On our final episode before our annual July/August hiatus, Inside Olympia host Austin Jenkins spent the whole hour with Roger Millar, secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Two topics that are much on Millar’s mind? Maintenance and safety. Millar offered some historical context on transportation maintenance and funding. When the interstate highway system was built, 90% of the money came from the federal government. Now, 80 cents out of every transportation dollar comes from the state. Millar hopes a federal infrastructure package signals a renewed willingness from the federal government to fund transportation.
He said the state is currently spending less than half of what it needs to spend to maintain our roads, bridges, ferries, buildings, vehicle fleet and overall transporation infrastructure. The federal gas tax, which provides money for maintenance, hasn’t been raised since 1993. The state gas tax has ballooned since 2000, but nearly all that money was for new projects, not maintenance. Due to budgetary concerns, the WSDOT has decided not to do maintenance on any highways with speed limits under 45 miles per hour — all maintenance funds are going to high-speed roads, where safety is critical.
Millar said safety is a growing concern, especially heading into the summer travel season. A State Patrol Officer was recently killed while helping a stranded motorist, a flagger was killed earlier this year, and WSDOT vehicles have been hit at an alarming rate.
Millar also discussed the future of transportation, autonomous vehicles, mass transit, road usage charges and more.