Transportation plan calls for 11.5-cent hike in state gas tax

Proposal includes the extension of SR 167 to Tacoma, widening of I-5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Staff writerNovember 13, 2013 

The latest proposal for a statewide transportation tax package would spend more than $2 billion on highway projects in the South Sound, including widening Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord and extending state Route 167 from Puyallup to Tacoma.

The tradeoff: The state gas tax would rise to 49 cents per gallon.

A spending plan floated over the weekend by Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, would raise Washington state’s gas tax by 11.5 cents over three years to help fund $12.3 billion in transportation improvements throughout the state.

The plan would include $1.6 billion to extend

SR 167 to Tacoma and connect state SR 509 to SeaTac, a project collectively known as the Puget Sound Gateway. State leaders have touted the freeway extensions as necessary to help trucks carry loads between the Port of Tacoma and warehouses in the Kent Valley, as well as to and from the Port of Seattle.

King, the co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, also wants to dedicate $350 million to I-5 by JBLM, an area he described as a “bottleneck.”

A $9.8 billion transportation package the state House passed earlier this year would have invested only $175 million in state money to expand I-5 near JBLM, relying on the federal government to supply the other half of the funds.

The House plan, which would have raised the state gas tax by 10.5 cents a gallon, didn’t win the approval of the conservative-leaning state Senate.

King said Wednesday that the state needs to take the JBLM project into its own hands, rather than “crossing our fingers” for federal money.

“We have to be prepared to go at it alone,” he said.

King said the Senate proposal under discussion this week incorporates much-needed reforms that will assure voters that lawmakers are spending their tax money wisely. Among them: placing sales tax revenue from road projects into a transportation fund instead of the general fund, and doing away with a requirement that motorists replace their license plates every seven years.

The Senate plan would also use money from an environmental cleanup fund for roadwork.

State Rep. Judy Clibborn, a Mercer Island Democrat who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said “there are a lot of similarities” between King’s proposal and the one passed by the House earlier this year — but she has some initial concerns about whether the Senate version adequately funds public transit, as well as projects such as bike lanes.

“They’re all good projects — there’s none I disagree with,” Clibborn said. “What we need to figure out is that we are spending the money in a balanced way so that the full spectrum of transportation is funded.”

The Senate’s latest proposal includes compromise provisions that would give cities and counties more ways to raise money for local transportation needs, including the ability to increase annual car tab fees from $20 to $40 without a public vote. It also would allow King and Snohomish counties more taxing options to raise money for public transit.

But Clibborn said the funding needs for transit in those areas are “greater than what we can get with local options.”

The Senate plan would also spend $61 million to upgrade the I-5 and state Route 512 interchange in Lakewood, as well as $54.5 million to finish the state Route 510 Yelm Loop project.

The Senate’s list of proposed transportation projects omits funding for the Columbia River Crossing, the replacement of the I-5 bridge between Vancouver, Wash. and Portland that Senate Republicans widely opposed earlier in the year.

Transportation leaders will meet again with Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday to see whether a deal on a transportation package is within reach, Clibborn said. Either way, lawmakers will be briefed on transportation issues during meetings scheduled next week, she said.

Neither Clibborn nor King would predict whether a special session of the Legislature to vote on a transportation package would take place in the coming weeks, or whether lawmakers would wait for their regular 60-day session in January.

Inslee had urged the Legislature to approve a transportation tax package in a special session he convened last week, along with tax incentives to persuade the Boeing Co. to build its 777X airplane in Washington state. After passing legislation focused on keeping Boeing, the Legislature adjourned Saturday without acting on transportation.

David Postman, an Inslee spokesman, wrote in an email Wednesday that the governor’s office wouldn’t comment on specific parts of the Senate plan, as “talks are just getting started.”

But, he wrote:”Things are moving in the right direction.”

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209

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