New estimates suggest that the Washington Department of Transportation will have to spend between $7.3 and $7.8 billion to comply with a court order mandating the improvement of passageways for salmon underneath highways, according to the Seattle Times.
The estimates represent a roughly $4 billion increase over what the state has already spent or planned to spend on the project, the Seattle Times reported. Democratic state Rep. Jake Fey, chair of the House Transportation Committee, said that “certainly there will be delays [to state projects]” as a result of the salmon spending and that they “may be substantial delays.”
Washington State had the fifth worst highway system in the United States, according to the Reason Institute’s annual highway report. The state received poor ratings in pavement condition, urban congestion and the efficiency of its infrastructure spending, among other areas.
The additional $4 billion Washington is expected to shell out to ease salmon passage will only cover a relatively slim proportion of their habitat.
The Washington Department of Transportation expects that the $3.8 billion they previously planned to spend on salmon passages would open up 80% of the fish’s total upstream habitat. To reach the 90% figure mandated after a coalition of Indian tribes and the U.S. government successfully sued the state, however, Washington will need to spend up to $4 billion more.
The final 10% of the project, according to the Washington Department of Transportation’s estimates, could cost more than the first 80%. “If we’re only gaining 10%, is it worth the $4 billion to do it?” state Sen. Curtis King said.
John Sledd, an attorney for the Indian tribes that sued Washington, suggested that the state could pass a new gas tax to fund the fish passageways. Washington has the third-highest gas prices in the country, according to AAA.
This wouldn’t be the first time transportation budgets have taken a hit in Washington to fund progressive priorities. Amid a deficit, Seattle proposed cutting funding to its transportation department, which oversees the city’s public transit and maintains infrastructure, in its 2023 budget.
Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights, which is responsible for “developing policies and promoting partnerships to achieve racial equity and social justice,” and the Office of Sustainability and Environment, which exists to “facilitate a just transition from fossil fuels, while prioritizing people and communities most affected by economic, racial, and environmental injustices,” however, received increases to their budgets under the proposal, despite the deficit.
The Washington Department of Transportation did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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