Completion of the state Route 167 project will be moved up three years under a bill the state Legislature is expected to approve by the end of the legislative session Sunday.
Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, worked over the past several weeks to get votes for his major amendment to SB 5825, which the Senate approved late Thursday by a 30-18 vote.
By selling bonds for construction that would be repaid by toll revenue, the completion of the project would be moved up to 2028 from 2031.
The Route 167 project will build the remaining four miles of the freeway between Meridian in Puyallup and Interstate 5, with a connection from I-5 to the Port of Tacoma.
Tolls would be charged on all lanes on the new portion of Route 167. The rates have not been set by the state Transportation Commission. They would be higher during peak traffic periods and less during midday, evenings and weekends, according to the state Department of Transportation.
In 2008, the state converted one lane in each direction of Route 167 between Renton and Auburn from a high occupancy vehicle lane to a high occupancy toll lane on a temporary basis. The bill would make those toll lanes permanent.
Zeiger said his support for the tolling bill was tied to advancing completion of the Route 167 project.
“When I tell people it is going to take 12 years to complete Highway 167 from where it currently dead-ends at Meridian in my district out to the Port of Tacoma, they are dismayed and the reaction is always, `Why is it going to take so long?’” Zeiger said.
”By completing the high-occupancy toll lanes to and from Puyallup on the existing stretch of Highway 167, we are going to reduce commute times. We are going to allow people to spend more time with their families. We’re going to get commerce moving more quickly,” Zeiger added.
The new segments of Route 167 in Pierce County and state Route 509 in King County are part of the Puget Sound Gateway project, which was funded at $1.88 billion in the state’s 2015 transportation package.
By accelerating completion of the two projects, the state will receive a $147 million financial benefit, according to state DOT. The dollar figure is based on reduction in materials costs, earlier and increased toll revenue and more efficient contracting, Zeiger said.
Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, opposed Zeiger’s amendment and the entire bill.
“I’m concerned what the tolls are going to be on these highways to meet the needs of these bonds,” King said.
King also questioned why the project was getting priority over others around the state.
Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, replied that the completion of Route 167 would benefit eastern Washington as well as the Puget Sound region.
“If we get this 167 built sooner, there will be a lot of agricultural products that will come down that line to the Port of Tacoma. The ports exports a lot of the agricultural products from east of the mountains,” Conway said.
The bill moves to the House. Rep. Jake Fey, the Tacoma Democrat who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has assembled votes in favor of the bill. He said Friday evening that he’s optimistic the bill will get at least the 59 votes in favor. Because the bill involves the sale of state bonds, it requires approval by at least 60 per cent of the House.
Sunday is the final day of the 105-day regular legislative session.