Politics & Government

Inslee: SR 167 a top priority

A new leg of state Route 167 in Pierce County might open to drivers between 2025 and 2027 if Gov. Jay Inslee’s transportation proposal wins approval.

Inslee’s office said funding in his plan would go first to extending SR 167 to the Port of Tacoma and finishing state Route 520 on the Seattle side of Lake Washington.

“They are the very first dollars spent, 520 because it’s a seismic issue and 167 because it’s an economic issue,” said Charles Knutson, a policy adviser to the Democratic governor.

The Port of Tacoma contends a faster connection to inland markets is crucial for it to compete with rival ports.

A 2013 Department of Transportation conception of the new highway described opening it to traffic as early as 2021 if the Legislature passed funding in 2014.

Now, targeting funding in 2015, officials want to start construction in the budget period from mid-2017 to mid-2019 and finish in the period from mid-2025 to mid-2027. That timeline is the result of updated assumptions and the goal of building two priority highways at the same time, they said.

“As projects go, this is about as aggressive and accelerated as you can do,” Knutson said.

Unlike in previous plans, Inslee would not directly raise the gas tax. A new charge on large sources of greenhouse gases would raise about $1 billion a year for a host of state programs, including maintenance and operations of highways now paid for with gas taxes. That would allow borrowing against existing gas tax revenue for bonds to build new highway projects like SR 167.

At $856 million, SR 167 is a bit more expensive than in previous plans because of inflation, according to Inslee’s office.

That price tag includes one lane in each direction from where the highway now ends in Puyallup to where it crosses Valley Avenue in Fife, and two lanes in each direction from there to the port.

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Yakima Republican Curtis King, wants to build those two extra lanes over the entire six-mile stretch, at an extra cost estimated at about $64 million.

King has called for adding 11-1/2 cents to the state’s current 37-1/2 cents-a-gallon gas tax, similar to what other legislators have pursued. His plan would devote $350 million to widening Interstate 5 alongside Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which would get $278 million under Inslee’s plan.

“He’s taking care of King County,” said King, noting what he said appeared to be full funding for projects on SR 520, Interstate 405 from Renton to Bellevue and state Route 509 near SeaTac. “It didn’t appear to me that he fully funded JBLM or 167, and he definitely didn’t fully fund (an I-90 project on) Snoqualmie Pass or (Spokane’s) North South Freeway.”

Inslee’s and King’s plans both include tolling SR 167, but neither would put toll lanes on I-5 between Seattle and Tacoma.

Toll lanes on I-5 were a key part of a previous conception of the SR 167 project by the state Department of Transportation that was endorsed by the state House. They would have raised money by letting drivers buy their way into I-5 carpool lanes, like they can do on SR 167 from Auburn to Renton and starting next year on I-405 from Lynnwood to Bellevue.

House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said I-5 toll lanes are not off the table for the future, but the I-405 lanes will help show how they perform as a source of revenue.

No plan, either in the Legislature or governor’s office, would complete the full SR 167 as envisioned by DOT, including a full connection to I-5.