Few items in a city’s budget draw the attention — or the ire — of taxpayers as quickly as street repair. Perhaps that is because few items are shared as broadly among the populace, with a majority of residents depending on reliable streets on a daily basis.
In order to provide the greatest benefits for the greatest number of people, city of Vancouver officials should ensure that improvements are continuously made on roads that are used for commuting, shopping and emergency services.
All of which is up for discussion now that the state Supreme Court has overturned Initiative 976, a statewide ballot measure that passed last year. The initiative would have limited vehicle registration fees to $30 and would have prevented jurisdictions from adding additional local fees. The court ruled this month that the measure was unconstitutional because its ballot title was misleading and because it addressed more than one topic.
When I-976 was passed, city officials began scrambling in anticipation of a decline in the budget for street maintenance. Vancouver has a $40 annual vehicle license fee that supports a Transportation Benefit District. That money would have been lost and also would have diminished the city’s ability to attract state and federal grants for transportation projects; in 2018, Vancouver won $8.4 million in such grants.
The fund has made an impact. According to Streets and Transportation Manager Ryan Lopossa, the city’s average pavement condition index (a measurement of the quality of streets), has improved from 68 to 73 in recent years.
That is beneficial to local residents and businesses. But it also shows that much work remains. A score of 73 indicates that local streets are satisfactory on average, but there is nothing satisfactory about the rattle that comes with hitting a pothole or driving along a bumpy road.
Because of that, city council members should be cautious about considering a proposal from Lopossa. “(Initiative) 976, when that was passed, one of the first things we had to do was take $1 million out of our pavement program because of that projected loss in revenue,” he told the council. “And so with that being undone, we’re able to put that $1 million back. What I’m suggesting is we take $400,000 of that million and we put that in the Multimodal Safety and Accessibility Program.”
Improving multimodal safety and accessibility is, indeed, important. Enhancing safety for pedestrians and bicyclists makes the city more livable and encourages alternate transportation; improving accessibility not only is a quality-of-life issue but often is required by law.
But the fact is that a vast majority of Vancouver residents rely on personal vehicles for their transportation. If the streets they drive are in merely satisfactory condition, improving those streets must remain the priority.
Ignoring that need demonstrates the reason that Initiative 976 was approved by 61 percent of Clark County voters. Frustration over a perceived lack of attention from government officials has made voters leery about providing funding for government projects that often run counter to the will of the voters. While the manner in which 976 was written and proposed violated state law, that does not diminish the desires of the public.
Those desires typically are to have well-maintained streets, smooth traffic flow and ease of travel throughout the city. Vancouver officials should be cautious about making other transportation items a priority.