A traffic year that was tough on drivers, light on accomplishments

Dec 27, 2023, 5:48 AM | Updated: 6:32 am

transportation highs lows 2023...

A new look at Colman Dock for ferry passengers. (Chris Sullivan/KIRO Newsradio)

(Chris Sullivan/KIRO Newsradio)

I hate to be so negative during the final weeks of the year, but there wasn’t a lot to celebrate on the traffic front in Washington state this year.

It will likely be another record year for deaths on our roads, and people are still driving recklessly and selfishly. Colman Dock did reopen after years of construction, though, and I really liked the orange striping idea the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) used in Fife. So, it’s a bit of a mixed bag overall.

More chokepoints: Tunnel off-ramp to tame one of worst chokepoints on Eastside

Financial impact of the carbon tax

The theme for transportation in 2023 has to be money: Your bank account, your family’s budget and the state’s bottom line.

Top of mind for our listeners is Washington’s new carbon tax, which, by most estimates, has raised the price of a gallon of gas by more than $0.40. The tax on big polluters, which is being passed along to consumers, has raised $2 billion this year.

The national average for gas, according to AAA, is $3.01. The Washington average is $4.18.

Trouble ahead for 520 Bridge

There is trouble on the horizon for finishing the State Route 520 Bridge project to Interstate 5.

The current bid to build the Portage Bay segment to I-5 is 70% over the WSDOT’s budget. The legislature will need to find another $560 million to fill the gap. Without it, the project might not be built or put off by years.

More Washington traffic concerns

The legislature must also find another $4 billion from somewhere to complete all the fish passage work required by a court order. The price tag for the 20-year plan has gone from just under $4 billion to nearly $8 billion.

And here’s another sobering thought: The Seattle Times reports that all of the money in the $17 billion transportation package passed last year will be allocated by next year. It was supposed to last until 2038.

Let that sink in.

Where do you think the legislature is going to look to fix that? If past history is any indication, it won’t be by cutting pet projects. Expect them to ask you to chip in.

And don’t forget, ferry fares went up 4% this October. They will go up another 4% next October. And the max toll rates on State Route 405 and State Route 167 will likely go up to $15 in March.

And speaking of SR-405, the price tag to finish the widening from Bellevue to Renton has gone up by $230 million.

It’s hard to talk about money without mentioning Sound Transit, which has a “wonderful” track record of being on time and on budget.

And just a quick update on when the light rail service is expected to open.

Lynnwood could open in less than a year. That’s great news for Snohomish County, but it’s still more than a year late. The earliest trains will be going across Lake Washington is 2025. Federal Way has been pushed to 2025 or 2026. Everett pushed to 2041. Ballard pushed to 2039. West Seattle pushed to 2032.

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The starter line from Bellevue to the Microsoft campus will begin next year.

And back to the ferries for a minute, we found out the first new boats won’t likely arrive until 2028. The system, which is currently running with 15 out of 21 boats, is being held together with hope and good intentions. I expect rough seas ahead.

I wish there was better news to end 2023, but our transportation system isn’t in great shape. It has been underfunded by Olympia for decades, and we are now living in a world where that neglect is biting us in the backside.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


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A traffic year that was tough on drivers, light on accomplishments