Rep. Manweller explains why state road projects cost so much

July 2, 2013

State officials should stop imposing artificial costs on themselves when constructing state transportation projects, said Rep. Manweller in a widely-followed speech on the House floor recently (video below). Rep. Manweller’s presentation reflected many of the long-standing conclusions of Washington Policy Center’s research on the cost drivers built into the state transportation budget.

In our study “A Roadmap for Mobility,” we state that lawmakers should tackle the following cost drivers of public works projects before raising fees and taxes :

  • Prevailing Wage rules
    • Federal and State Prevailing Wage increase labor costs by about 22%.
  • Imposing state sales taxes on state projects
    • Sales tax paid on transportation projects is diverted into the general fund and increases project delivery costs by about 8.5%.
  • Inefficient permitting, environmental compliance
    • The rebuilding of the Skagit River bridge shows that projects can be built quickly and cheaply. Avoiding costly delay and streamlining permitting keeps cost lower.
  • Requiring expensive mass transit improvements on highway projects
    • One of the biggest cost contributors to the Columbia River Crossing project was the addition of light rail, costing about $1 billion and only serving 3-9% of trips across the bridge. Furthermore, the controversial nature of including light rail (bridge height, lack of congestion relief, operational funding) to the project delayed construction and cost the public approximately $170 million without a shovel hitting the ground.

As Rep. Manweller rightly pointed out, Washington citizens pay far more than they have to for essential public road projects. We spend $10 billion to get $6 billion worth of mobility for the traveling public, is how he put it.

The transportation tax proposal (HB 1954) was approved in the House, but the Senate decided not to take it up. There is a good chance a transportation package is going to be proposed in the next session, and lawmakers should realize that eliminating artificial cost drivers is good public policy and should be adopted before passing any legislation imposing higher taxes and fees to the travelling public.

Comments

Transportation

Rep Manwellers little speech is utter nonsense as he is just looking for cheap labor and I am sure he would be the first to say min. wage is to much to build our infrastructure so we should lower that also. I would say this would cause other problems when more and more workers have less and less money in there pockets, you don't even need a calculator to figure that out. Maybe Manweller should try and look at the bigger picture but I doubt that he gives a hoot about any thing other than he can say he is a tea party conservative, no taxes, lower wages and the hell with benefits what an ass!

Public Works Projects

The sales tax paid by the state on all public projects is a significant budget shifting mechanism. For example, on school projects, amounts paid for sales tax effectively slide 8.5% +/- into the general fund from the School Trust.

When the state choked off the Capital Budget pipeline by canceling pre-design and design in the 2009-2011 biennium, it not only helped throw the design professions into 20% plus unemployment but it cut general fund income for the next six years. Projects can't be shovel ready until they have passed through pencil ready.

And without capital projects with completed design ready to bid in the 2011-2013 biennium, recovery was slowed further as sales tax receipts stayed down. As a previosu state economist once told us at AIA Washington, agriculture drives the state's economy, but construction drives state revenue.