The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Friday, February 29, 2008

Senate passes skinnied-down Transporation Budget HB 2878

WA Senate passes transpo budget after "Killer Highway" fight


OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington Senate has given the green light to a slim supplemental transportation budget that would plug some big spending gaps, keeping money flowing for hundreds of roads, bridge projects and new ferries.

Wednesday's vote was a lopsided 39-10, despite fierce debate over whether lawmakers are doing enough to fix a so-called "killer highway," U.S. Highway 2 from Everett into Eastern Washington. At one point, the Republicans made it personal, saying the powerful transportation chairwoman brings home pork for her district while shortchanging the "killer highway" that has claimed 47 lives in recent years.

Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, led the ill-fated, unusual fight to strip $13 million from Transportation Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen's district and use it to begin widening U.S. 2 to four lanes between Snohomish and Monroe. She said Haugen's project, for a railroad pullout at Stanwood, doesn't fix any big safety concerns.

Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, called Haugen's project "a convenience stop for a train," and said safety projects are far more important. She later tried without success to divert the money to bicycle-pedestrian overpasses in high traffic areas.

Haugen, who tries to write a bipartisan budget every year, seemed stunned by the unusually personal tone of the debate. She didn't personally defend the rail project, but her vice chairman, Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said the attack was snide and unfair. Haugen takes relatively few projects for her district, he said.

"We can't fix everything without new revenue," Murray said, in a jab at conservative critics who don't often support higher taxes.

Haugen said her proposed budget has $9 million for a a westbound passing lane between Sultan and Monroe, six new troopers for the highway to hold down speed and combat drunken driving, and rumble strips and re-striping to help prevent head-on collisions.

But Haugen said a comprehensive widening proposal for U.S. 2 has a billion-dollar price tag, and that no tax money is currently available. She pledged to work on the project in coming years, noting that "killer highways" have been fixed one after the other.

"Hopefully we can do more," she said. "We will get to Highway 2, but not 'til we get major new money."

The new transportation budget erases a $1.5 billion deficit projected over the next 16 years. The gap is largely due to soaring costs, lower federal matching money and slower growth in gas-tax receipts as prices climb and people drive less or buy more fuel-efficient rigs.

The budget "keeps our state moving forward and hopefully the future will be brighter," Haugen said.

The Legislature has approved two large gas tax hikes in recent years, adding 14.5 cents per gallon to the state tax. Haugen told reporters this week that additional revenue will be needed, but didn't say which taxes and tolls would be approved - or when.

The U.S. 2 debate was the flashpoint of the House debate last week as well. House Republicans failed to force approval of a 15-mile widening of the highway, and offered it as a prime example of Democrats failing to deal with the state's most pressing transportation needs.

Some Republicans, including the ranking transportation leader, Dan Swecker of Rochester, voted for the Senate budget. Swecker said the proposal manages to keep hundreds of projects still on track despite tight finances.

"It's quite a juggling act," Swecker said.

The Senate plan trims the current $7.5 billion two-year transportation budget by $146 million.

The plan sets aside the same amount as the House and governor toward early work on a new State Route 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington and replacement of downtown Seattle's aging Alaskan Way Viaduct.

However, the Senate doesn't follow the House's presumption of early tolls for the 520 bridge replacement.

The ferry portion of the budget includes:

-$283 million for three new 144-car vessels.

-$85 million for three small boats to replace the four Steel-Electric ferries that have been removed from service because of safety concerns. One is expected to be like the 55-car Steilacoom II boat now on loan from Pierce County for the Port Townsend-Whidbey Island run, and the other two are expected to be a little larger, carrying perhaps 70 or 80 vehicles each, said Sen. Harriet Spanel, D-Bellingham.

-$15 million to refurbish the ferry Hyak.

The proposal also would provide $12 million for flood-related road repairs in southwest Washington, noted Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

Senators rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to begin a study of a third Vancouver crossing of the Columbia River. Interstates 5 and 205 now cross the river, but Benton said the fast-growing Clark County needs a new crossing, in addition to the new bridge now planned for I-5.

House and Senate negotiators will work out differences in the two versions.


The transportation budget is House Bill 2878.

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