WHEN the state Legislature adjourned last month, the prospects for a comprehensive transportation package appeared tenuous, in danger of another year’s delay.
A new session offers hope. Gov. Jay Inslee listed transportation as a top priority for the 30-day special session, and the House and Senate are beginning negotiations.
This is the year. The Seattle metro area already ranks in the bottom 10 among big cities nationally for hours lost in commute. The four-county central Puget Sound is forecast to have about 650,000 more residents by 2027. Gridlock stalls growth, costs jobs, wastes time better spent doing anything else.
The starting point for negotiations will be House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn’s proposal. Rolled out in April, the $8.4 billion, 12-year plan is paid for by a phased-in, 10-cent increase per gallon in gas taxes and increases in freight and vehicle registration fees.
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The proposed priorities need work. They seem more tailored to getting lawmakers’ votes than to resolving pressing transportation challenges, including maintenance of Interstate 5, the state’s transportation backbone, and completion of Interstate 90 widening at Snoqualmie Pass. But it’s a start.
Clibborn’s plan rightfully gives counties authority to impose local transit taxes or seek voter approval for them. These should be mandatory for a final package. A two-year $20 car-tab fee for King County Metro expires this year, potentially gutting bus service and upending the lives of thousands of people dependent on transit. Give King County voters the option of supporting transit at the ballot, and they will respond.
Senate Transportation Co-chair Curtis King, R-Yakima, disagrees that this is the year for a comprehensive package, but is negotiating in good faith. There remains much disagreement over how much the state should fund the I-5 Columbia River bridge as it is currently designed.
Though the bridge needs replacing, the larger package should not be imperiled by this disagreement.
To respect the will of the people, who’ve repeatedly voted to limit the Legislature’s ability to raise taxes, a gas-tax increase should be put on the ballot.