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    Transportation deal: Don't count on it

    After months of negotiations, there's still no real route to a deal in Olympia.
    Traffic on I-405 near the Highway 520 interchange: Is help on the way?

    Traffic on I-405 near the Highway 520 interchange: Is help on the way? Photo: Oran Viriyincy

    As legislators prepare for a new session that starts next week, it is increasingly questionable whether the Legislature will pass a multi-billion-dollar transportation package.

    On Thursday, legislative leaders hinted that a transportation package might not pass until the 2015 session. Already, the Washington Department of Transportation is figuring out how to deal with the lack of a transportation package to pay for projects, said Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson. But she said that a package is needed immediately.

    There are not enough Republicans senators willing to vote for any gas tax hike to approve their own proposed transportation package without some support from minority Democrats. The current Republican package has a proposed increase of 11.5 cents a gallon.

    And using Democratic votes assumes the leadership of the Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus would allow a floor vote in the first place —something it was unwilling to do in the last regular session unless its members were unanimous in their position.

    Gov. Jay Inslee is continuing to make passage of a transportation measure a top priority. "If the Legislature is unable to produce a transportation package this year, not only will we have long-term problems, but short-term problems as well," said Inslee at a Thursday Associated Press forum that included separate sessions with legislative leaders. Inslee pointed to the possibilities of work stalling on replacing the State Route 520 across Lake Washington to I-5 in Seattle, Interstate 405 on the Eastside, the proposed extension of State Route 167 to Tacoma and highway work around Spokane.

    If the transportation package talks go into 2015, the Legislature will become distracted by wrangling over the 2015-27 state operating budget, plus dealing with the increased demands for money to fix schools as required by a Washington Supreme Court ruling, Inslee said.

    Republicans and Democrats have been negotiating for eight to 12 months — depending on when you start the clock — on a package of transportation projects, how to raise money to pay for those projects and changes in transportation-related laws. Last May, the Democratic-controlled House passed a $10 billion proposal, financed in part by a 10.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike. The current state gas tax is 37.5 cents a gallon. House Republicans and the Republican-dominated Senate majority coalition originally took a no-tax-hike stance. The majority coalition's current proposal of a gas tax hike of 11.5 cents a gallon was informally unveiled in public in November.

    At Thursday's forum, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said the majority coalition, with 26 members, will not collect 25 votes among its own members to pass a transportation package with any tax hikes in it. Twenty-five votes are needed to approve anything in the 49-member Senate.

    Seattle Top Story was at the forum

    King did not know how many Republican senators would oppose a package with a tax increase. He and Republican Caucus Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, portrayed the question as premature, saying the caucus has not done a vote count yet. Questioned by reporters, King said the SR 520 bridge and waterfront tunnel construction problems don't help with gas tax support.

    King speculated that the Democrats and Republicans might not come to an agreement on transportation in the 60-day 2014 session that begins next Monday. Half of the Senate and the entire House are up for election in November, so everyone will be skittish about passing a tax increase this year, King suggested. "It just makes it tough for everyone to come to an agreement. But we're going to try," he said.

    Besides the gas tax issue, Republicans and Democrats are still split on the majority coalition's desire to get rid of the sales-and-use tax on transportation construction materials, which Democrats counter would reduce money to the state's general fund. The majority coalition also wants to shift the funding of stormwater-runoff projects from gas-tax revenue to a state Ecology Department-related hazardous substances tax — which Democrats oppose. Urban Democrats want more money for mass transit, while the rural Republicans want less money allocated there. And the Republicans want to trim prevailing wage requirements on state-financed transportation projects, a move than labor-backed Democrats oppose.

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    Posted Fri, Jan 10, 8:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    Let's see...cost overruns on the 520 bridge...cost overruns on the Seattle waterfront tunnel...cost overruns on Sound Transit...an election year in 2014...nope, not exactly fertile soil for a statewide 11-cent gas-tax hike (at least outside the Everett-to-Olympia corridor). Not much prescience required here.

    Posted Fri, Jan 10, 2:36 p.m. Inappropriate

    And the low carbon fuel--leave that for another day, Inslee. It does nothing for us, unless you can get China/India to buy in, then I will support it


    Posted Sat, Jan 11, 1:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    Low carbon fuel. Only a "progressive" sucker would swing at that pitch, so we can expect Inslee to fall for it, along with the usual suspects.


    Posted Sat, Jan 11, 6:55 a.m. Inappropriate

    Yeah, transportation deals are great around here. There have been lots of transportation deals.

    All the government heads got together and made a deal that Sound Transit should build light rail from the airport up to the University District. That was in the mid-1990's. They put that deal on the ballot, and the public approved the plan.

    The budget then for the light rail tunnel that was going to run 4.5 miles from downtown to 45th Avenue in the University district was $557 million. Now the budget for just the 3.2 mile tunnel from downtown to Husky stadium is $1.9 billion. The additional tunneling north of there to Northgate is another $2.1 billion.


    November 18, 2000

    Light rail ETA: one year late
    By Brier Dudley
    Seattle Times staff reporter

    Light-rail service in Seattle will be delayed at least a year because of Sound Transit's problems securing an affordable tunneling contract.

    Rail service from SeaTac to the University District was supposed to begin in November 2006. Now, it won't happen until late 2007 or perhaps even 2008.

    "There's going to be a delay. We're talking about months of delay, no question," said Paul Bay, the agency's light-rail director.

    When voters were asked to authorize the $3.9 billion system in 1996, they were told it would take 10 years to build a network that would include express buses and commuter trains as well as the light-rail system.

    Yesterday, officials said it's worth waiting to be sure the project can be built without large cost overruns.

    "I think the public's attitude would probably be, hey, if we have to take a little extra time to do this right, it's still better than not doing it at all," said state Transportation Secretary Sid Morrison, a member of Sound Transit's board.

    On Thursday, the board suspended contract negotiations after learning that the lowest bid on its main tunnel was $171 million more than budgeted.

    After two months of negotiations, the lowest bid from the chosen contractor, Modern Transit, was $728 million. Sound Transit had estimated the tunnel would cost $557 million.

    The 4.5-mile tunnel would extend the downtown transit tunnel beneath First Hill and Capitol Hill and under Portage Bay to the University of Washington.




    Posted Sat, Jan 11, 5:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    They do this because they knowe they'll get away with it. If the voters here won't ever punish this behavior, they'll keep it up.


    Posted Sun, Jan 12, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    If the voters here won't ever punish this behavior, they'll keep it up.

    Voters can't punish Sound Transit's boardmembers. Voters have no control whatsoever over the policies its appointive board sets OR who sets those policies.

    The political appointees controlling the taxing, spending, project budget and rail line siting policies of Sound Transit are immune to any attempt by the public to control their behavior. More fundamentally, the public has no means of electing smart, frugal, and ethical individuals on to that board.

    This is a great example of why representative democracy works and the unprecedented "regional transit authority" kind of novel municipality Ch. 81.112 created is entirely wrong. Take Seattle and King County: their boards don't engage in abusive behavior like Sound Transit's board does because people can control who serves on those councils.


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