The Thurston County Board of Commissioners voted today to support the creation of a Transportation Benefit District in unincorporated Thurston County—the first step in a process that will allow the county to seek additional funds for maintaining and preserving the county's roads, bridges, and transportation infrastructure.
"It's clear we have an urgent need to address our aging and deteriorating infrastructure. Creating the district will be an important step forward toward meeting those growing needs," said Thurston County Commission Chair Karen Valenzuela.
State law authorizes cities and counties in Washington to create local transportation benefit districts to help fund public transit operations and local transportation infrastructure. With today's vote, county commissioners have cleared the way to create the district in January. The three commissioners would make up the board of directors for the district, as state law requires.
One of the first issues commissioners would tackle as the board of directors for the new district would be examining the various funding options available to transportation benefit districts. One option allowed by state law is collecting an annual car licensing fee of $20 for vehicles registered in unincorporated Thurston County, which would raise approximately $1.8 million annually for preservation and maintenance of the county's transportation infrastructure. The district's board of directors would also need to determine the criteria for choosing transportation projects, and develop a district work plan with a list of priority projects.
"We've been talking about it for some years now, and while I think we have a ways to go before we commit to a funding mechanism, I do believe laying the foundation today is prudent," said Commission Vice Chair Sandra Romero.
Commissioner Cathy Wolfe said, "I think today we're setting the stage for finding the solution for our aging infrastructure. I'm looking forward to doing a great deal of outreach and discussion with people in the community about our roads priorities."
Thurston County's transportation system has an estimated value of more than $750 million and includes:
- More than 1,000 miles of roadway
- 109 bridges
- 47 miles of trails
- More than 110 miles of sidewalks
- More than 23 miles of guardrail
- More than 1,000 street lights
- Nearly 6,500 storm drains
- 256 storm water ponds
- More than 17,000 traffic signs
While the county's transportation system is extensive, it also is aging, and the county is struggling to keep up with the skyrocketing costs of maintaining the system. In the last ten years, the revenue the county receives for transportation has grown 16 percent, but the costs of construction have grown by about 80 percent in Washington state, and that wide gap is only growing. The cost of some materials used in road construction are rising at an even faster rate, such as the cost of chipseal, which has more than doubled in the last ten years.
"Clearly we have a fundamental problem with the growth in costs far outpacing our revenue, but having a transportation benefit district for the unincorporated county will give us an option to start addressing the problem," said Ramiro Chavez, Director of the county's Public Works Department. "The TBD is not a silver bullet for our funding problem, but it will allow us to make strategic investments in maintaining and preserving the system, and protect what we have in place today." -30-