The Senate on Saturday passed the 2021-23 Transportation Budget, on a 41-8 vote.

Senate Bill 5165 cleared the House earlier in the day and will now head to the Governor for his signature.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, and sponsor of the bill, is thankful the tough decisions to cut or delay projects did not have to be made, but warned that much more work needs to be done to truly meet the transportation infrastructure needs of communities across Washington.

“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.

“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.”

The 2021-23 Transportation budget provides $11.8 billion in appropriation authority, including approximately $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan 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 barriers and increase water flow. 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:

  • $5M additional funding for a total of $32.6M for the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Grant Program.
  • $5M additional funding for a total of $36.7M for the Safe Routes to Schools Grant Program.
  • $5M additional funding for a total of $67.8M for Special Needs Transit.
  • $5M additional funding for a total of $21.8M for Public Transportation – Green Transportation Capital Grants.
  • $250,000 for WSDOT to work with the Department of Commerce to develop vehicle miles traveled (VMT) targets for counties of a certain population density.
  • $4.0 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 $6 million for this biennium.
  • $2M – the Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises for increasing the number of certified women and minority-owned contractors outside of the Puget Sound area in the transportation sector.
  • 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.

Hobbs’ Forward Washington transportation investment plan is a 16-year, $17.8 billion transportation investment plan, partially funded through Sen. Reuven Carlyle’s cap and invest program, The Climate Commitment Act, SB 5126. Despite coming up short this session, Hobbs reiterated his commitment to continue working to complete the job.

“Our state’s transportation needs don’t end just because session has,” Hobbs said. “I plan to keep working on this during the interim, as well as encouraging our federal partners to act, and I’m optimistic that ultimately we’ll be able to pass something that addresses the multitude of transportation needs in communities across Washington.”