Senate unveils $15 billion transportation package

Covington | Maple Valley Reporter

By Rebecca Gourley

A group of four state senators who serve on the Transportation Committee, including Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, unveiled a $15 billion transportation revenue package proposal Feb. 12. The package consists of more than $8 billion in new project funding including $3.2 billion for projects affecting residents in Covington and Maple Valley. The senators are proposing an 11.7 cent gas tax increase over the next three years as the primary funding source.

One of the projects would widen state Route 516 from two to five lanes from Jenkins Creek to 185th Avenue, a cost of about $15 million - $1.8 million of that has already been funded according to the county’s website.

Another project specifically for Covington is being referred to as the Covington Connector. It would connect state Route 516 to state Route 18 via development and extension of 204th Avenue Southeast through the Hawk property. The funding package released Thursday would allot $24 million for that project.

There are a couple of projects included in the proposal that could impact quite a few commuters in the area. A shoulder hardening of I-90 between Bellevue and Issaquah is estimated to take almost $72 million out of the pot. It would allow shoulder driving during peak traffic times. Two more projects – totaling about $54 million – would affect the eastbound lanes of I-90 and the I-90/I-405 interchange.

Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, said in a phone interview he’s pleased with the commuter projects that were included.

“Overall, I’m happy to have the $125 million to relieve some of the I-90 congestion as people head into Bellevue and Seattle,” he said.

Another project affecting commuters is the proposed widening of I-405 between Renton and Lynnwood. It would cost about $1.2 billion.

Maple Valley City Manager David Johnston said he was happy with the projects included in the Senate proposal, but still wanted the expansion of state Route 18 to be on the list. However, at least one project that city officials were hoping would get funded is included in the list, the completion of state Route 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma, an approximate $1.9 billion project.

Johnston said, “(This project) is extremely important for freight mobility for importers/exporters who use the Port of Tacoma.”

In order to fund these and other new projects across the state, the senators chose an 11.7 cent gas tax increase – imposed incrementally over the next three years – as the primary funding option. It is estimated that this tax increase would bring in more than $5.6 billion through fiscal year 2031.

In addition, the package outlines a restructuring of vehicle registration fees. Instead of a motor vehicle excise tax as a funding option, which has been talked about in the last several sessions and would impose a fee based on the value of the vehicle, the senators opted for a weight-based fee.

Mullet said he agrees with the weight fees because the people with cars with lower values are probably using the road just as much as those with higher valued vehicles.

The weight fee would be an increase of $20 for passenger vehicles and light trucks.

Another funding source the Senators chose is approximately $4.3 billion in general obligation bonds.

A brand new “studded tire fee” is also part of the package. This fee would be imposed on the sale of new studded tires and would cost the consumer $5 per tire.

The entire transportation package consists of 11 bills. The first bills to hit the Transportation Committee were the reform bills. The public hearing took place after press time on Tuesday afternoon.

Fain said one of the biggest reforms they are proposing is to keep the sales tax on gasoline in the transportation budget. Another reform they are suggesting is to have congestion relief be a factor in how the Department of Transportation designs road projects.

This package can be amended throughout the process – road projects could be added or eliminated, and the same scenario could be applied to the fees.

Johnston said he is optimistic more of the projects on the city’s list of priorities could get added if the package goes to the House side of the capitol.

But, the fact that the lawmakers representing Maple Valley are outnumbered based on their political affiliation, it could be an uphill battle.

“The 5th District legislative delegation are members of the minority party in each chamber,” he said in an email. “Senator Mullet is a Democrat in a Republican-majority Senate, and Reps. Rodney and Magendanz are Republicans in a Democratic-controlled House.”

He continued, “It is still early in the session…The only list that matters is the one passed by both chambers and signed by the Governor. Let the debates begin.”

The last time a transportation package of any kind was passed in Olympia was a decade ago.