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Transportation Revenue Package What’s the argument about?

Dear Constituents and Friends,

As 2013 comes to an end, transportation issues continue to be a high priority for the well-being of our state, including our South Sound area.

We’re all too familiar with huge needs for congestion reduction, bridge and other safety improvements, more opportunities to use transit, safer biking and walking routes, and more cost-effective ways to move increasing volumes of freight.

Advancing a prosperous economy in Washington State also demands increased transportation investments. They are crucial to support a stable and growing aerospace and manufacturing industry.

During the Special Session in November, we enacted several major incentives to encourage Boeing to assemble the new 777X airplane and to manufacture major high-tech composite-materials components here in Washington.

Unfortunately, regarding transportation priorities, an agreement in the Senate was not achieved between the Democrats and the Republican-dominated majority.

traffic22 Motorists in the South Sound are all too familiar with gridlock on Interstate 5 between Olympia and Seattle.

Transportation Public Hearings

Earlier this fall, public meetings were held across the state to get feedback on Washington’s transportation priorities. During these, it became clear that people across the state want a transportation revenue package, and they want it now—not next year, or two years, or three years from now.

Governor Inslee and legislative transportation policy leaders have continue to engage in lengthy, intensive negotiations — so far without reaching an agreement.

You can watch the recent hearing on transportation here. You can also look up previous hearings at www.twv.org. You can also go to the Washington State Legislature web page. By clicking on the bill numbers, you can access the TVW footage for each bill, as well as all legislative documents pertaining to them, including nonpartisan staff reports.

Local/Regional Priorities

Key priorities for our area include reducing the amount of congestion on I-5, particularly through the JBLM area. This must be effectively addressed in any new revenue package and include an improved Marvin Road interchange on I-5.

Other high priority needs in our area include:

  • Progress on a new interchange on Highway 101 on the west side of Olympia/Tumwater;
  • Increased transit funding;
  • More safe pedestrian routes to schools and other locations, and increased investments in safe bike routes; and
  • Increased contribution by highway users to both prevent and clean up pollution generated by highway users.

South Sound Projects

In both proposals (House passed and Republican-dominated majority), key projects that will relieve congestion on the roads in the South Sound have been targeted in both the plans:

  • Interstate 5 JBLM Corridor Improvements – Both plans include $175 million in state funds to fix the worsening Interstate 5 gridlock around Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The project would relieve congestion on I-5 from Center Drive to Gravelly Lake Road, with a focus on the interchanges at the Steilacoom-Dupont exit (119), 41st Division Drive/Main Gate exit (120), Berkeley Street exit (122) and the Thorne Lane exit (123). I’m puzzled by the fact that while Democrats assume receipt of federal matching funds for this, the Senate majority does not.
  • I-5/Marvin Road/SR 510 Interchange – Both plans would also spend $30 million to upgrade the I-5 and the state Route 510 interchange in Lacey. The improvements would ease congestion created by years of population growth in the area.

In only the House-passed proposal, an important study that will ease congestion in West Olympia is funded. The study is not funded in the proposal by the Republican-dominated majority in the Senate:

  • West Olympia Interchange – The plan would provide $1 million to further efforts to add additional West Olympia access to US Highway 101 to accommodate growth and relieve congestion at the Cooper Point/Black Lake Boulevard intersection.

Stark Differences

As negotiations continue, I remain concerned about stark differences between what passed the House and the alternative proposals being offered by Senate Republican-dominated majority. The Senate majority continues to put forth proposals that would spend far less on transit or on bike/pedestrian safety projects.

You can take a closer look at the differences between the House Democrats and the Senate Republicans plans here. (On the chart, APH refers to “As Passed the House” and MCC refers to the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus, composed of all Republicans and the two Democrats who have joined them.)

More safe routes to schools for our children, improved bike and pedestrian safety, and greater transit options are all important factors that shouldn’t be ignored when we finally move forward with an updated transportation plan for our state.

It’s frustrating that according to the attached recent analysis by the Sightline Institute, the priorities put forth by Senate Republicans appear to not meet the critical needs of many communities — including ours. The data in this analysis comes from a recent survey by the Washington State Transportation Commission. This survey data clearly shows that people want more funding for transit and for greater safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

Voters expect a balanced proposal meeting a wide variety of major needs, and I will continue to work for this.

Chart

 

General Fund Spending for Highways is Just Plain Wrong

I’m strongly opposed to the Senate majority proposal to divert General Fund revenues to fund some of the transportation package.

This is because the General Fund is used to support K-12 schools, higher education, and services for the poor, the infirmed, and those with very challenging special needs.  The Legislature is under a State Supreme Court order to increase K-12 funding by billions of dollars more per year by 2018.

Deliberately reducing General Fund revenues, by diverting them to transportation projects, which have their own dedicated revenue source, will make it that much harder to fulfill the court order.  It will also make it more difficult to increase needed investments in higher education, our health and social services safety net for the needy, adequate state employee compensation, and other ongoing obligations.  It’s not a real solution. We would be working against ourselves to do this.

Furthermore, such a revenue reduction would increase pressure to raise those taxes that support the General Fund— sales tax, property tax, and Business and Occupation taxes. We should remember that the gas tax is a “user fee” whereby users of highways, roads, and streets pay for what they use.  We should not take away education funding to meet roadway needs.

A Bright Spot: Improved Regional Transit Service

intercity Riders now have more transit options thanks to new services offered by Intercity Transit.

Recently, we have seen some great transportation improvements for transit riders in our area.  For the first time, starting last September, riders are able to get on a Sound Transit bus in Olympia and stay in the same seat all the way to Seattle. This new express service was made possible by $4.2 million in grants to Intercity Transit from the state Department of Transportation.

The first express route from a new park-and-ride lot in Tumwater to Lakewood also made its debut this fall.

Another Bright Spot: Outdoor Recreation Funds May Get Boost

sail Boating facilities and other recreation programs may get more support if previously canceled gas tax refunds are restored.

I’m pleased that the transportation negotiators are actively working to increase funding for boating facilities and various types of trails.  This would be achieved by restoring previously canceled gas tax refunds eligible for various outdoor recreation purposes.  These gas taxes were paid for non-highway outdoor recreation uses. About half of these eligible refunds are for boating facilities.

More improvements are on the horizon if an agreement can be reached soon on a transportation revenue package. I’d appreciate hearing from you. Your thoughts on the transportation priorities here at home and across the state would be extremely helpful to me.

 

Senator Karen Fraser Karen.Fraser@leg.wa.gov Phone: 360-786-7642