A 2010 law sponsored by liberal Kirkland Rep. Roger Goodman (D-48) aimed at making it easier for DUI offenders to get back in their cars has an unintended consequence: Because the state is now out of compliance with federal law regarding car ignition interlock devices, it has to pay an annual penalty that amounts to between $11 million and $12 million a year.
Washington State Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Pierce confirms: "We are currently out of compliance with the federal ignition interlock guidelines/law, which results in a reduction in three of our federal highway programs (Interstate Maintenance, National Highway System, and Surface Transportation System). The total reduction is just over $11 million per year ($11.4 million in )."
Not only is that a significant amount in difficult budget times, it's also money that could go to other purposes, including, potentially, bike and pedestrian projects (which currently receive almost no federal funding in Washington State).
According to a state transportation revenue forecast adopted earlier this year, the 2010 law "is more flexible than the federal government" because it allows repeat DUI offenders to use ignition interlock devices and allows judges to impose a home alcohol sanction, "so beginning in FFY 2010 federal penalties are now being imposed."
The $11 to $12 million comes out of the state's interstate maintenance program, the national highway systems program, and the surface transportation program. Of those three, only the surface transportation program can pay for non-highway projects. The state's main funding mechanism for transportation safety is a federal grant called Section 402, but because that grant prioritizes drunk driving and distracted driving over bike and pedestrian safety, bike and ped programs don't tend to get funded.
Goodman, who sponsored the law, says his legislation has decreased the number of deaths due to DUIs in Washington State by 20 percent. And, he adds, it has not reduced the total amount of highway dollars coming in to the state; instead, it has redirected highway funds to safety upgrades. "What we're doing is saving lives," Goodman says. Specifically, the money will fund improvements to Route 2 near Monroe and Route 195 near Spokane, which Goodman says "are among the most desperately needed safety projects in the state."