Four years after passing a $16 billion, gas tax funded transportation bill, some legislators are exploring the idea of a new bill to address an ever-growing, wide variety of transportation needs across Washington State, along with some environmental needs.
The Senate Transportation Committee chaired by Senator Steve Hobbs (D) of Lake Stevens is exploring a new potential 10-year, $16 billion transportation package, but it is currently only in the funding concept phase.
On January 24, 2019 the Committee held a work session to take public comment on the topic, inviting stakeholders from around the state to testify. Potential funding sources for the transportation concept include a carbon fee and gas taxes and some included projects are fixing the SR 2 trestle, reconstructing the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River, removing state-owned culverts to improve fish passages, building electric ferries AND $285 million to widen SR 18 between Issaquah Hobart Road and the Raging River.
Covington Mayor Jeff Wagner, Maple Valley City Manager Laura Philpot, Maple Valley City Councilmember Linda Olson and Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson all testified at Thursday’s work session in favor of the concept that includes funding to improve safety and traffic congestion on the dangerous stretch SR 18 that according to Councilmember Olson, truckers once referred to as ‘Blood Alley.’
Mayor Larson said during his testimony, “According to WSDOT data, on King County state routes and interstates last year, this unimproved 7-mile portion of SR 18 accounted for only 3% of average annual daily traffic volume, but nearly 18% of deadly accidents. According to Larson, SR 18 widening is currently #2 on the list of projects in the draft transportation package.
Stakeholders from around the state spent approximately two hours testifying in front of committee members – most in support of this potential transportation funding concept. Critics also testified, including Tim Eyman who called the hearing a “Taxapalooza Hearing,” and told committee members that residents have been overtaxed in recent years by other transportation bills, car tab fees and increased property taxes to meet the McCleary school funding decision. Others testified with concerns about the funding model, including the carbon fee.
Thursday’s public hearing was in addition to a January 22nd meeting in Olympia where representatives from the Covington, Maple Valley and Snoqualmie Valley Chambers of Commerce joined mayors and council members from Covington, Maple Valley, Black Diamond and Snoqualmie as part of the SEAL-TC Coalition (South East Area Legislative Transportation Coalition). Coalition members met with Senate and House representatives from the 5th and 47th Districts to discuss the dangers of SR 18 and push for funding to improve the highway.
Snoqualmie Casino CEO Brian Decorah also attended the meeting and shared heartfelt stories and photos of four Casino team members who have died in SR 18 accidents, including a mother and daughter this past October. He urged the legislative bodies to make the safety of SR 18 a top priority this legislative session.
During Thursday’s work session, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Hobbs said he has not decided if the transportation funding concept will make it to the next phase and thanked stakeholders for their time and testimony.
Hobbs ended by saying, “Of all the carbon plans out there…this is the only one that creates 65,000 jobs, frees up a thousands miles of fish habitat, addresses a single point of pollution of the Puget Sound which is storm water, builds ferries, invests in mass transit, electrifies our mass transit system, and invests in community driven transportation projects from Liberty Lake to the I-5 bridge to the trestle…I dare you to find any other carbon policy that does that.”
The current legislative session that started on January 14th runs through the end of April. 5th District Senator Mark Mullet said it will not be known until “much later” in the session if this transportation package concept gets drafted into a bill, or if it is tabled for future legislative sessions.