Monthly Archives: January 2014

Sheldon fears mega-project overruns

State transportation leaders said Wednesday they can compensate for enormous cost overruns on the new Highway 520 bridge without postponing other projects. Tim Sheldon will believe it when he sees it.
The floating bridge project was budgeted at $2.73 billion, including a $250 million contingency fund. A state Department of Transportation pontoon design error ate up much of the reserve, Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said during a meeting with the Joint Transportation Committee in Olympia. More change orders are coming that will put the project $170 million in the red.
Peterson said higher tolls on the 520 bridge or a tax increase won’t be needed. The state can borrow more against current toll revenues, and some funds must come from “efficiencies” in other road projects.
“Efficiencies,” Sheldon worries, could mean delays or cuts. The 35th District senator and Mason County commissioner has seen it before.
He led an effort to get $15 million in the 2005 transportation funding package for the Belfair bypass. It turned out not to be enough to complete the job, and was diverted to another project. There’s still only enough money to complete the environmental review.
“I told them I did not believe what they were saying, that it would not impact the other projects in the other districts, because it will,” Sheldon said of Wednesday’s meeting. “The money will be swept from other small projects around the state, and they wont’ get done. That’s my prediction.”
Widening of Highway 3 through Belfair was delayed for years and split into two stages because funding fell short. There’s $18.2 million to build the first phase this summer.
“They will do that to other projects, and they might continue it with the Belfair project,” he said. “They won’t happen because the mega-projects take the money.”
Bailing out the new 520 floating bridge project could come up during a meeting Wednesday night about the the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which is being paid for entirely with tolls. The citizen advisory committee and state tolling officials will be discussing whether rates need to be raised to keep up with expenses. There’s a 25-cent increase already on the books for July 1.
Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, said he’ll continue to press for a cap on tolls. If a transportation revenue package is passed, he’s proposing to freeze tolls at $4 for electronic payment and $4.25 for cash by using gas taxes to pay the rest. Rates are now $4.25 and $5.25.

Washington middle of the road for user fees

Washington ranks 21st in the country in the percentage of road funds raised through user fees. User fees are gas taxes, tolls and license fees, stuff you pay if you’re driving the roads.
The Tax Foundation, which derived the information from 2011 numbers, thinks most transportation funding should come from user fees. Funding it with general revenue makes roads “free,” causing them to become overused and congested.

I don’t have a problem with user fees, but I have a hard time grasping that statement.
Nearly half of Washington’s state and local road spending — 48.9 percent — comes from the three categories. Most (29.8 percent) derives from taxes at the gas pump, followed by 12.4 percent from license fees and 6.7 percent via tolls. Though the percentage is relatively small, Washington ranks 14th in road funds raised through tolls. First is Delaware at 48.1 percent, followed by New Jersey (32.8) and New York (29.1). Tennessee has none.
Washington seems certain to grow that number. Though tolls are now only collected on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Highway 167 hot lanes and 520 floating bridge, the state is studying them for a handful of other places. Fortunately, none of them are on this side of the water. We do pay about 70 percent of ferry operating costs, which I would consider in the same category.
Washington also ranks 14th in state fuel taxes, generating 29.8 percent of its road funds from them. That would take a leap if the Legislature passes a transportation revenue package with a 10- or 11-cent increase it’s been kicking around.
Massachusetts is first at 43.4 percent, Alaska last at 2.3 percent.
Washington ranks 30th in percentage of road funds from license taxes, at 12.4 percent. You’d think that fell off the table in 1999 when the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax was cut to $30, and has been inching its way back up since then.
At the top is Hawaii at 46.4 percent; West Virginia is at the other extreme, at 0.3 percent.
Combine all three, and Delaware leads the way at 78.6 percent, followed by Hawaii (77.3) and Florida (68.8). Bringing up the rear are Alaska (10.5), South Dakota (21.5) and Wyoming (24.5). Nationwide, the rate was 50.4 percent, about the same as Washington.
The Tax Foundation, which calls itself a nonpartisan tax research group but has been described as pro-business and conservative-leaning, says subsidizing road spending from general revenues creates pressure to increase income or sales taxes, which isn’t fair to non-users and undermines economic growth for the state.

No more Big Macs at Seattle’s Colman Dock

McDonald’s has left the terminal building.
The fast-food chain closed its Colman Dock restaurant at the end of the day Dec. 31. Business wasn’t great, and it was only getting worse because of encroaching construction projects.
The corporation decided at the last minute not to extend its concession contract, said Washington State Ferries spokeswoman Marta Coursey. It had been at the location for 26 years.
McDonald’s was at street level, right off of Alaskan Way. A food court opened upstairs in the terminal in June 2008, siphoning off some burger business. McDonald’s had been losing money for at least a year, Coursey said.
Sales declined in recent months because of seawall construction activity and the resultant loss of Metro bus service on Alaskan Way. The disruption is expected to be worse in 2015-16 when work occurs right in front of Colman Dock.
The restaurant also needed $250,000 in equipment and decor upgrades. McDonald’s wouldn’t have have enough time to recoup the investment before the terminal has to be vacated for a renovation in mid-2018.
Speaking of that, everybody will have to vacate for the demolition. Washington State Ferries is hoping tenants stick around until then. Their current contracts run out late this year.
The new terminal building will house two coffee-stand-size concession spaces. Two larger retail shells will be built at street level. WSF might hire a developer to build and find tenants for most of the potential concession space or issue a request for proposals for individual businesses to develop and operate concession facilities, said Tim McGuigan, director of legal services and contracts. The ferries system is looking for a consultant to assess potential retail in the new terminal.