By Lorilyn Lirio
The Olympia City Council is considering increasing sales tax to 0.1% to support transportation projects, Transportation Director Sophie Stimson announced at the Planning Commission meeting on Monday.
On July 19, the Olympia Finance Committee approved the Transportation Department’s recommendation of increasing a 0.1% sales tax through the Transportation Benefit District (TBD). The committee forwarded the recommendation to the city council and will be part of the budget discussion in the fall.
If approved by the city council, it would generate about $3.1 million in new revenues for the TBD. The funding would not be available until 2025. “You would not see this new revenue source reflected [in the Capital Facilities Plan] until a couple of years,” Stimson noted.
The TBD, created in 2009, forms an independent taxing district governed by the city council. It generates $1.5 million in revenues annually through vehicle license fees, including the $40 vehicle tab.
“To date, we’ve used it for pavement management,” Stimson said of the TBD funds, adding that the money could also be used to support other projects outlined in the Transportation Master Plan (TMP).
The department proposes focusing the $3.1 million funds on bike and pedestrian improvements. “This is what we have heard most strongly from folks in the community about what needs to move forward.”
There is also a suggestion that some revenue goes towards hiring a new engineer. Stimson said the additional staff would significantly help the department to make more progress with building projects in the TMP.
Currently, the Transportation Department has two engineers. Only a fraction of the time of one of the engineers is allocated to scoping and designing capital projects. Stimpson said the limited capacity hinders the department’s ability to develop projects and get them moving.
The Transportation focuses on pathway projects as City Project Engineer Joey Jones updated the Planning commissioners on the CFP program changes.
The update in the 2024 CFP includes the additional sidewalk repair projects.
Other changes include:
The Boulevard Road sidewalk – the design funding is in 2026, but moved the project forward to 2024 and 2025.
“This is in response to the call for getting more sidewalk projects done. We’ve moved that forward, and we were able to find some funding to help push that project forward a little bit,” Jones explained.
San Mar Drive pathway – design from 2024 to 2025
Coulter Street pathway – design from 2025 to 2026
Bing Street pathway – design from 2026 to 2027
Vista Avenue pathway – design from 2027 to 2028
According to Jones, the pathway projects had funds allocation in consecutive years, but the department had to postpone them by one year each. The delay was due to limited staff availability and funding constraints.
Access and road safety. Lilly Road corridor safety predesigns pushed to 2026 from 2024-2025. Jones explained that staff and funding availability have pushed these projects out.
Intersection improvements. The Division Street and Elliott Avenue roundabout, initially included in the CFP six-year list, has been removed due to concerns about potential environmental impacts because of possible and probable fuel tanks on two of the intersection’s four corners.
“So there’s a lot more environmental impacts that need to be delved into. We don’t think we have the funding to get to it in the next six years,” Jones said, adding that the project was not completely abandoned, and options for its implementation in the future are still being explored, taking into account the substantial environmental impacts and associated costs.
Street repair and reconstruction program. The department dropped the State Avenue asphalt overlay was dropped from the list in the 2023 CFP plan. Jones said they are in the process of revamping the pavement management program. They will be developing a new project list which will be reflected in the 2024 CFP.
Major street reconstruction. US 101/West Olympia access project design was removed from the six-year list. Jones said the project heavily depended on state and federal funds. He informed the commissioners that the state had not included this project in transportation funding packages through 2029.
Commissioner William Hannah questioned Transportation’s decision to delay the Lilly Road corridor safety predesign project. He said the road had a history of accidents.
Hannah, who is legally blind, described that Lilly Road has driveways everywhere, with high speeds with heavily-dense traffic. “I will do everything I can to stay off that road.”
Jones explained that the delay was based on a data-driven street safety plan, which identifies high-risk areas and guides the prioritization process. In addition, he said, funding limitations also played a role.
“A lot of people who walk (are) not going on to that road…the data may be skewed because nobody’s using it,” Hannah pointed out.