Seattle's Street Plan is 'Recipe for Disaster'

If the new fee passes referendum in November, the city will have half the funds it needs to stem deterioration.

One out of every four major Seattle roads is in serious disrepair. One out of every 10 is in such bad shape that it'll have to be reconstructed, according to the city's transportation department. In all, 400 miles of major streets need fixing, at an estimated cost of about $578 million.

Residential streets that once received routine maintenance now get none, only pothole repairs or emergency fixes. The city hasn't surveyed those streets but estimates it would cost $25 million annually to maintain them.

It's clear the city isn't spending enough to bring the average condition of major roadways up to even a satisfactory level. The question is whether it wants to.

The City Council will ask voters in November to add $60 to their vehicle-registration fees for 10 years. Twenty percent of the new fee — or about $12 — would go toward street paving, while almost half of the proposed fee is slated for transit improvements, including $18 million for planning and engineering a streetcar line that the city hopes to build if it can find the money.

Seattle now spends most of its $29 million annual paving budget repairing or rebuilding roadways. If approved by voters, the new fee would increase that by $4 million a year. That would still leave the city with only half of what it says it needs just to keep the streets from deteriorating further.

(More on Seattle's failing street plan . . . )