asked for money from the federal government to help make up for some of its losses, but it didn’t get much.

“We told them we were hungry and wanted a meal,” Millar said of WSDOT’s ask from Congress. “The state got less than $200 million in transportation funding. We needed a meal, but basically we got a bag of beer nuts.”

The one place where WSDOT really needs to step up its funding is on maintenance. The freeways continue to age and maintenance continues to be pushed off. That’s something Millar said can’t happen for much longer without significant consequences.

“We could end up having a bright, shiny, and new 167/405 corridor and a bright, shiny new Gateway Project and have nothing to connect it to because the rest of the system has fallen apart,” Millar said.

I’ll be watching the Legislature closely this session, watching for any new tax proposals or plans to delay major projects. It is the Legislature that decides what projects to fund.

And it will be seeing a lot of hands out this session.


Tow truck drivers...
Chris Sullivan

Washington tow truck drivers beg state lawmakers for more protection on roads

Tow truck drivers are begging the state Legislature for more protection after a deadly year on Washington's roads.
6 days ago
Chris Sullivan

Washington State Ferries to slowly start returning normal service this week

Ferry riders have been struggling with a reduced sailing schedule for about a month now, but there could be some service improvements coming.
13 days ago
light rail...
Chris Sullivan

Light rail trains finally testing on East Link tracks

Light rail cars are running on the East Link tracks in the first phase of systems integration testing before service begins in 2023.
18 days ago
WSDOT, roads...
Chris Sullivan

WSDOT workforce shortage could mean more closed roads this winter

The vaccine mandate and a global lack of workers is expected to impact the state's ability to clear the snow from roads and keep the mountain passes open.
20 days ago
I-5 JBLM traffic...
Chris Sullivan

Improvements to I-5 through JBLM have been ‘game-changer’ for congestion

A new HOV lane on I-5 through JBLM has led to across-the-board decreases in congestion along what's historically been a problematic roadway.
25 days ago
tolls, good to go, toll rate, WSDOT...
Chris Sullivan

WSDOT stepping up its game with revamped website

This weekend, the Washington State Department of Transportation will unveil its new website, promising a much more user-friendly experience.
27 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
WSDOT more than $1 billion in the red, gets ‘basically a bag of beer nuts’ in federal funds