State transportation leaders urged at Tacoma meeting to finish SR167

Staff writerOctober 9, 2013 

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Heavy truck traffic often clogs the roads at the end of state Route 167 where it ends at Meridian Street in Puyallup.

DEAN J. KOEPFLER — staff photographer

A parade of mayors, county officials and the like spotlighted transportation gaps and choke points from Lacey to the north Olympic Peninsula on Wednesday night.

But the extension of state Route 167 was the clear favorite of not just governments but unions, businesses and other interests whose representatives spoke at the public-comment session — along with a few unaffiliated folks. Construction of SR167 stopped decades ago in Puyallup.

“It always ended in that cow patch, and we waited 40 years for that road to be extended,” Matt Hamilton of Graham testified. “Now, in Pierce County we’re really good at waiting, but we’re not that good. Trust me, if there’s a gas tax increase and we don’t get that road right away, there’s going to be absolutely furor.”

The support was no surprise to the people on the other side of the microphone at the meeting. All were state lawmakers, most from Pierce County. They have heard the same drumbeat for much of the year, with many joining it.

That wasn’t enough to persuade lawmakers to pass a transportation tax-and-fee package earlier this year, but supporters hope to try again next year.

It could be even sooner in the long-shot chance of a special session next month, which Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said remains a possibility — “if everybody’s willing to come to the table and make what they think would be concessions on all sides.” Tom, a Democrat, and his caucus of mostly Republicans blocked a package with a 10-cent gas tax hike, and they are calling for spending constraints and regulation rollbacks to go along with any revenues.

Transportation leaders are in the midst of negotiations, he said.

The 10-city listening tour organized by two of those leaders, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines, stopped at The Evergreen State College’s Tacoma campus Wednesday.

About 75 people testified out of a crowd of well more than twice that many.

Nearly all sought a revenue package. Hardly anyone spoke up to complain about taxes. A few called for bringing costs under control, while carpenters urged lawmakers not to cut regulations requiring the use of apprentices on public works projects.

Lawmakers also heard from bicyclists wanting more space reserved for them and from bus riders asking for money for mass transit.

“If I needed to go to a doctor in Tacoma, transferring between different counties was very difficult. It was extremely hard,” said Lauren Gessler of Mason County, who walked to the podium with a cane.

The 167 project has been folded in with toll lanes on Interstate 5 and completion of an unfinished stretch of state Route 509 near SeaTac. The Department of Transportation has estimated the combined project’s price tag at between $1.6 billion and

$1.8 billion, under a plan that would extend the highways but leave some buildout for the future.

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