Because of a drop in material costs and competitive bidding, Washington state will be able to finance an additional 21 transportation projects, with a total price tag of $112 million. That’s good news, but its announcement also spotlighted how even more savings could be realized.
In Spokane Valley, $25 million will be spent on widening Interstate 90 to three lanes each way between Sullivan and Barker roads. But the first winter those lanes are available motorists will immediately begin grinding them down with studded tires. We know this because another project announced by the Washington State Department of Transportation is the repair of the rutted stretch of the same freeway from downtown Spokane westward to the top of Sunset Hill, at a cost of $15.5 million.
These rut repairs are needed because the state refuses to curtail the use of studded tires in the winter, despite compelling evidence that those metal road grinders do not increase safety.
In the Department of Transportation press release heralding these new projects, state Rep. Judy Clibborn, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, said: “Taxpayers expect us to use money wisely to maintain our highways and make them safer.”
Unfortunately, many taxpayers will not take it upon themselves to extend the lives of these roads. And don’t count on state legislators to act, because they’ve already demonstrated their unwillingness to take on the keepers of the studded tire faith. As a result, the state will continue to spend approximately $15 million annually to repair roadway grooves. This doesn’t count the toll on local roads.
It would be nice to have that cash for, say, the North Spokane Corridor or to repair local streets.
The last survey of studded tire use was conducted seven years ago and it found that 32 percent of Eastern Washington drivers used them. More than half of motorists in Spokane used them. Because of the advancing technology of winter tires, those numbers are probably lower now. Word has gotten around that snow tires are safer than the studded versions in almost every conceivable winter weather condition. In fact, it is only on glare-ice days that studs outperform winter tires. Studs increase stopping times when roads are wet, which is a far more common condition.
We would urge holdouts to take the time between now and Nov. 1, when studded tire season officially begins, to check with family members and friends who have converted to winter tires. We would urge them to consult the studies on this issue. They are posted on the WSDOT website.
The state has done a good job of getting more bang from hard-to-secure transportation bucks. If more drivers did their part, the bang would be louder.
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