THE state Legislature appears to be nearing the end of a double-overtime session. In the frenzy to pass a budget before the drop-dead deadline of June 30, lawmakers should remember the startling image of Interstate 5 sinking to the bottom of the Skagit River.
To ensure that the May 23 bridge collapse was a rare, freak accident, lawmakers should move swiftly and pass a transportation funding package paid mostly with a 10-cent increase in the gas tax.
The last comprehensive funding package passed in 2005. Since then, unmet transportation needs have come into even sharper clarity.
Statewide, 135 bridges are rated “structurally deficient,” 10 of them on I-5 or Interstate 90 in King County. With the population of the four central Puget Sound counties projected to grow by 650,000 in the next 14 years, now is the time to plan for the future.
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A broad coalition of business, labor and local governments strongly support a transportation package. One of the biggest cheerleaders is the Washington Roundtable, a group of leading local business executives, including Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing’s commercial aircraft division. A transportation funding package is a pro-business reform, as much as the much-debated changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system.
The House Democrats and Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition each have versions. The House version is better, because it funds design of a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River that allows for light rail.
A handful of Republican lawmakers, including Senate Transportation co-chair Curtis King, strongly oppose that design. Gov. Jay Inslee insists on it.
Failure to include $450 million for the crossing — as Oregon already has — would set back 12 years of work and cost $850 million in federal funding tied to light rail. King and his colleagues should budge, and allow Vancouver to tie into Oregon’s 52 miles of light rail.
But if they don’t, Inslee should not veto the whole package because of a feud over one project. The state cannot afford another serious infrastructure failure like the Skagit River bridge collapse.