Transportation budgets: Does steady cut it?

The state's "Good To Go!" pass might leap from the highways to the ferry system. And that's about as dramatic as things get.
Cars, ferries and trains come together at spots along the Puget Sound shoreline.

Cars, ferries and trains come together at spots along the Puget Sound shoreline. Floyd McKay

A "Good To Go!" toll card could be in the future for Washington's ferry riders.

However, a gas tax increase is unlikely.

A gas tax increase was not in either a Senate proposed 2013-2015 transportation budget unveiled Wednesday or a revised House transportation budget announced Thursday. The original House transportation budget had a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, which came under heavy criticism.

The Senate proposal is $8.7 billion, while the revamped House budget dropped from $9.8 billion to $8.4 billion. Both are decreases from the 2011-2013 transportation budget of $9.8 billion, which was bolstered by higher gas tax revenues.

A significant difference between the two proposals is that the Senate would keep all ferry runs intact, while the House proposal would trim some lesser-used runs. The Seattle-Bremerton run could be targeted. It has a significantly smaller ridership than the heavily used Seattle-Bainbridge Island run.

Meanwhile,  the Senate proposal calls for a  study — to be finished in November — to see if "Good To Go" cards should be used for ferries as part of a potential effort to combine all of the state's tolling and fares into a one-card system.

The House budget — $4.9 billion for capital projects and $3.5 billion for operations and debt service — would eliminate less-utilized ferry runs; require a 5-percent reduction in the costs of its tolling operations; and force staffing reductions in the Department of Licensing and the Washington State Department of Transportation. It maintains current construction on major highway projects and funds the completion of two new ferries currently under construction, a House press release said.

“We are moving forward with a budget that will keep current promises, but the next budget will look much grimmer if we don’t take action,” said Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo and No. 2 Democrat on the committee, in the press release. “This is a Band-Aid for our transportation system, not a long-term solution for moving people and goods around our state.”

The Senate's proposed total for 2013-2015 is $8.7 billion, split between $5.3 billion for capital project and $3.4 billion for operations and debt service.

"This is a bare-bones budget. There is nothing new," said Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, co-chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

The Senate Transportation Committee is waiting for the House to pass its own transportation budget, and then will likely adjust the upper chamber's version, said Eide and Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, the other co-chairman of the committee.

The Senate budget proposal does not have a gas-tax increase, but Eide and King did not rule out considering one if it is present the House version.

Some highlights of the Senate transportation budget proposal include:

  • Maintaining ferry service with no cuts in the runs. Construction will continue on the system's second new 144-car ferry.
  • Beginning design for a $210 million replacement ferry terminal in Seattle.
  • Possibly beginning construction of a $160 million ferry terminal in Mukilteo.
  • $4.1 billion for highway improvements statewide.

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »