Fixing traffic congestion 'impossible,' says Washington transportation chief
SEATTLE - More and bigger highways won’t cure Washington state’s growing traffic woes and preventing congestion is an impossible goal from a financial standpoint.
That gloomy assessment comes from Roger Millar, the head of the state Department of Transportation, according to a report in the AASHTO Journal published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
At a meeting of the association last week, Millar said building more highways "isn't the answer,” and congestion "is a problem we simply cannot solve."
He says burgeoning traffic on the state's roads is actually a symptom of a much bigger problem - that people can't afford to live where they work, so they spend hours on the road in vehicles that many times are not in very good condition.
"Washington state family after Washington family keeps finding out that the only house they can afford is miles away from where they work," he said. "Executive housing and Walmart jobs is not a housing solution – that only puts more people on road."
And bigger highways would simply dump more vehicles onto already congested surface streets, he said, causing backups there.
Millar also criticized the state’s gas tax as being inadequate for the work it’s intended to fund.
Washington's gas tax is the second highest in the nation at nearly 68 cents including the federal gas tax - more than double what it was in 2000.
"But what concerns me with all that money is that it pays off bonds (for completed projects)," Millar said. "By 2027, about 71 percent of the gas tax will be going to pay off bonds – so we'll be sending the bulk of the gas tax to the bank."
The answer, he says, is to come up with new approaches to solving the state's transportation woes. The state Department of Transportation is embarking on a 20-year multimodal plan that recognizes there is limited funding for transportation investment, he says.
"I've been in this business for 40 years and we need to acknowledge when something is not working and thus be willing to try something different," Millar said.