Dufault says estimates on court-ordered culvert replacement are inflated

Rep. Jeremie Dufault believes Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) officials are inflating the facts of a court order that requires the state to fix or replace hundreds of culverts that block salmon migration.

“We need to fix a certain number of these culverts,” said Dufault, R-Selah, “but not near as many as we are being told.”

The difference, he said, could cost more than $1 billion.

During a recent meeting of the House Transportation Committee, WSDOT Environmental Services Director Megan White told lawmakers the court order required the repair of 992 culverts — 415 of them by 2030 and 577 by the end of the existing structure's life.

While questioning White, Dufault pointed out that the injunction named just 817 problem culverts. He questioned why WSDOT had added 175 culverts to the list.

“What's the mechanism that's causing the number of culverts, subject to the injunction, to be increasing? Will that number change in the future?” Dufault asked.

“The number does change as we re-inventory and as new barriers are discovered, and as barriers are corrected,” White replied. “So there is a change. We are required to re-inventory and keep track of new barriers.”

Dufault, who serves on the House Transportation Committee, expressed skepticism about WSDOT's claim that the court order requires the state to spent at least $3.8 billion to fix or replace the culverts.

“The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit opinion said the cost of a conservative basis would be $1.88 billion. Their estimates were actually $550 million to $1.88 billion. There was extensive briefing on that. How did we go from being a conservative $1.88 billion to $3.8 billion for compliance?” he asked.

“I'll get back to you,” said White.

Dufault was not impressed.

“The governor's budget overstates the state's obligation. He says we need $3.8 billion to fix 992 culverts. But the court said there are 817 culverts that need to be fixed. And 220 of those don't need to be fixed by 2030 — but only when they are at the end of their useful life,” Dufault said later.

“The court said the total cost could be as low as $537 million. WSDOT is blurring the line between what is a good idea to fix and what is required by the court injunction,” he added. “Both are important, but it's essential to separate the issue so we can address the court order first.”

Dufault said inflated costs and overstated estimates are why the public doesn't trust government.

“This is a perfect example of what's wrong with government,” noted Dufault. “A judge orders the state to repair fewer than 600 culverts by 2030. And then the state Department of Transportation comes back with an overly aggressive plan to fix almost 1,000 culverts, at an added cost to taxpayers of more than $1 billion.”

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov