Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee says he still wants to call a special session of the Legislature to pass a transportation revenue package this November, but a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River won’t be part of the deal.
Inslee has championed the Columbia River Crossing but said Tuesday he won’t try to include the bridge in a tax plan to fund statewide road improvements, and would be content having Oregon take the lead on replacing the connection between Vancouver, Wash., and Portland.
Legislative leaders will meet Oct. 29 to see if they can agree on a transportation plan, Inslee said. The governor said he will call lawmakers back to Olympia in November only if he is confident a deal is at hand.
Also Tuesday, a helicopter tour gave Inslee an aerial view of one of the state’s biggest traffic choke points — the area surrounding Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Military brass told Inslee what the base is doing to relieve gridlock, including building a new gate north of Interstate 5 and a road and bridge that will connect the Air Force and Army sections of the base.
Inslee said the federally funded base improvements gave him “a good argument” to pitch to state lawmakers for why they should pass a package of taxes for transportation work, including widening of I-5 near the base.
“You’re being a good partner. Now we need the state to step up to the plate as well, and I hope that legislators do that this November,” Inslee told Lewis-McChord base commander Col. Charles Hodges.
The Democrat-controlled state House in June approved a 101/2-cent gas tax increase that along with various fees would have raised more than $9 billion over a dozen years, including $175 million for the Lewis-McChord area and $1.4 billion for expansions of state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma and of state Route 509 near Sea-TacAirport.
It also included more than $400 million to match Oregon’s contribution to the replacement Columbia River bridge, which was one reason the funding plan faltered in the more conservative Senate.
This week, The Oregonian reported that Oregon officials might convene a special session to try to fund the bridge on their own using a combination of state and federal funds. Inslee said Tuesday that by choosing to not fund half of the bridge project, “we’ve removed an excuse” to not come up with a transportation package.
But Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, a Medina Democrat who leads a coalition of mostly Republicans, said the Columbia River Crossing could still hold up a vote on a transportation package even if it is not explicitly included in a tax proposal.
Tom said members of his caucus oppose letting Oregon officials set toll rates on the bridge, as well as allowing another state to build light rail on Washington’s side of the river.
“Why would we cede control to Oregon, when it’s our citizens who (make up) the vast majority of traffic going between Washington and Oregon?” Tom asked Tuesday. “Does (Inslee) want to give up his governorship?”
Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said even if the Oregon-led bridge project proceeds, the Washington State Transportation Commission would have input on toll rates.
But that assurance might not be enough. State Sen. Curtis King, a Yakima Republican who co-chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said Senate Republicans are still looking for a bridge design that excludes light rail.