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Investing in future transportation infrastructure, from the federal to local levels

Much is happening on transportation investments, from the federal to county levels.

The recently passed federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is expected to yield $380 million for Sound Transit, $89 million for Community Transit, and $7 for Everett Transit, with additional opportunities to fund bus electrification and major transit capital projects. On the highway side, Washington State is expected to receive $4.7 billion for highway repair & maintenance, and $600 million for bridge repair & replacement, with billions more in competitive grants.

The USDOT is pressuring states to allocating their funding in a manner that prioritizes maintenance and preservation over highway expansion, and that invests in pedestrian, bicycle, and transit infrastructure improvements. Details on these new requirements are still coming out.

At the state level, WSDOT Director Roger Millar emphasizes "practical design/solutions," an agency philosophy of fix-it-first and multimodal approaches. To the extent WSDOT is responsible for allocating the new federal funds, we might expect the agency to closely follow its own recent strategic planning direction and that of the USDOT.

After much hoopla last spring in the state legislature, momentum for a big state transportation package had seemed be fading. However, a lawsuit seeking to overturn Governor's line-item vetoes may kick the conversations for a package into high gear. The vetoed language had required a 5-cent gas tax to be passed in order for the state low carbon fuel standard and cap-and-trade bill.

With that issue now headed for the courts, the near legislature, dominated by a near Democratic super-majority, will likely try to eliminate the legal uncertainty over the two climate bills by passing a 5-cent gas tax during the 2022 legislative session. It's improbable that the Democrats will be able to muster enough votes for issuing bonds, so expect this package to remain pretty small. It's worth mentioning that Sen. Marko Liias of Mukilteo/Everett will return to presiding over the Senate Transportation Committee after Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens was appointed as State Secretary of State.

Every two years, WSDOT compiles a list of all of the planned transportation projects that will be completed over the next four years. Projects that make it into the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) are eligible for federal funding, which makes it critically important. Just last week, WSDOT wrapped up its public comment on the latest compilation. Of the 127 projects in Snohomish County, we found that 111 were in line with our recently adopted values and principles for state transportation infrastructure funding.

The STIP is comprised of projects prioritized by each metropolitan region. PSRC also just updated its regional priorities list, which informed the STIP update. Now, PSRC is currently taking feedback on its draft selection criteria that will inform which projects will get added to the next list. The new regional priorities list will ultimately get rolled into the Regional Transportation Plan, which is also undergoing a major update.

The new proposed selection criteria for regional priorities list the give greater weight to for social equity and traffic safety factors, and establish a new set-aside for social equity projects. PSRC Board President Claudia Balducci is calling for greater emphasis to be placed on meeting the region's climate targets.

Comments on the draft criteria for the Regional Priorities List are due by January 5. PSRC will open comments on the yet-to-be-released draft update to the Regional Transportation Plan in January-February.

A the county level, the Snohomish County Committee for Improved Transportation (SCCIT), Snohomish County Public Works, and Economic Alliance Snohomish County recently updated their annual priority project list (PDF) that it hopes the legislature, region, and federal government may help fund.

Some of the projects on the SCCIT, regional, and STIP lists are already starting to get funded, planned, and completed. Here are those that have been in the news recently:

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