Lawmakers Approve Washington State Package Raising Billions for Transportation

AASHTO Journal, 03 July 2015

​ The Washington State Legislature approved a 16-year multi-modal transportation revenue package that was expected to raise more than $15 billion from higher motor fuel excise taxes and a number of vehicle fees, with the funds to be spent on highways, local roads, ferries and transit projects, plus pedestrian and bicycle paths.

The plan, which was still subject at press time to House passage of related legislation, also allows the Puget Sound area’s major public transportation system – Sound Transit – to put a $15 billion expansion plan on a November 2016 ballot to see if voters in its three-county transit district would approve higher property taxes.

The package raises motor fuel user fees by 7 cents a gallon Aug. 1, and another 4.9 cents on July 1, 2016. Some reports said the various revenue provisions would raise about $1 billion a year in new revenue  for transportation projects, or $16 billion.

The transportation package reportedly was stalled until Gov. Jay Inslee agreed to accept a provision he had vowed to oppose that would block spending new multimodal funds on transit or paths and put it instead into roads if the state instituted low-carbon fuel standards through 2023.

Inslee issued a June 28 statement on the compromise plan, saying “the state needs a transportation package and lawmakers have negotiated a bipartisan proposal that is nearly ready to be voted on.”

“The current bill has a poison pill that pits clean air against transit. I oppose that and have worked hard to find a better alternative,” Inslee added. “But legislators tell me it is essential to passing the $15 billion multi-modal transportation package and authorizing an additional $15 billion for Sound Transit light rail expansion.

“I will sign the bill even with this provision because of the jobs, safety improvements and traffic relief that the investments would provide.”

The Senate passed the package June 29, and the House acted the next day, though the AP reported July 1 the House still needed to pass a related bonding and spending measures to let the package take effect.

Inslee said July 1 that “legislators are also close to finishing the final bills needed for a capital budget and a 16-year transportation investment package that will support hundreds of thousands of jobs and provide important infrastructure improvements for communities all across Washington, boosting our growing economy. I urge legislators to wrap these up as soon as possible so we can start putting out the construction cones and getting people to work.”

The AP said the plan will spend $8.8 billion on state and local road projects, and $1.4 billion on maintenance and preservation, with $1 billion on non-highway projects like bike paths, pedestrian walkways and transit.

The Seattle Times detailed some of the major highway projects the package will fund.

They include a $1.9 billion Puget Sound Gateway Project to build a 6-mile extension of Highway 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma, and to extend Highway 509 from SeaTac to Interstate 5.

Finishing the Highway 520 replacement, from Lake Washington to Interstate 5, is included at $1.6 billion. Another $1.2 billion will go to widen the I-405 corridor from Renton to Bellevue. And $879 million is directed to the North Spokane Corridor, the Times said, “to finish a half-built freeway so that it reaches to I-90.”

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