Yakima area residents might remember when last June, a stretch of eastbound Interstate 82 near Zillah shut down for a week as state transportation crews worked to repair a gaping 15-foot-deep, 30-foot-wide sinkhole in the roadway.
A culvert that was part of the highway’s drainage system collapsed. It was just one example of the 45% of Yakima’s roadways that are due for rehabilitation, said Troy Suing, assistant regional administrator for planning, programming and communications at the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Washington is failing to put enough funds into maintaining its 7,000 miles of roads and bridges, a problem that’s playing out in Yakima County, according to a new state report.
State Route 410, State Route 823, and I-82 were cited as part of the crumbling infrastructure in the Washington, for which the state would need to spend an estimated $14.8 billion over the coming decade, or nearly $2,000 per resident, to achieve “minimally acceptable condition,” meaning roads, ferries and bridges could be maintained faster than they deteriorate.
“Our infrastructure is vastly underfunded,” Suing said.
About 72% of Washington’s highways are rated in acceptable condition, which means car wheels bounce up-and-down less than 170 inches per mile, according to federal data. That’s worse than the national average of 80% smooth pavement. WSDOT’s annual report, using less strict criteria, shows 93% rated “fair” or better.
In Yakima County, drainage system failure on State Route 410 on Chinook Pass has undermined the roadway’s gabion wall, putting drivers at risk en route to Mount Rainier National Park, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Norse Peak Wilderness and William O. Douglas Wilderness.
Severe corrosion on State Route 823 near Selah may block local access across the Yakima and Naches rivers between Selah, the city of Yakima, and I-82, an important freight, industrial, and commuter route.
Pavement deterioration at the I-82-Donald Road interchange near Wapato may make it more difficult to accelerate to highway speeds for on-ramps, and distressed off-ramps will require alert drivers to manage the change in condition as they transition from smoother pavements on T-1 freight mainlines, like I-82.
Available funds don’t meet the needs for infrastructure preservation in Washington.
Maintenance funds would grow in all four versions of the multiyear transportation packages lawmakers have proposed this legislative session, ranging from $10 billion to $22 billion, using mainly higher fuel taxes or carbon fees. WSDOT might also receive more federal money if Congress passes President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, which includes a promise to modernize 10,000 bridges and 20,000 miles of roadways.
Regardless of whether those plans materialize, Gov. Jay Inslee has recommended a $429 million spending increase on preservation for the regular 2021-23 state transportation budget.
Olympia’s hands have been tied by $16.5 billion in existing and planned debt — more than half of the state’s share of gasoline tax — to build massive projects like the Highway 99 tunnel, Highway 520 bridge replacement and future extensions of Highways 509 and 167 around SeaTac, Puyallup, Fife and Tacoma.
Suing hopes that the data the department has compiled will prompt lawmakers to make a change.
“In order to keep our roads in a state of good repair, more resources are needed,” he said.
Mike Lindblom of The Seattle Times contributed reporting.