Commentary: Tell your legislator to help support city transportation needs

By Phil Williams
Public Works Director, City of Edmonds

In May of last year the Beacon and My Edmonds News hosted a series of columns leading up to the start of the City’s 2013 Budget process. One of those articles looked at the cost of maintaining the City’s street system compared to available funding. The basic message in 2012 was that our street system, specifically, the condition of our pavement, was at best only fair and getting worse every year. Our crews do their best to keep these driving surfaces smooth and safe by fixing potholes, sealing cracks, and doing small repairs but this is not enough to keep the quality of our streets stable. What is needed is a comprehensive pavement management program, including pavement overlays, at a cost of $1.4 to $1.7 million each year. We currently do not have the revenue to support that.

The only two dedicated funding sources for Edmonds’ streets, the gas tax and local license fee, are static while the cost of labor and materials to maintain streets continues to rise. This situation has not changed in the last year. Neither the 2012 nor the 2013 State legislature took any direct action to provide new street funding options for local governments. The 2013 legislature will be starting a special session on May 13 but it is unclear whether or how transportation funding will be addressed and whether any new local options will be created.

The gap between available revenues and expenses for Edmonds is approximately $250,000 in the 2013 approved Street Fund budget. It should be pointed out this does not include the $1.4 to $1.7 million needed for an effective paving program as discussed above. Our current revenues are, therefore, insufficient even to continue the current minimal repair and maintenance program we now operate let alone a full-scale pavement management program. The only way we will be able to continue our current street maintenance program in 2013 is to spend all of our beginning cash-on-hand. That will, of course, not be an option in 2014. If there is no new revenue in the 2014 Street Fund we will see our service levels and overall maintenance effort drop sharply. This has, I would suggest, turned from a funding problem into a funding crisis. It is hard to think of the condition of our streets as a crisis but the slow, predictable decline in street condition is about to get worse quickly if no additional investments can be made.

Many cities across the state are experiencing the same set of circumstances as we in Edmonds are facing. Our Mayor, Council and staff members have been actively engaged with the legislature this session attempting to raise the needs of a variety of transportation shortfalls here and across the state. While the General Session has concluded, the Governor has called a Special Session to deal with the state budget and a separate transportation budget. How can you help? By contacting your local legislator and ask them to provide tools for our city and others to maintain our transportation needs.

  1. One of the problems that I see in Edmonds is that some streets that were originally designed for residential traffic flow are having to accommodate greater volumes of arterial traffic. It is clear from signage and lane marking that this is intentional, although in my opinion, ill conceived. Further, these same streets are being used for trucks that ignore the ton limit signs. Walnut, for example, is one of the steepest streets in Edmonds and has been experiencing increasing volumes of traffic that includes heavy truck traffic. The street surface looks like a patch-work quilt with repairs to both the roadway surface and the sub-surface infrastructure. Semi truck trailers have dug deep gouges at the steep stop at Walnut and 7th. While I agree that revenue needs are apparent, it is time that the city also consider traffic rerouting to arterials designed to handle a higher volume and enforce existing weight limits on residential streets. From my perspective, we must use our available funds wisely to avoid unnecessary repair costs in the future. When I see that the city of Edmonds is taking steps to develop a vision and comprehensive plan for traffic flow that values and seeks to improve the ambiance of existing neighborhoods, then I will encourage our legislators to address our transportation plans. But for now, I am not aware of any true vision or comprehensive plan–I only see a reactionary response to existing problems and funding shortfalls.

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