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WA Group: Stop Focusing on Transportation Mega-Projects, Think Locally

Pedestrian deaths in Washington state have doubled over the past decade. (Richard Erikkson/Flickr)
Pedestrian deaths in Washington state have doubled over the past decade. (Richard Erikkson/Flickr)
February 13, 2020

SEATTLE -- Instead of expanding highways, Washington state leaders should focus on local challenges to transportation, one group says.

Feet First, an Evergreen State group that promotes walkable communities, says while the state has added Interstate highway lanes, local maintenance has been neglected.

And it maintains, the neglect could make communities more dangerous. In the past decade, pedestrian deaths in the state have doubled.

John Stewart, vice president of the board of Feet First, says Washington state's priorities have changed in the past few decades.

"Progressive sets of state transportation packages have focused very much on very large projects and have forgotten about the small things, and the small things are what make communities work in the end," he points out.

Feet First is urging the governor and lawmakers to measure mobility in forms beyond cars -- including walking, biking and using a wheelchair.

It also wants leaders to focus on safety over speed, use funds for maintenance rather than road expansion and provide equity in spending across the state.

Stewart says Feet First doesn't expect big transit changes during this year's short legislative session, but believes some fixes could be on the table next year.

The group is one of the nominating agencies for the Transportation Improvement Board, which picks local projects across the state to fund.

Stewart says his group gets about three times as many applications as it can support and would like to see the state prioritize this program.

"That's all about communities trying to figure out how to build more walkable places with the resources they have and looking to the state for help," he points out. "So, thinking about models like that -- how do you take the state's transportation dollars and invest them better around the state for the things that matter?"

Stewart says the passage of Initiative 976 limiting car registration fees to $30 has removed a crucial funding source for local communities.

However, Feet First maintains the initiative gives the state an opportunity to reconsider its priorities when it comes to transportation.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA