Covington completed one road project, can it do more?

After the completion of sidewalks on 164th, the city considers future funding mechanisms

A long awaited project is finally completed in Covington, followed a ribbon cutting on Thursday, Jan. 9.

The 164th Avenue Southeast Pedestrian Improvement Project included completing a missing patch of sidewalk between the Covington branch of the King County Library and Kentwood High School.

“This has been a project that the city council has been wanting to get done for a while, primarily because of the safety concerns along that road,” Covington City Manager Regan Bolli said. “There’s a lot of pedestrian foot traffic between Kentwood High School and the library.”

The price tag on the project was too much for the city to handle alone, with construction costs just over $1.12 million. The city received a grant from the Transportation Improvement Board for $173,721 and a federal grant for $676,279. Other funds came from the state and the city’s general fund.

The city has many maintenance road projects and major road projects that are needed. Outside of the regular maintenance projects, the city isn’t hopeful any future road projects will be done just on city funds.

“We have nowhere near the amount of money in our general fund to do a road projects … like overlays or constructing new sidewalks and new roads,” Bolli said.

One example Bolli gave is the city’s current project from Jenkins Creek to 285th, which will add one lane to less than a mile of road. The price tag on that project is $12 million.

“That’s as much as our entire general fund for one year,” Bolli said. “I don’t know that people quite realize that.”

Another project on the city’s list was to replace culverts by Kentwood High School, but current culverts are no longer fish passage certified. Bolli said the city will have to put a bridge in the space instead which would require raising the road.

“That’s a $6 – $7 million project,” Bolli said. “So there’s just things we can’t pay for. So that’s the reason we have asked the (residents) three times for a sales tax increase.”

The city did attempt many times to increase the city’s sales tax by 0.2 percent, $0.002 for every $1, to help increase funds for roads maintenance.

“We as council said this last time ‘if the voters approve of the sales tax increase … we’d eliminate the car tabs, $20 a car, here in Covington,” Covington Mayor Jeff Wagner said in a previous interview.

If the sales tax increase had passed, the city would have gained about $800,000 a year in the budget for road maintenance and operation. This would double what is brought in by car tabs. Sales taxes are unique in a way because instead of taxing a certain group in a localized area, it would be a tax anyone shopping in Covington would pay.

“Right now we have one of the lowest sales tax, we only have a 8.6 percent sales tax ($0.086 for every $1),” Wagner said. “Because we are not inside the Regional Transit Authority. So when you go into Kent or Auburn it’s at 10 percent for sales tax because that extra portion goes to Sound Transit.”

Covington City Council cut the annual budget after the passage of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 in November, which if approved by the state will decrease the city’s budget each year by $400,000. Bolli said he doesn’t expect the city to attempt a sales tax increase for a fourth time.

“After you go for it in three times, in about as many years, and then with Initiative 976, which Covington overwhelmingly supported as well, it’s kind of an indicator to ‘Hey, lay off of this,’” Bolli said. “So we just have to adjust to that. And at this point, with the council, we’ve not had conversation about putting another transportation ballot measure on. “

For now the city will apply for more grant funds to help bring future road projects to life.