How Seattle Could Turn $ 20 Car Fee Into $ 100 Million, Much To Fix Bridges
Four Seattle City Council members suggest using car fees to fund a $ 100 million bond sale next year, mostly devoted to repairing or improving aging bridges.
It’s the latest plot twist in the city’s debates over how to exploit a $ 20 annual car-tab fee hike, which takes effect in July. It is expected to make $ 7.2 million per year.
In addition to creating skilled jobs, council members say the sale of bonds would legally “lock in” the car’s income stream through bond contracts, so a future Tim Eyman-style initiative can not get the money from the car-tab.
The $ 100 million proposal was announced by board members Alex Pedersen of Northeast Seattle, Lisa Herbold of West Seattle and South Park, Andrew Lewis of Queen Anne-Magnolia and Downtown, and member of the city Teresa Mosqueda. It was discussed Wednesday in committee, where Debora Juárez from north Seattle also approved it. Further discussions and a possible vote in committee are expected on May 5.
Lewis describes the strategy, which would spend 75% of the money on city bridges, as “going big on infrastructure.”
By selling $ 100 million in bonds, he said, Seattle can try to attract and leverage federal grants to do more.
“In a city carved out by waterways and ravines, we rely on bridges to support all modes of transportation that connect us and keep our economy moving,” council members said in a statement. “We have a duty to stop hitting the box on the road, and now we have the opportunity to go bigger and bolder to build better.”
One of the goals is to reverse years of underfunded bridge maintenance. An audit last year, prompted by the closure of the cracked West Seattle Bridge, found that the city was spending an average of just $ 6.6 million a year on bridge maintenance, well below the $ 34 million dollars needed. Six city bridges are structurally deficient.
Herbold said the car-tab’s $ 20 increase offers a rare chance to invest in bridges soon. The next chance would not present itself until a possible renewal of the property tax in 2024 which will not bring in money until 2025, she said.
While politically charged, this week’s car expense debate is a fraction of Seattle’s transportation budget, projected at $ 608 million this year.
Advocates of alternatives to driving complain Pedersen, who chairs the council’s transportation and utilities committee, ignored comments from 23 community groups on how to spend car money.
That feedback led to a plan this spring by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to allocate car-tab costs to six general categories, with 24% for bridges, 28% each for sidewalks and safety, and smaller shares for cash reserves, planning and maintenance of walking routes.
“To throw that away [SDOT] The plan is to poke fun at the right awareness, stakeholder engagement and City commitments to tackle crises related to climate, road safety and mobility justice, ”said The Urbanist, a website that promotes increased transit and housing.
However, the new plan would still spend most of the $ 3.6 million expected to be collected in 2021, and a quarter of future revenues, on non-bridging programs.
Council member Tammy Morales, of southeast Seattle, is not convinced that “75% for bridges and 25% for sidewalks” reflects the best priorities. “I have two voters who have died in the past two weeks on a bicycle,” she said on Wednesday. “Hundreds of housing units are being built along Rainier Avenue, where the sidewalks are distorted by the roots of the trees.
Jonathan Hopkins, executive director of the Seattle Subway Volunteer Group, said the city should spend $ 3 million to create a master plan that includes an intercity streetcar.
Seattle motorists last year paid a city car fee of $ 80, of which $ 60 funded more transit services and free student fares.
The council let the $ 60 transit portion expire on Dec.31 after Eyman’s I-976 to reduce car tab taxes was passed in November 2019. The state Supreme Court threw out the I-976 in October 2020, but Seattle had already chosen not to send the $ 60. costs back to a public vote. Instead, voters last November passed a transit sales tax of 15 cents per $ 100 spent.
The city continued to collect an annual fee of $ 20 for the car that helps fund basic projects like pothole repairs. The council approved a $ 20 fee increase in November and Pedersen, Lewis and Herbold offered to spend that money on the bridges. But a majority of council members have asked SDOT to seek public comment on how to spend the money more widely.
Now the sentiment turns to more spending on bridges.
“This approach will create jobs now when we need them, as we emerge from the economic recession,” Pedro Espinoza, political director of the North West Carpenters Union, said Wednesday morning.
SDOT said it needed $ 8 million for urgent repairs to the University, Ballard, Fremont and Spokane Street movable bridges. In addition, SDOT can afford to seismically renovate only 11 of the 16 bridges promised under the 2015 Move Seattle tax.
Even $ 100 million will not fund everything the board members want. A new Magnolia bridge could require $ 300 million for the mid-range option. Regarding seismic work, new research projects that $ 249 million is needed to rebuild the foundations and beams of the Fourth Avenue South / Argo bridge, where a track has been closed since 2017 to reduce stress on the span. .
In a meeting on Monday, Lewis mentioned his “unpleasant experience” crossing the narrow walkway of the Ballard Bridge, but money for the widening of that span was not offered.
Sam Zimbabwe, director of SDOT, told council members he was questioning the concept of locking in 20 years of money in an immediate bond sale, instead of maintaining a steady stream of income for bridges or other works. maintenance.
City council has the power to increase car-tab fees by an additional $ 10 per year in 2023, or to return an increase of up to $ 60 to voters in Seattle.