In a new report, Highway Boondoggles 2, U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group profile the most wasteful highway projects that state DOTs are building. Today we look at a classic — Washington’s $3 billion “Puget Sound Gateway Project.”
Washington plans to spend billions on the Puget Sound Gateway project to “relieve congestion,” but if anything the project will increase it. Furthermore, it is planned for an area where traffic has been stagnant for more than a decade, and where other transportation needs are clamoring for attention.
The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has proposed construction of a $2.8 billion to $3.1 billion project between Seattle and Tacoma: expanding State Route 167 between Tacoma and Puyallup by two lanes and State Route 509 from Kent to Burien by two lanes. Also proposed is adding two new express lanes to Interstate 5 between the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, which could be used by drivers willing to pay for an expedited trip through the new lanes.
Toll revenue would only contribute $330 million toward the total cost of the project from the time it is completed in 2021 until 2060. WSDOT has already warned that more than a billion dollars in additional state borrowing will likely be needed to cover the project’s costs.
Justification for the project relies on claims by WSDOT that expanding routes 167 and 509 will bolster Washington’s export economy by increasing the ease and efficiency of the transport of commercial goods along the routes and to the ports. WSDOT also claims the project would reduce congestion through the region.
But the state’s own data show that building the project would substantially increase traffic on I-5, inducing cars and trucks to drive nearly 2 million more miles a year on the highway by 2030, and drivers to spend more than 25,000 hours behind the wheel on I-5 in that year than if the project was not built. In addition, traffic on routes 167 and 509 remained stagnant between 2003 and 2014.