NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Washington's Political Bait-and-Switch

June 24, 2013

A near-disaster at the Skagit River Bridge in Washington state sent three people plunging into the river last month. Poor signage and a functionally obsolete bridge appear to be the major factors. Predictably, bureaucrats and politicians are using this occurrence to demand even more money for unnecessary projects, while critical infrastructure needs are neglected. Voters shouldn't let bureaucrats reward inefficiency by approving new taxes while existing funds are being frittered away, says Daniel Bier of the Reason Foundation.

  • Many are using the event in Washington as a call to action on the long-postponed $3.2 billion Columbia River Bridge connecting Oregon and Washington, which would replace the current obsolete bridge.
  • While Oregon has already approved $450 million in funding, Washington has been cautious about proceeding given the project's enormous costs, including $750 million to build a light rail line that will never pay for itself.
  • Washington must also approve $450 million this year in order to capture $1.2 billion in federal funds for the project.
  • The Skagit River incident further serves to focus pressure on the legislature to approve new taxes for this expensive light rail line.

There are many things that can and should be done to improve Washington's bridges and roads.

  • Directing funds toward maintenance and away from flashy new transit projects and a focus on more efficient use of existing funds are both crucial.
  • Better signs indicating height, weight and speed restrictions on deficient and obsolete bridges could make relatively little money go a long way toward preventing future accidents and collapses.

But currently taxpayers are being offered a bait-and-switch, as politicians emphasize the danger of old bridges in order to secure additional funding for unrelated pet projects, like stormwater-mitigation and light rail.

Voters and legislators should not allow this event to pressure them into supporting inefficient and uneconomical projects that will divert desperately needed funds away from necessary maintenance and improvements. Washington state's bridge problem lies with poor management -- not poor funding.

Source: Daniel Bier, "Throwing Money at Bridges Will Not Fix the Problem," Reason Foundation, June 17, 2013.


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