Visualizing the Solutions to Deferred Road Maintenance

Release date: 10/07/2013
Sponsored by: Board of Commissioners

Visualizing the Solution to Deferred Road Maintenance

Some of the biggest challenges we face as a county are not always visible in our day-to-day lives. Such is the case with how we should pay for on-going maintenance of our city and county roads now — before it costs more later.

Decades ago, this problem was much clearer. Our countywide road system had a reputation for being in disrepair. Without the resources needed for maintenance, we essentially threw up our hands. In many cases, we were forced to grind pot-holed paved roads back into gravel.

When faced with such a visible challenge, and in the midst of our national energy crisis, Washington County voters approved a 1-cent-per-gallon gas tax in 1977 dedicated to improving maintenance of our county and city roadways. In the decades since then, multiple funding sources for our road system have been established. State and local gas taxes support maintenance. Voter-approved property tax dollars – combined with developer fees, and state and federal grant funds –support improvements to our transportation system. Washington County is now considered a shining example of how to fund local roads.

Fast forward to today and our community faces a less visible problem. Just as home budgets have been squeezed, so too have road maintenance budgets across the country. Gas tax revenue is not keeping up with increasing maintenance costs. For example, liquid asphalt costs have tripled since 2004. As a result, county roads are beginning to deteriorate.

Most of us would not notice this problem while driving around our community today because our roadways seem to be in pretty good shape. But over time our deferred maintenance costs have grown to more than $10 million. Some of the needs are in the form of pavement that has reached the end of its useful life, but other needs are more serious, such as culverts and bridges needing repair or replacement. At current funding levels, we're falling behind on preventive maintenance. By the time this problem becomes obvious, it will cost substantially more to address. In short, letting our roads deteriorate now will cost us all much more later. That is not good public policy.

As a result, your Washington County Board of Commissioners, with recommendations from its citizen and elected advisory committees, is considering a $30 annual vehicle registration fee dedicated to maintaining our road system and preventing further backsliding. That amount – which works out to $2.50 per month – would bring many county roads up to adopted standards and keep them there for 15 to 20 years. Cities would receive 40 percent of the funds to maintain or improve city roads and some traffic signals could be updated to help move traffic more efficiently.

Many residents have questions about how a vehicle registration fee would be applied. Others feel strongly that our proposal should be placed before the voters. Your Board of County Commissioners has heard these concerns and tabled its decision until next summer. In the meantime, we plan to do a better job of illustrating a challenging problem that is hard to visualize today.

Chairman Andy Duyck
Commissioner Greg Malinowski
Commissioner Roy Rogers
Commissioner Dick Schouten
Commissioner Bob Terry

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