Cost of rebuilding Highway 520 rises by $406 million for section near Capitol Hill
Governor Jay Inslee wants to use half a billion dollars in federal pandemic relief funds to deal with rapid increases in the cost of replacing the Highway 520 bridge and widenings of the combined Interstate 405/Highway 167 d ‘East side.
The spending, which must be approved by the legislature, is meant to keep the two already delayed megaprojects from wasting more time. The federal money also helps elected officials avoid even considering a gas tax hike, sparing both parties the risk of angering voters in an election year.
That’s a change from 2021, when lawmakers nearly raised the gas tax by 9.8 cents per gallon, and enacted a carbon pricing system that begins in 2023. Rather than increasing the taxes now, Senate Democrats have tabled a 2022 transportation budget bill that reflects a big federal injection.
Recently revealed cost spikes illustrate how highways face the same constraints as public transit: rising costs for labor and materials; a shortage of great contractors which generates higher bids; and lost engineering time at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, Inslee temporarily suspended some road projects after Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 was passed in 2019 to reduce taxes on car tabs, only to be shot down by the Supreme Court over a misleading ballot title.
Highway inflation is not as well-known as Sound Transit’s current $6.5 billion funding shortfall in three counties, largely attributable to land prices and estimation errors. They’re tied because Sound Transit’s Stride Bus Rapid Transit on I-405, which voters approved to start in 2024, is already delayed until 2027 or 2028, and would slip further if the state loses more. time on I-405 road construction that provides bus access lanes and new toll lanes where buses could move quickly along the freeway.
The governor’s plan aligns with a goal of federal relief funds, which replace lost state revenue, said Erik Hansen, senior analyst for the state’s Office of Financial Management. The WSDOT also lost toll revenue when traffic dropped in 2020-21.
“This will allow us to stay on top of critical projects on major freeways, like the 520, 405 and 167 corridors that we don’t want to see disrupted,” Inslee said when announcing his proposed budget last month.
On the other hand, these are dollars that states can apply to other infrastructure such as water and sewer projects, or even social services.
The state received a total of $4.4 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money and entered 2022 with $1.3 billion unspent, of which the two major highway projects would receive $500 million. Federal pandemic assistance of all kinds to Washington state has totaled about $11 billion, with the vast majority going to households, medical needs and schools.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, said the governor’s plan was not a done deal. He proposes eliminating sales tax on the construction and supplies of Highway 520, saving $200 million for this project, and then reserving ARPA money for other programs.
However, Fey defends the use of federal funds for roads, noting that the general fund enjoys a surplus while recent transportation revenues have plummeted in the pandemic.
“You need to have a functioning transportation system for the state to be successful,” he said.
WSDOT began planning in 1997 and broke ground in 2011 to replace the section of Highway 520 between I-405 and I-5, which will be completed in the early 2030s. The floating and fixed bridge spans of The originals were opened in 1963, and the conductors still run on concrete columns that could break in an earthquake.
Transportation Secretary Roger Millar described the transfer of the salvage act as preservation funds, saying Wednesday he supported the necessary replacement of seismically weak structures on Highway 520, improving access “buoy of rescue” after any future disaster.
The Highway 520 program requires $406 million in new money to reach a total of $5.1 billion, according to Legislative Assembly budget records. Of that, $200 million would be federal relief dollars under Inslee’s proposal, with the rest coming from state transportation accounts and a bond sale over the next decade.
The Seattle connection will be completed in 2031-33, about five years after the old 2027 goal, said Dawn Yankauskas, 520 assistant administrator for WSDOT. A new Montlake interchange is being built, followed by a Portage Bay Bridge concrete girder, a scenic cover north of Capitol Hill, and a 520 bus lane at the I-5 express lanes.
WSDOT added features after discussions with the community, Yankauskas said. A bike lane will be added to the Portage Bay Bridge, along with bike lane connections around Capitol Hill, she said. The lid will have better views towards the bay and Lake Washington.
Geotechnical surveys for the bus interchange revealed unstable ground on Capitol Hill. These also require a stronger retaining wall and deep foundations for the lid and Portage Bay segment, she said.
Slippery floors have been known for six decades, when a landslide interfered with the construction of the original Highway 520.
Fey, the Tacoma legislator, said, “I was shocked at the amount of the raise for 520.” He expects more gaps as WSDOT designs the Puget Sound Gateway, planned extensions to Interstates 167 and 509 that will connect to the Port of Tacoma and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. “I expect it to be a regular thing, which is very disconcerting,” he said.
Similarly, the long-awaited I-405/Highway 167 program is $450 million short, $300 million of which would be covered by federal grants, and the rest by highway funds and waiving sales tax. on site. The $4 billion plan adds toll lanes between Bellevue and Renton, multiple exit lanes and new capacity near the Sammamish Slough narrows in Bothell.
During a Senate committee hearing, Bellevue City Council member Jennifer Robertson told senators that her city was planning 25,000 new jobs by 2025, “but with that enthusiasm comes immense pressure as well. to improve access for future growth and solve our existing mobility problems”.
Last year, lawmakers spent $600 million in ARPA aid for roads and $400 million to replace culverts that improve the flow of fish-bearing streams.
The 405/167 program was not included, Robertson testified. “Now it’s time to deliver on this promise, this session.”
In yet another bit of fortune, Inslee has offered to direct $329 million of the Biden administration’s new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, toward preserving transportation through 2025. That could solve a crisis that lawmakers and governors created in the 2000s and 2010s, borrowing so heavily for megaprojects that the WSDOT couldn’t keep up. maintenance of ruined roads and bridges.