Monday, August 14, 2006

King County CONcurrency - How much development can it support with one unbuilt road project?

In 1992, King County added CIP#100992 to its Capital Improvement Program to widen Novelty Hill Road. As the years passed, mega-developments like Redmond Ridge and Trilogy were approved, constructed, and traffic congestion grew into miles of backups in the morning commute. But CIP#100992 still hasn't been built. Why? Dollars have flowed into this CIP over the years, and the dollars have flowed out of it, as millions were spent on design, ROW acquistion, and little else, other than maintaining this project as justification for thousands of trips in capacity on a roadway that is still primarily 2 lanes between Redmond Ridge and Redmond.

We're not talking about small change either. The CIP peaked in 2001 at nearly $90 million. That was up from $17.5 million the year before, and $46 million a year after. Today, after spending more than $9 million to date, King County still doesn't have a plan, an EIS, funding, or contracts signed for construction. That $9 million has fallen down a whole never to be seen again, while the County now uses this CIP project to justify another development, Redmond Ridge East.

In fact, the construction years for this "poster child" for delayed CIP projects was once in the last decade. It slid a decade ago from the last century into this century. Construction was set for 2005 in 2000, 2006 in the 2001 CIP, and today it alleges to "fully fund" construction for 2009. In all likelihood, though, if we see anything before 2011 it will probably shock even the DOT planners.

Amazingly, today CIP#100992 has shrunk to a $20 million construction project in the CIP, on top of dollars already spent and future design and ROW acquisition, despite past studies that estimated it at 3 to 4 times that amount. But none of this really matters, because King County never needs to widen Novelty Hill Road. The dirty little secret, and the strategy that drove Sammamish to incorporate, is that King County doesn't needs roads to approve development for its friends with Weyerhaeuser, but all it needs is a line-item in the CIP with some imaginary dollars attached.

The not-so secret technique that King County has used for decades to approve development without building roads is well known to victims of King County's growth agenda. We've all seen it, but recently I received a letter from Assistant Cheif Civil Deputy Kevin Wright in the Prosecuting Attorney's Office that spells it right out as clear as can be. How can King County use unbuilt road projects to defend its decisions to approve development?

Here's the answer in Kevin Wright's own words:
By Code, the status of any construction contracts and any environmental review associated with a road improvement included in the County's CIP is not relevant to whether the road improvement will be considered to be completed "concurrent with development." The Code provides that road projects that are fully funded in the County's six-year CIP are included in the road network (referred to as the "committed network") used to measure concurrency. KCC.14.70.210(E)

So here is the mystery solved. King County puts money into the CIP for a road project and the law allows them to use the unbuilt capacity from the project to justify more growth. King County just calls the project "complete" when some funding appears in the CIP and they've satisfied the Growth Management Act's concurrency regulations. Whether the county has a design for the project is irrelevant. Whehter the project has a completed EIS is irrelevant. Whether the project is really fully funded is irrelevent. And whether any contracts have been issued for construction is completely irrelevant.

In reality, nothing is relevant in King County except keeping developers like Quadrant satisfied. If that means using the same unbuilt CIP project for 14 years to allow 5,000 homes, a business park, commercial and retail construction, so what?

That's why it's called CONcurrency. And as long as the citizens of King County continue to fall for it, our road network will not improve, growth will not be supported with infrastructure, and demands on the people to raise their taxes to subsidize the growth industry's profits will only increase.

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