The Lynnwood City Council earlier this week continued its ongoing discussion regarding transportation projects and how the city pays for improvements to roads and sidewalks.
The council has received regular updates from staff about the various maintenance programs the city has to repave streets and repair sidewalks. At its Oct. 4 work session, the council was briefed by staff on a plan to fund several transportation projects through 2035.
During the briefing, Public Works Director Bill Franz highlighted several projects like the recently completed 36th Avenue West redevelopment, the 196th Street widening project, which is currently under construction, and the future Poplar Way bridge. Franz said these (and other) projects are necessary to increase traffic capacity as the city prepares for the arrival of Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link light rail.
“All of that development creates pressure on these major arterials,” he said. “(Those) projects are the fruits of many decades of work.”
Franz also reviewed the city’s street maintenance programs to repair and repave roads, which he said are underfunded. Transportation projects are funded through a variety of sources. For the past 20 years, the city has allocated approximately $2 million each year to road maintenance. The city also uses gas tax funds (which amounts to about $1.9 million each year) to fund the programs.
The city also uses Transportation Benefit District (TBD) funds — like car tab fees and sales tax — to supplement road maintenance. Each year, the city uses about $750,000 in TBD funds for road repairs, which Franz said is leaving less money for major projects.
“The more we rely on TBD funds for that daily maintenance, the less we have to do these other programs like overlays and sidewalk work and things like that,” Franz said.
During the 2021-22 budgeting cycle, the city allocated $7.7 million for road repairs. However, staff have estimated that $13.5 million to $22.6 million is needed to cover the cost to repair all the city’s roads and sidewalks.
According to Franz, it costs about $1 million to repair a road and with 100 miles of road in Lynnwood, crews can replace about one road each year. By his estimation, it would take 100 years to replace all of Lynnwood’s roads at the rate repairs are funded. Franz said roads have a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years, but major arterials that see more traffic may need to be replaced sooner.
Franz also updated the council on $1.8 million in unspent funds from car tab fees. In November 2019, Washington voters approved I-976, which limited vehicle tab fees to $30, eliminating the $40 Lynnwood tab fee entirely. In October 2020, the Washington State Supreme Court struck the measure down, calling it unconstitutional. Though the city has continued to collect the funds, they have not been included in the budget.
During the briefing, Franz suggested keeping $1 million in reserves for unexpected cost increases. The rest could go toward repair projects, he added.
Franz also briefed the council on the cost for the city’s major projects, which amount to $185.9 million. A significant portion would be funded through a combination of federal and state grants and the city anticipates paying for $76.3 million over 15 years (roughly $5 million each year). Since Lynnwood is designated as a transportation hub with the use of light rail in 2024, Franz said he is confident the city will receive the grant funding.
During the discussion, Council Vice President Jim Smith asked why staff haven’t asked for more money over the years, stating that after 20 years, more money should be going toward roads.
In response, Franz explained that the fund to repair streets is separate from the general fund and added that when staff start planning the budget for road maintenance, the general fund is already budgeted. Franz also pointed out that this is not the first time staff have presented this information to the council.
“Even with these wonderful new revenues that we’re putting into place we can project forward and see that even in the long run it’s not going to be enough,” Franz said.
During his comments, Council President George Hurst proposed adopting an ordinance eliminating car tab fees in Lynnwood since a majority of residents voted to eliminate them in 2019.
“The Lynnwood voters supported I-976 by 54% and I think we need to respect the voters on that,” Hurst
Per Hurst’s proposal, the measure would go into effect in 2023, giving the city a year to figure out how the loss of revenue would impact the city. Speaking of his decision, Hurst said that Lynnwood was one of six Washington cities with a TBD that imposed a sales tax and car tab fee. Additionally, Lynnwood is one of three cities in the state with a car tab fee maxed out at $40.
“We are three out of 110 cities that fund our streets in this manner, and I think it’s time to reexamine this,” he said.
Anticipating this announcement, Franz noted that city Finance Director Michelle Meyer — who was unable to attend the meeting — has said she would like to be part of any discussion to eliminate the city’s car tab fee. According to Franz, Meyer said removing the fee could negatively impact the city’s budget.
“(Meyer) has grave concerns of the implications that action would have on the citywide budget and pressures it would put on many other things that are already feeling pressure,” Franz said.
In other business, the council met with the city’s federal lobbyist Mark Dedrick from Summit Strategies. During his briefing, Dedrick updated the council on his work representing the city’s interests in Washington, D.C.
Also during the meeting, the council reviewed proposed amendments to the city’s municipal codes regarding board and commissions.
–By Cody Sexton