Roads, housing dominate State of the City speech

Officials say Port Townsend may consider increase in car tabs to pay for street repairs

Posted 1/26/23

Much to the joy of local residents, the city has a plan for Port Townsend’s dilapidated roads and plentiful potholes.

That was one of many topics and challenges discussed by City Manager …

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Roads, housing dominate State of the City speech

Officials say Port Townsend may consider increase in car tabs to pay for street repairs


Much to the joy of local residents, the city has a plan for Port Townsend’s dilapidated roads and plentiful potholes.

That was one of many topics and challenges discussed by City Manager John Mauro and Mayor David Faber in the annual State of the City update, given to business owners and the public Jan. 20 via Zoom.

Like most any discussion on the Olympic Peninsula, housing was at the center of pressing issues. But the mayor and city manager also shed light on local road repairs and recent infrastructure challenges faced by the city.

Mauro and Faber outlined the municipality’s successes and challenges of last year, as well as aspirations for the new year during the online event, hosted by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

“The last year has been full of a lot of challenges, a lot of difficult times. But it’s also presented a lot of opportunities to the city,” Faber said.


A topic that’s earned the ire of locals driving around Uptown or on any of Port Townsend’s pothole-infested roadways has been the need for repairs.

But help is on the way, according to the mayor and city manager.

“We’ve made some funding available in this year’s budget to actually start getting a handle on our local road repairs,” Mauro said. “We’ve let things go and this is a chance to clammer our way back.”

Part of the reasoning for the delay on road repairs stems back to anti-tax political activist Tim Eyman and his $30 car tab initiative that was passed by voters in the state’s November 1999 ballot, Faber said.

The initiative “gutted state transportation revenues, which was the source of shared revenues that came from Washington state to local jurisdictions to repair roadways,” Faber said.

“When that went away, it was never backfilled. The Legislature never started providing us money from another source,” he said. “So that’s one of the reasons why the roads are in such bad shape. But we’re working on options locally.”

For 2023, however, maintaining streets will be a bigger priority than ever for the city.

“It’s in our budget this year to invest in local streets,” Mauro said.

This year, the city has dedicated $908,000 in banked capacity funds for street maintenance — a major increase from the funding levels in the $100,000 range for road repairs in prior years.

“The thinking at the time was, ‘$100,000 isn’t even a drop in the bucket. We’re still losing ground, so why even start?’ Which wasn’t the best idea, but it’s exciting to see that we’re actually starting to turn the proverbial boat around here,” Faber said.

“The $908,000 in streets maintenance funding, that is unheard of in the time that I’ve been on council, in terms of the money being put into preserving our essential infrastructure here,” Faber added.

The city plans to repair multiple roadways across Port Townsend, from a segment of Filmore Street to parts of Sheridan Street to  Jackman Street, according to a proposed 2023 road repairs slide shared during the State of the City.

“It’s far from what we actually need in terms of funding to maintain our roadways, which there’s some exciting things that I think are going to be coming up this year with [city] council,” Faber said. “Keeping things from falling apart would be at least a nice first step.”

The estimated total in funds needed to fully revamp all of Port Townsend’s dilapidated streets is estimated in the $90-plus million range, according to the city.

“If the need is actually
$91 million, then what are we going to do on streets if we only get $1.8 million for this five- or six-year cycle?” Mauro asked. “The answer could be from you, and that’s why we want to engage with as many people as possible on all of those major policy projects and decision-making for our future this year.”

With the goliath size of repair tasks and limited funding, city officials are also looking at other ways of increasing monies for street maintenance.

“One of them that I think has been popular in many jurisdictions is a transportation benefit district,” Faber said.

“There’s a variety of options under the state law for one, and what that looks like. Basically, additional taxing revenue that can be done either through additional car tab fees … there’s also an option for additional sales tax revenues.”

“We’re going to look at those through our Infrastructure and Development Committee probably later on this year,” Faber added.


Among the pertinent topics addressed, the two officials discussed recent infrastructure woes, like the sewer main break that occurred on Water Street in late December.

“As we learned in the last week of last year, infrastructure unpredictably fails, and when it does, boy is it astounding,” Mauro said. “Those pipes and roads and facilities and parks and the other infrastructure you depend on, they need greater attention.”

The city manager reiterated a need to invest time and resources into the city’s infrastructure, with Public Works crews currently probing the sewer main in search of further damage to the integral pipeline for downtown and Uptown.

“On infrastructure, we’ve never done a capital facilities plan like we have, so that’s a big win,” Mauro said. “We just finished the Gaines Street pump station.”


Mauro and Faber also spoke on housing, a central topic that includes a lack of affordability for would-be homebuyers in town and its impact on local workforce shortages.

“Housing: The single-most important issue facing our city as far as I’m concerned,” Faber said. “One of the tough things is, it’s an extremely difficult area to operate in.”

The city manager and mayor lauded local workforce housing projects in and around town, such as Seventh Haven, a 43-unit affordable housing project on Seventh and Hendricks streets ushered by nonprofit Olympic Community Action Programs.

The pair also discussed Evans Vista, a city-led housing project expected to bring 100 to 150 workforce housing units on a 14.4-acre parcel of land south of the Sims Way and Rainier Street roundabout.

“Really, [it’s] a work in progress right now around unlocking affordable, dense, quality infill development,” Mauro said.

While Mauro and Faber were optimistic about the ambitious Evans Vista project, still in its infancy, Faber warned of unforeseen consequences of housing policy that isn’t well thought out.

“There’s also the concerns about well-meaning, but potentially destructive policy that could undermine our goals to make housing more affordable locally,” Faber said. “All of those things we have to navigate carefully, but also aggressively move forward on that so we can deliver as quickly as possible.”


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