Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Officials discuss 'horrible' state of Whitman County roadways; Deteriorating conditions cause concern for state, county and city leaders"

As I said earlier, when the Puget Sound gets a cold, we get the flu. Between the do-nothing-about-roads administration of Queen Christine and the millions spent on feel-good, benefit-few mass transit projects on the west side, Whitman County has gotten the short end of the stick.

Don't forget about us Dino, because the Democrats sure have.

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
The poor state of many Whitman County roads was the focal point of a meeting Tuesday between the Washington State Transportation Commission and local government officials.

Whitman County Commissioner Jerry Finch expressed his concern to the commission about the county's deteriorating road system and the lack of state money for maintenance.

"Whitman County is a rural county and I, as a commissioner, am very concerned about county roads," Finch said.

Finch said he is not expecting state money for additional paving of the county's more than 1,100 miles of unpaved roads, but he is concerned about preserving its existing 435 miles of paved roadways.

Transportatiion Commissioner Bob Distler acknowledged the declining condition of the roads in Whitman County and across the state, but said the state has serious budget constraints.

"The entire country is faced with this question of infrastructure and how we are going to fund it," Distler said.

The state has focused a great deal of its money on constructing new roads rather than maintaining its current roadways, WSTC Chairman Dick Ford said.

"The reality is we are spending too much money in construction and not enough in maintenance," Ford said. "In my opinion, we have some of our priorities wrong."

The other reality is the state just doesn't have the money, Ford said. Complicating matters is a decrease in revenue from the state's gas tax and increased operating expenses driven by the high cost of fuel.

Ford said soaring fuel costs have forced people to drive less or trade in their gas-guzzling SUVs for hybrids. While that might be good for the environment, it hasn't been the case for roads.

"When you go from 16 miles per gallon to 30 miles per gallon it has an impact" on gas tax revenue, Ford said.

Finch said preservation and safety need to be atop the list of priorities.

"I understand there will never be enough money to fix all the transportation problems, so we have to set priorities," he said.

Colfax Mayor Norma Becker said the state's idea of preserving state highways around Palouse has been to "patch, patch, patch."

"It's horrible," she said. "Every road you drive on is in such terrible condition you can hardly believe it."

Colfax City Administrator Carl Thompson said several major highways surrounding Colfax are in poor condition, including State Route 272 from Colfax to Palouse, Almota Road and U.S. Highway 195 coming into Colfax from Pullman.

Becker said increased traffic from logging and farming trucks on the roads has added to the poor conditions. This year's harsh winter - which required the application of gravel and de-icer and the use of tire chains and studded tires - added to the problems.

Becker said she realizes the state's hands are tied from a financial standpoint.

"The state maintains it as much as it can, but it's still in bad shape," she said.

The deteriorating roads aren't limited to state-maintained highways. Becker said Colfax's Main Street also has its share of problems. The city, like the state, only has been able to afford quick fixes like crack seal because of funding limitations.

"We've stretched our public works department to the max," Becker said.

Pullman also has its share of problems, Mayor Glenn Johnson said.

"Our roads are deteriorating as well," Johnson said. "When you start looking at repairing these streets it's a real challenge."

In addition to road repairs, county officials also discussed safety improvements.

Public Works Director Mark Storey said several county roads would benefit from guard rails, shoulders or re-engineering. However, obtaining grants for such projects has proved difficult.

"It's about impossible to get grants that will cover spot fixes on roads," Storey said.

Finch said improving county roads often is too expensive because of strict state standards. He suggested the state adopt categories of standards for roads, instead of the current "cookie-cutter approach."

"We don't need everything to state standards," Finch said. "We can get by with somewhat narrower roads."

Ford said state standards are in place to ensure the quality of roads, but the commission would consider examining the issue.

"There might be room for conversation," Ford said.


April E. Coggins said...

HAH! It took forty years to get the Pullman-Moscow corridor built. We won't get a dime for roads out of Olympia. However, they will be certain to send us their new taxes and regulations. Olympia is so helpfull, they want to extend their crumbling bridges to Pullman and Whitman county.

Mattwi said...

Yesterday the Highway Department was doing their yearly "patch and dash" on the main drag in Colton, The Town of Colton calls the street Broadway, it is actually HWY-195...

Sometimes the road looks like there was a mini mortar attack or midnight air strike took place... Pullman is even worse.

Your tax dollar at work!