You’re likely to keep getting away with driving in the bus lane, but you may want to stash that mannequin you use to sneak into high-occupancy lanes.
After debating a long list of transportation-related bills this session, Washington state lawmakers adjourned over the weekend with a handful of victories and plenty of issues left for next year.
Here’s a look at what lived and died this session. See more in Traffic Lab’s legislative bill tracker.
Crosswalk camera bill dies
Despite a last-minute revival, the bill to allow Seattle to use automated traffic cameras to enforce bus-only lanes and crosswalks passed the House but failed to pass the Senate before the session ended.
Due to early privacy concerns, the bill was delayed getting a full vote out of the House, and then met new resistance in the Senate, all while the clock was ticking. Senators raised concerns about people from outside Seattle who may be confused by the city’s street laws and then get ensnared by a camera, according to several legislators.
Some may also have worried about paying the tickets themselves. In a text message Saturday night, Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, said the bill faced “resistance from some people who are known violators in the caucus … They were like, ‘I do that. I don’t want to vote for this bill.’ ” He would not provide names of senators who opposed the bill for that reason.
In an interview after the session ended, Nguyen was more measured, saying other senators “raised some valid concerns.”
Asked whether senators opposed the bill because they block crosswalks, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, laughed. “I’m just not going to say anything,” Hobbs said.
Nguyen said he expects the bill to pass next year.
Beware HOV lane violators
Drivers who illegally use HOV lanes will face higher fines, especially on the second offense or if they’re caught using a doll or dummy to try to evade law enforcement.
Washington State Patrol troopers say they’ve seen all sorts of creative efforts to sneak into the HOV lane, from mannequins to “Halloween masks on bags.”
Under the new law, HOV tickets would increase from $136 to $186. Drivers would pay $336 for their second violation within two years and an additional $200 any time they are found using a dummy or doll.
Tolls are here to stay — and pay back bonds
Lawmakers gave the go-ahead to extend toll lanes on Interstate 405 from Bellevue to Renton and along Highway 167 from Renton to Puyallup. The bill would also allow tolling on new stretches of Highway 167 and Highway 509, together branded the Puget Sound Gateway.
The tolling authority for those corridors was previously planned, but lawmakers introduced a newer concept when they added bonding to the bill. The state can now issue up to $1.5 billion in bonds to be paid back from toll revenues.
Up to $600 million of the bonds would be used to widen I-405 through the Highway 522 interchange in Bothell and up to $215 million for widening I-405 between Bellevue and Renton. An additional $340 million would go toward the Gateway project.
A modest budget
Transportation budget writers this year faced major demands and made only modest progress on each.
The state’s ferry system, plagued with maintenance issues, is in need of new boats, which can cost about $160 million each. A court ruling mandates the state remove culverts that block fish passage, an effort the Washington State Department of Transportation estimates would cost $3.7 billion.
The Legislature’s transportation budget for the next two years includes $100 million for removing culverts and $99 million in the next two years toward a new ferry, with $89 million more planned for the following biennium.
The budget pairs increases in state vehicle title and registration fees with an increase in ferry fare surcharges to fund the new boat. The state Transportation Commission will determine exactly the amount of the surcharge increase, but Hobbs estimated 25 cents per ticket will be needed to pay for the new boat.
Lawmakers limited total fare increases, including surcharges, to no more than 10 percent.
“We want to make sure we are looking out for folks in our communities so they can continue being able to afford to live on the Kitsap Peninsula, and keeping ferry fares down is one really important way to do that,” said Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton.
The budget also funds highway projects across the state promised in past transportation packages. A planning effort for a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon would get $35 million.
Both Hobbs and Sen. Curtis King, the ranking Republican on the Senate Transportation Committee, said the budget was restrained. “We were very cautious in trying to control spending and trying to look at not raising a lot of new revenue,” King said.
Not a “super successful” year on reducing emissions
While lawmakers passed tax exemptions and incentives for electric vehicles, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, argued the Legislature made little progress tackling climate change and pollution related to transportation.
Fitzgibbon sponsored a clean fuel standard to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions of fuels that passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Opponents of the bill said it would raise gas prices and hurt rural parts of the state. A separate proposal for a carbon fee also stalled.
“I don’t think we made meaningful progress reducing greenhouse gases,” said Fitzgibbon, who also sponsored the traffic camera bill. “I don’t consider it a super successful year when it came to transportation.”
No car tab action, Eyman initiative looms
Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, again attempted to cut the car-tab taxes that fund Sound Transit and have caused some drivers sticker shock. In calculating how much drivers should pay in car tabs, the agency uses a Legislature-approved formula that overvalues vehicles.
Lawmakers have for several years debated whether and how to change that formula to cut car tab taxes, but have not taken action. O’Ban introduced another car-tab-cutting bill this year and a separate bill to make Sound Transit’s board directly elected. Neither made it beyond an initial public hearing in committee.
This November, voters will weigh a more draconian car tab cut than what O’Ban proposed. An initiative sponsored by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman would reduce car tabs statewide to $30, slashing funds not only for Sound Transit but for transportation projects in cities across the state.
Lawmakers considered placing an alternative on the ballot alongside Eyman’s initiative but “didn’t know whether it would help or hurt the policy discussion” and couldn’t agree on an alternative, Hobbs said. If the initiative passes, “I don’t know how I’m going to fix the hole” in transportation funding, he said.
O’Ban argues cutting Sound Transit car tabs in Puget Sound would have been more of a “surgical instrument” than Eyman’s initiative and would have made voters here less likely to pass the initiative. He now expects the initiative to pass and supports it, he said.