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Barring road art might not save much

OLYMPIA — The state Transportation Department would be barred from spending highway construction money for art or special concrete designs on walls and bridges under a Valley legislator's bill.
But that might not save much money to spend on other projects. The department said it doesn't spend any money on art for road or bridge projects, and the most elaborate concrete designs seen alongside highways around the state are funded by local communities.
In an effort to find ways to make the state's transportation dollars go farther, Rep. Matt Shea proposed HB 2092 that would bar money from designated sources like gasoline taxes from going to art or artistic designs
“There's a perception out there that we spend a lot of money on art and textured concrete,” Shea told the House Transportation Committee Tuesday.
The Art in Public Places program, established by the Legislature in 1974, requires one-half of 1 percent of the cost of a public building to be spent on art projects. But that doesn't apply to transportation projects, Alyssa Ball, a researcher for the committee said, because the state Constitution requires fuel taxes and vehicle fees to spent only for highway purposes.
Textured concrete can add 1 percent or less to the cost of the concrete on a bridge or wall, but studies show it cuts down on maintenance and is less likely to be targeted by graffiti, Pasco Bakotich, a design engineer, said.
The department's design manual does call for textured concrete “architectural finishes” but if a community wants anything beyond 10 standard designs, it pays the extra cost, Bakotich said.
What about the Transportation Department's buildings, Rep. Jason Overstreet, R-Lynden, asked. How much is spent on art for them that could be spent instead on road construction?
Mike Sweeney from the state Arts Commission, which administers the public arts program, said he'd have to research the total, but added there hasn't been anything spent since 1999 “and we don't have anything in the works.”
Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Ballard, said she was a big fan of public art projects because otherwise buildings would “look like the Soviet Union.”

Bill would highlight transportation project mistakes

OLYMPIA – The state Transportation Department would have to report mistakes on projects that cost more than $500,000 and in some cases explain to the Legislature why the person responsible wasn’t fired, under a bill being considered by a House committee.

The proposal is partly in response to some high-profile mistakes on major projects, like leaky pontoons for a bridge over Lake Washington that might cost $100 million to fix and a proposed bridge over the Columbia River that wasn’t designed to be tall enough to let ships pass and may cost $30 million to redesign and build, Rep. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, said. But a list provided to O’Ban from the Transportation Department showed some 14 projects over the last 10 years had mistakes costing a total of $29.2 million to fix.

O’Ban said the bill was about transparency and a greater level of accountability, not about punishment: “We need a process that forces the tough questions to be asked.”

But representatives of the department and its engineers said those errors are already reported, and many of the bill’s requirements for oversight are already in place.

When a costly error happens, it's not usually a single person who makes the mistake, Vince Oliveri of the transportation workers union said. “It has more to do with the process.”