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Car-tab fee for bridge maintenance? Councilmembers’ proposal

One of the issues brought up in the process of deciding whether to repair or replace the damaged West Seattle Bridge is the cost of future maintenance. Tonight, three councilmembers including West Seattle/South Park’s Lisa Herbold are proposing a car-tab fee to help pay for bridge maintenance citywide, replacing part of a fee that’s about to expire. From the announcement we just received:

With support from labor and business communities, Councilmembers Alex Pedersen, Lisa Herbold, and Andrew J. Lewis today proposed legislation to use Vehicle Licensing Fees to boost maintenance of multimodal bridges throughout Seattle. Vehicle Licensing Fees, which were previously set at $80, would move from $20 to $40 under the new legislation, as authorized by RCW 36.73.065 and RCW 82.80.140. The legislation would raise an additional $3.6 million in 2021 and an additional $7.2 million in subsequent years. The Councilmembers propose to direct the additional funding to bridges with high-frequency public transit.

The Seattle City Auditor recently published a report on the city’s bridges indicating high unmet needs for bridge maintenance. The engineering standard for bridge maintenance in Seattle ranges from $34 million to $102 million per year, and yet the current level for is only $10 million approximately. The city needs to add $24 million at the very least to meet the lowest estimate of maintenance needs. The City Council Budget Chair’s initial balance package restores or funds several transportation projects while adding $4 million to bridge maintenance. By tapping the adjusted vehicle license fees, this legislation would invest another $3.6 million to double the Council’s addition to $7.6 million. This represents an incremental increase to begin meeting a clear need.

So to recap – the current city car-tab fee is at $80 (going toward transit) and scheduled to drop to $20, but this would drop it to $40 instead. The proposed legislation (read it here) is on the council’s “introduction and referral” calendar for the coming week; it likely won’t be voted on until after the council wraps up its budget work just before Thanksgiving.

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