Aside from sharing a namesake, a lot is different between the District of Columbia and Washington state.
One of the biggest differences Eric Kulisch found when he made the move to Clark County four years ago was the quality of the roadway; it felt coarse and loud.
Kulisch isn’t alone. Washington Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar said that the state transportation system is “on a glidepath to failure” after lawmakers put too much money into building new projects and not enough into upkeep.
Washington State Department of Transportation’s focus now is on reducing the rate of deterioration, not on improving overall infrastructure condition, said Kelly Hanahan, WSDOT assistant communications manager.
“Like all regions in Washington, state-managed roads in Clark County are in an unsustainable decline,” Hanahan said in an email. “Statewide, current preservation funding meets only 40 percent of need. The long-term cost of underfunding maintenance and preservation for the system we have today is untenable.”
In Southwest Washington, the disrepair is most commonly seen in the region’s bridges, many of which, specifically on Interstate 5, were built at the same time and are aging and reaching the end of their service lives at the same time.
(Two months of critical bridge deck repairs on the northbound Interstate 5 North Fork Lewis River Bridge near Woodland, one of the region’s most problematic, will begin on Friday.)
Roads inside the city of Vancouver are better funded, Streets and Transportation Manager Ryan Lopossa said.
It wasn’t always this way, however. Up until 2015, when the city council adopted the Street Funding Strategy, which provided additional money to the Pavement Management Program, the city was focused primarily on major streets like 164th Avenue and Fourth Plain Boulevard. (A Columbian article from then quipped that drivers “may have been caught off guard … by an unusual sight on a residential street: paving equipment.”)
The city typically budgets $12 million to $14 million annually for its Pavement Management Program, which goes to resurfacing 12 to 15 miles of streets and applies preservation treatment to around 60 to 70 miles of streets each year.
In 2017, the pavement management program’s budget was around $9.7 million. In 2016, the program’s budget was about $6 million.
Prior to the adoption of the Street Funding Strategy, the city’s average pavement condition index, a scale from 0-100, was 68, or in fair condition. It is currently at 74, or in satisfactory condition.
“We’re definitely trending in the right direction with the condition of our streets,” Lopossa said.
Like with the city, the county puts an emphasis on preventive work.
Why the county is focusing its resources on roads that look fine and are not degraded is the source of some of the most frequent questions that Public Works receives, Deputy County Engineer Jeremy Provenzola said.
“You treat them before they degrade too far because at some point the different treatments aren’t viable solutions,” Provenzola said, adding that the upfront preservation work is significantly cheaper than doing extensive repairs.
In 2022, about 75 percent of county roads rated above 70, or satisfactory, on the pavement condition index.
In 2023, the county completed nine lane miles of resurfacing and 75 lane miles of preservation treatment.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.