Amid road projects, don’t forget 520

Staff writerApril 23, 2013 

This year’s state transportation tax proposal has looked like the chance for all the big projects that have been waiting in line behind Seattle’s behemoths, the state Route 520 bridge and Alaskan Way Viaduct replacements.

But not so fast, state Routes 167 and 509. Hold on a minute, Columbia River Crossing, Interstate 405 and North Spokane Freeway.

The 520 project, underway with money from the last two statewide gas tax increases, still has a funding gap that is calling out for a slice. On Monday, House members’ solution was to simply make the pie bigger — but their change would raise the gas tax up to 13 cents a gallon, possibly more than what lawmakers will accept.

The House Transportation Committee approved a 10-cent increase to help all of those projects Monday after tacking on an extra three cents that would take effect only if funding runs dry for the project centered on replacing the earthquake-vulnerable bridge on Lake Washington.

“It would not make a lot of sense to pass out a historic, omnibus transportation revenue bill without addressing the state’s most high-profile state transportation project,” Rep. Cyrus Habib, the Kirkland Democrat who pushed for the amendment, said afterward.

The new bridge itself and its connection to the Eastside King County suburbs already has funding, including gas taxes, tolls and federal funds. But there’s still uncertainty about how the stretch of 520 between Interstate 5 and the Seattle side of the lake will be paid for. The gap in funding is as much as $1.4 billion.

Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, says tolls are the answer. The Legislature may toll Interstate 90 to help. She also placed $100 million in her gas tax proposal for 520.

But Habib pushed for what he called an “insurance policy” if Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson or her successor concludes the 520 project doesn’t have full funding.

Depending on which way that decision goes, the state gas tax would rise as much as 13 cents to 50.5 cents a gallon or as little as 10 cents.

“What’s the incentive for her to control any costs within her agency if she’s got that 3 cents hanging out there that she could grab onto if she needs to?” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, who said he was concerned about delegating authority to Peterson.

Clibborn said some Republicans told her the last-minute addition was the reason her tax package came out of the committee on a party-line vote with no GOP support. She said there’s more work to be done.

Orcutt and several other Republicans would not have supported the plan even if the extra 3 cents hadn’t been added. But Rep. Hans Zeiger, R-South Hill and a backer of the state Route 167 project that is part of a $1.27 billion outlay in Clibborn’s plan for the so-called “Puget Sound Gateway,” had been wavering. He said the 13-cent total was the reason he was voting no “for now.”

The transportation measure started Monday as a plan to raise $8.8 billion over 12 years. It was not clear how much in extra bonds the extra 3 cents in gas tax would allow if fully used.

Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines, and Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, put forward a proposal similar to Clibborn’s on Monday. The Senate Transportation Committee will take public testimony on it at 8 a.m. today.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826

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