By Keith Ervin
SEATTLE King County Executive Ron Sims has responded
to Initiative 776's rollback of vehicle-license fees by proposing
a halt to road-building projects intended to reduce congestion.
Unless the county finds a new source of money, some of its
biggest projects including a $39 million widening of
Novelty Hill Road east of Redmond could be put on hold
Other projects in jeopardy include improvements to Woodinville-Duvall
Road and to Benson and Carr roads between Renton and Kent.
Projects already under way would be exempt from the moratorium.
In a letter sent Monday to Metropolitan King County Council
Chairman Larry Phillips, Sims said I-776 will have "a
staggering impact" on the county's ability to build roads.
Voters passed anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman's initiative in
2002, rolling back vehicle-license fees. But the county only
began to feel its impact in October, when the state Supreme
Court upheld elimination of the county's $15-per-vehicle fee.
"We said it would be ugly, and it's ugly," Ryan
Bayne, Sims' liaison to the County Council, said yesterday.
The County Council will decide on Sims' proposed changes
to the county's six-year roads plan.
Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives said Sims' proposal continues
the county's long failure to build the roads needed to support
development approved by the county.
"I think he has to stop approving developments,"
Ives said. "You wouldn't open a building without water
and sewer. Why are we allowing buildings to open up without
infrastructure for mobility? Development should go in cities,
where there is already infrastructure."
The loss of revenue from vehicle-license fees is costing
King County $4.8 million a year all of which went toward
road projects and the county must refund vehicle owners
the fees they paid last year.
But the county's total loss is much larger $111.6 million
over six years because of what one county transportation
official called "a snowball effect."
Because the county must match developer fees and federal
and state grants on road projects, the county won't get an
estimated $17 million in those grants and fees between 2004
And reduced revenues mean the county has less money to make
payments on $80 million in road bonds it planned to sell this
year and in 2006. The county plans to reduce the bond sale
to $19 million. Its ability to finance bonds will be further
reduced by the road-levy revenues it will lose if cities annex
urban unincorporated areas, as Sims has urged them to do.
The total estimated revenue loss of $111.6 million represents
28 percent of the $400 million capital-improvement program
Roads Division Director Linda Dougherty said the sale of
$40 million in bonds in 2002 jump-started a number of road
projects. "We've been able to really demonstrate we're
able to get these large-capital projects designed and built
in short order. ... It was exciting that we were getting these
projects built. Then ouch!"
Sims told the County Council he decided to defer "road-capacity
projects" as an alternative to cutting projects needed
to improve safety or maintain the county's investment in existing
roads. Safety and maintenance are the top priorities in the
revised capital improvement plan Sims sent to the County Council.
That plan would reduce total road projects by $11.2 million
this year. After the Supreme Court upheld I-776's ban on collection
of the vehicle fee, Sims told the County Council he would
submit a revised roads plan.
Sims told the County Council on Monday he has asked the county
Department of Transportation to make recommendations for replacing
the lost vehicle-license revenue. Dougherty said transportation
officials have just begun to consider options.
Among sources available to the county are increases in the
sales tax, property tax or gas tax, which voters would have
"I continue to strongly support the need to solve our
traffic-congestion problems now, not 10 or 20 years from now,"
Sims wrote in his letter to the council. "I sincerely
hope this drastic downsizing of our roads CIP (capital-improvement
program) is only temporary."
Sims' proposed deferral of work on the long-awaited improvements
to Novelty Hill Road east of Redmond drew concern from the
developers and opponents of the massive Redmond Ridge and
Trilogy urban villages.
Bill Boucher, vice president of communications for Weyerhaeuser
subsidiary Quadrant, which is developing Redmond Ridge and
co-developing Trilogy, said the company has spent $18 million
to improve Novelty Hill Road and other arterials.
"The company clearly has done its share, lived up to
its obligations, its timelines, and will continue to do so,"
Boucher said. Now, he said, it's the county's turn.
Though the county's planned improvements to Novelty Hill
Road are estimated at $39 million, Dougherty said, planners
have determined the actual cost will be substantially higher
probably around $60 million.
Dougherty said the improvements might be done in phases,
and the county might improve other arterials, diverting some
traffic to Union Hill Road.
If Sims seeks a tax increase to handle traffic generated
by Redmond Ridge and Trilogy, which together will add 3,750
homes, voters won't be happy, said Joseph Elfelt, president
of Friends of the Law, a group that has challenged the developments
"When they go to the voters and say, 'Hey, we want you
to raise your taxes to build this road for Weyerhaeuser,'
it's not a modest sum," Elfelt said.
County Councilman Steve Hammond, R-Enumclaw, said he hadn't
read Sims' message to the County Council but was concerned
about the possibility of a moratorium on projects to ease
One of Hammond's priorities has been to increase road capacity.
Despite the county's budget difficulties, he said, "I
would rather not give up the fight."