Funding for roads used for other priorities, wrote former Public Works director

  • City Council Member Tom Odell is on the record—several times—that Sammamish neglected its road infrastructure for 10 years. Charts and graphs below tell the depressing story.
  • “[F]unding that could have been used for transportation capital projects was used for other priorities such as city hall, the city’s street maintenance program, the YMCA/Community Center and to some extent, even the city’s parks capital projects,” wrote the City’s former Director of Public Works in June 2017.

If Sammamish residents want to know why there is so much traffic congestion, two visuals created by citizen Miki Mullor tells the story easier than long, drawn out narratives can.

Few roads, lots of population growth

The chart on the left shows money spent on roads in blue, the cost of road projects identified in pinkish and money spent on concurrency road projects in beige. This illustrates the overall decisions not to fund road projects in Sammamish. the chart on the right illustrates the growing population, which generates more traffic. The spike in 2016 reflects the annexation of the greater Klahanie area. Source: Miki Mullor, relying on city data. Click on image to enlarge.

Figure 1:

Even as Sammamish City Councils, since inception in 1999, were well aware of transportation needs, spending didn’t come close to identified needs.

Meanwhile, beginning in 2009, the population began to increase dramatically. More population added more vehicles to the roads—from residents, from construction trucks and construction employees, services, schools and more.

The red represents concurrency and non-concurrency road projects that were identified but not funded. Green represents projects that were funded. Source: Miki Mullor, relying on city data. Click on image to enlarge.

Figure 2.

A link to these charts and the full presentation is here.

Priorities other than roads

And why wasn’t this money spent?

Fiscal policies and competing priorities, the latter left over from decades of infrastructure neglect from the rule by King County government before incorporation and because of resident “wants” after incorporation.

By the end of 2015, then-City Manager Ben Yazici boasted Sammamish spent about $250m in infrastructure (roads, parks, City Hall, a commitment for the Community Center, other City facilities and amenities).

The City Council was adamant about not raising taxes and controlling spending, even as roads became more and more congested.

John Cunningham, the City’s public works director from 2006-2010 and more recently a consultant to the City, wrote in an email to the current Public Works Director, Steve Leniszewski:

“I believe that there were also some non-transportation projects that were a high priority for past council’s on which funding that could have been used for transportation capital projects was used for other priorities such as city hall, the city’s street maintenance program, the YMCA/Community Center and to some extent, even the city’s parks capital projects (I could be wrong on this, but I think it was/is by city priority that half of the REET funds are put towards parks capital – I don’t think that is a State requirement for their use); not that it is wrong to spend the REET revenue on parks capital projects, this just speaks to the city’s priorities and their desire to be able to improve both the transportation and the parks systems at the same time between incorporation and now. In addition, there were the 3 projects to improve 228th Avenue from IPLRd to NE 8th Streets.” (Emphasis added.)

This email was written June 9 this year, just days after Mullor revealed a 91-page Power Point study that called into question the veracity of the City’s transportation concurrency system.

The Community Center, which had a cost of more than $25m for City funds (plus another $5m from the YMCA).

Ignoring roads

The other priorities came at a cost to traffic flow.

City Council Member Tom Odell is on the record—several times—that Sammamish neglected its road infrastructure for 10 years.

Sammamish, which is currently under an emergency development moratorium was under a de facto one after the 2008 global financial crisis began, drying up capital for new projects. There were some in the pipeline that were completed in 2009-2010, but the steady increase in population began a continuous upward trend from 2010.

The greater Klahanie area, with 10,000 residents, was annexed in 2016, accounting for the population spike in Figure 1, but this traffic was already on the roads.

Sammamish Comment previously reported how transportation road dollars were reassigned from legacy Sammamish to Issaquah-Fall City Road, along Klahanie, to fulfill a promise to the residents to improve this road if they voted to annex to Sammamish.

But Yazici, then-Mayor Tom Vance and the entire City Council told legacy Sammamish annexing Klahanie would not adversely affect the legacy City.

Approving projects

Despite the clear decisions by successive City Councils to not fund all the road projects identified over the years as needed, development projects were approved one after another after another.

With the majority of Sammamish’s operating budget based on property taxes, and new development means new money—but at the cost of new traffic.

Concurrency is supposed to manage growth

Traffic Concurrency policies and tests are supposed to be sure roads can accommodate new growth. But in Sammamish, no development has ever failed concurrency.

The reasons are emerging due to the efforts of citizen Mullor, who started digging through Public Records Requests and research.

He discovered the City Staff was ignoring adopted policies which had the effect of testing in the PM rush hour rather than the AM or PM, whichever was worse. Shoulder widths were counted as adding capacity, thus avoiding concurrency failure. Road segment averaging had the effect of preventing constricted segments from failing.

Despite efforts by the City to discredit Mullor, and Sammamish Comment for reporting on the study, subsequent data produced by the Administration verified the substance of Mullor’s report.

Misstating the law

It’s only gotten worse since then.

Mullor’s research now alleges that the recent City Councils have been misled about what State law says.

Mullor prepared a side-by-side comparisons of the law and the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

Click on image for a crisp view. Source: Miki Mullor.

Figure 3.

Key is the last set of boxes.

In July, Staff and consultant Victor Salemann told the Council concurrency could not be used to stop growth.

Mullor cites State law that land use policies can be reassessed if concurrency cannot be met.

If probable funding falls short of meeting identified needs, a discussion of how additional funding will be raised, or how land use assumptions will be reassessed to ensure that level of service standards will be met. Source: State law via Miki Mullor.

Figure 4.

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3 Responses to Funding for roads used for other priorities, wrote former Public Works director

  1. paigenor says:

    I’m new to reading your blog and will really miss your informative posts. I hope you’ll be posting in other places…

  2. Brian Derdowski says:

    Doing nothing to slow growth is not an option, but this is a misleading statement. The city has the authority, even legal duty, to delay and deny projects that don’t meet traffic concurrency. The city also has the duty to discipline its land use planning and zoning decisions with accurate road congestion information and policies. So, the city CAN lower the pace of development to match the reality on the ground.
    Purposely de-funding road projects in order to trigger concurrency moratoriums could be legally challenged by the developers, but they would have to prove that the city wasn’t meeting its growth targets, targets which themselves are largely voluntary. They would also have to prove that the city wasn’t complying with the Growth Management Act and the Countywide Planning Policies, and this would be very difficult since those policies are not strict in this regard. So, the city can and should spend its road money to solve existing safety, maintenance and congestion problems and use its concurrency authority to restrict development so that it doesn’t make the situation worse. If that slows growth, then so be it. It is legal, and good public policy.

  3. otto_the_taxpayer says:

    To say that the pool (err, I mean “Community Center”) was a waste is an understatement — it was a misuse of funds bordering on malfeasance, and a monument to the vainglory of the sitting Council members who approved it. To say it was a mistake to partner with a religious organization (which is EXACTLY what the YMCA is, despite any protestations to the contrary) is an understatement — it is quite likely a 1st amendment violation and the city is damned lucky they didn’t have to defend this bad decision in court (and they/we had better hope they don’t have to in the future). It should simply be divested and owned by the private sector, since it already competes with the private sector (this is called socialism, by the way — if you’re pro-socialist, fine, but let’s at least call things by their proper names).

    Perhaps the pool is just a drop in the bucket with regard to all the other tricks and sleights of hand the Council has played on its constituents, but at $25 million (and counting), it deserves even more critical attention than it’s ever really received. Nice to see that somebody else noticed — too little, too late, as always.

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