The Senate on Monday passed Senate Bill 5165, the 2021-23 Transportation Budget, on a unanimous vote. However passage of the transportation budget came with a warning from Sen. Steve Hobbs, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and bill’s sponsor.

“This budget only keeps the lights on, and Washingtonians expect and need more than a transportation budget that merely keeps the lights on,” Hobbs said. “We have many infrastructure needs in this state that continue to go unaddressed.

“One-time federal money will keep us afloat for a bit, but to really address the multitude of needs that exist in communities throughout Washington, a transportation revenue package must be passed.”

Approximately $1 billion from the recently passed American Rescue Plan is being assumed to help fill funding gaps. Of that one-time federal money, $600 million will be used to backfill pandemic-related revenue losses, while about $400 million is slated for water infrastructure investments to remove fish culverts. However, budget writers are still waiting for the US Department of the Treasury to issue guidance on whether investments in water infrastructure include spending on fish culverts.

In addition to those federal funds, $142.9 million from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), the federal Covid-19 relief package passed in December, will also go toward fish culvert removal. And $124 million in CRRSA funds will go toward addressing the shortfall in funding for Puget Sound ferry operations.

Despite the fiscal constraints, there are some modest new investments included in the transportation budget including:

  • $5.5 million in federal funds for the new Forward Drive road usage charge (RUC) project overseen by the Transportation Commission. As the transition away from fossil fuels continues, this project will research key policy areas related to a RUC program. That includes assessing the impacts on a RUC program due to changing driving habits in the future, an equity analysis to make sure people aren’t disproportionately impacted, updating and assessing emerging mileage reporting methods, and determining opportunities to reduce the cost of collection.
  • $100,000 for WSDOT to work with the Department of Commerce to develop statewide vehicle miles traveled (VMT) targets and a process for geography-specific VMT targets based on statewide targets.
  • $1.0 million in additional funding for the Pre-Apprenticeship & Supportive Services (PASS) grant program to recruit and retain members from underrepresented communities in construction trades. This investment pushes funding for this program to $3 million for this biennium.
  • Funding is maintained at $726.4 million in the 2021-23 biennium for fish passage barrier removal using a variety of federal funds, savings from Connecting Washington projects to be deposited into the Transportation Future Funding Program Account, and state funds.

Also included is funding for the Joint Transportation Committee:

  • $220,000 will go toward studying the Department of Transportation’s role in broadband service expansion efforts.
  • $250,000 will study new options for payment of vehicle fees and taxes including spreading out the cost with monthly or quarterly payment options. The study must also provide options to reduce impacts on communities of color, low-income households, vulnerable populations, and displaced communities.

“The best thing about this transportation budget is how well it reflects the urgent need for infrastructure investments,” Hobbs said. “One-time federal money only postpones the need. Delaying action on infrastructure investments makes them more expensive.

“I am committed to working with my colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus, across chambers and across the aisle to get this done. Throw party and geography out the window — every community in our state would benefit from infrastructure investment in terms of jobs and overall quality of life.”