WSDOT: Washington roads are on a ‘glide path to failure’

Oct 18, 2023, 2:40 PM | Updated: 3:15 pm

wsdot glide path...

Washington State Patrol vehicles sit parked on Interstate 90 where the highway has been temporarily closed on January 8, 2022 in North Bend, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Washington’s roads are not in good shape. You feel it on almost any trip, and it’s only getting worse.

We are on a glide path to failure. That’s the word from Roger Millar, the head of the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said after the governor signed the transportation budget earlier this year. A budget that once again focused on shiny new things instead of taking care of and preserving what we already have.

For years, Millar has been sounding the alarm that the legislature is not funding the maintenance and preservation of our roads as it should. While the new two-year, $13 billion budget puts $700 million a year into maintenance, Millar said that’s about $300 million less than his agency needs to keep pace.

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WSDOT’s grim report

It’s a drum Amy Scarton, WSDOT’s deputy secretary for community and economic development, continued to beat this week.

“The legislature will signal that they’re getting the message, and they even moved preservation to be one of their top priorities, and yet when it came time to put the money where the policy is, we at WSDOT were less than enthused that we didn’t see those numbers go up,” she told the Washington State Transportation Commission this week, after a presentation of the current state of our roads.

It was an ugly presentation that was as bumpy as the Ship Canal Bridge. About 59% of Washington’s lane miles are considered due, past due or far past due for preservation and maintenance.

“I wish we could always be ahead of the curve; fix the leak before your roof is ruined,” Scarton said. “Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where we wait until the roof caves in, and then we fix it.”

WSDOT can only pave about 920 lane miles a year, less than a third of what’s necessary.

Scarton also criticized how the legislature hamstrings WSDOT when using the money it is given.  The money is earmarked for specific line items, including road projects, which doesn’t give WSDOT the flexibility to move money when it can to speed up projects.

“We have more than 1,000 specific directions on how to spend the transportation dollars, and we cannot move funding, she told the commission. “If we have a construction project run under, we cannot move that to fund a preservation project that is sorely needed.”

A shocking disclosure

And then Scarton dropped this bombshell, something I’m not sure I’ve ever heard out of Olympia before.

“I’m not so sure that it’s that we need more funding or we need more sources of funding,” Scarton said. “We have more funding now than we’ve ever had in the history of transportation in our state, both from our state revenues from our federal revenues.”

But Scarton said all that money is “being directed to new build projects, in lieu of preserving the ferry system, preserving the roads, preserving the bridges.”

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Let that soak in for a minute. Read between the lines, and it’s a serious shot at the legislature and its priorities.

Just to drive home this point, Washington currently has 159 concrete bridge decks that are considered due or past due for maintenance. WSDOT is only getting 24 of them done this year.

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WSDOT: Washington roads are on a ‘glide path to failure’