IN an era of fractured partisanship, transportation infrastructure could be a great uniter.
The Republican-dominated state Senate Majority Coalition reminded Olympia of that this week in proposing a $12.3 billion package that is strikingly similar to a package passed by House Democrats earlier this year, but with thoughtful improvements. Lawmakers from both parties should compromise and come up with a bipartisan deal to be approved in a special legislative session in the coming weeks.
At the heart of both proposals is the first state gas tax increase since 2008. Each proposal would raise the tax by 11.5 cents, to 49 cents per gallon. That represents significant movement for the tax-averse GOP caucus, and acknowledgment that the business community — including Boeing, most prominently — is willing to absorb higher costs in exchange for a more functional transportation system.
The Majority Coalition’s proposal, crafted after a statewide “listening tour” and months of negotiations with Democratic leaders, offers the most coherent approach. It focuses on finishing already started projects, including the west side landing of the Highway 520 floating bridge, widening of Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass, linking highways 167 and 509 with Interstate 5 and completion, decades late, of the North Spokane highway.
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Voters are leery of higher gas taxes, but could be willing to yield to a well-made argument. A coalition of business and labor groups made it earlier this year, celebrating the efficiencies and jobs created by a better infrastructure, and continues to push hard.
That case includes this fact: at peak rush hour, Seattle-area drivers waste 38 minutes per hour driven, according to the recent TomTom Traffic Index. That translates to 89 wasted hours each year for a 30-minute daily commute, and makes Greater Seattle the fourth-most congested metro area in the country.
Further money and time were lost when the antiquated I-5 bridge over the Skagit River splashed into the water earlier this year. A sound transportation package would emphasize maintenance as well as new projects.
And a transportation package would be an extra rose in Washington’s courtship of Boeing. The company’s stated desire for a transportation upgrade is a reason to pass a billion-dollar package, but it wouldn’t hurt if Washington is serious about outbidding competing states for the 777X production line.
To seal the deal with voters, the package should include reforms of cumbersome permitting for transportation projects, as well as other cost-saving measures.
King County does well in both transportation proposals. A buffet of local tax options are offered to stave off devastating cuts to King County Metro service. In the Majority Coalition’s package, Highway 520 would be completed without tolls on Interstate 90. The Coleman ferry dock would be rebuilt, adding another jewel to the future Seattle waterfront. And Seattle would get more than $51 million in local road funding to fill potholes.
Assuming a firm deal is reached quickly, Gov. Jay Inslee should call a transportation-focused special session as soon as possible.
The time is right. A solid case has been made. Now, its time for lawmakers to keep partisanship at bay and act with a unified vision.