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November 12, 2013 at 7:51 PM
State Senate Republicans are willing to consider a gas-tax increase of 11.5 cents a gallon for highway and ferry construction, and even to allow new local taxes for King County Metro Transit, according to a proposal forged over the holiday weekend.
It would avoid the tolling of Interstate 90 to help pay for construction of the nearby Highway 520 floating bridge — by allocating $1.3 billion from new gas taxes toward the Highway 520 account.
The biggest project is still $1.66 billion for extensions of Highways 509 and 167 between Seattle and Tacoma, which are freight routes between seaports, warehouses and airports. There’s also $1.3 billion to widen I-405, $750 million for the North Spokane freeway, $390 million for Snoqualmie Pass East, $350 million for highways around Joint Base Lewis-McChord, $219 million to rebuild the Seattle ferry terminal at Colman Dock, and $1.05 billion toward maintenance. Here’s the project list.
King County could send to the ballot a car-tab tax increase of up to $150 per $10,000 of vehicle value, to be split 60 percent for transit and 40 percent for county and city roads. Other car-tab fees of $20 to $60 are also conceivable for county roads and transit. Not only that, but Community Transit in Snohomish County could ask voters for a sales-tax boost of 3 cents per $10 purchase.
The transit-tax option will likely please urban Democrats, but there’s a big sticking point. The Majority Coalition Caucus, consisting of Senate Republicans plus maverick Democrats Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, are also proposing that sales taxes on road construction be kept in the road funds, instead of flowing into the general fund. That would mean less money for schools, social services, environmental oversight or criminal justice.
And there are possible cost cuts around the margins, by reducing apprenticeship programs, watchdogging wage rates, and reducing environmental permit rules. The I-5 Columbia River Crossing is left out.
“Congestion relief” would be added to the state’s official transportation goals.
Whether this can pass both the GOP-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House is unclear. Committee meetings are expected next week.
The entire 10-year, $12.3 billion proposal phases in gas taxes the first three years, and requires $4.2 billion bond debt that would ring up interest costs for a couple of decades.
July 24, 2013 at 6:55 AM
A month after a transportation plan crashed in the Legislature, the Seattle Transit Riders Union will hold what it calls the ”WTF, Olympia?” rally, seeking new taxes to prevent bus-service cuts.
The event is to be held in the park just south of the King County Courthouse, at Third Avenue and Yesler Way.
King County Metro Transit has said it would reduce up to 17 percent of service hours unless lawmakers provide new revenue to replace funds that will go away in mid-2014: a $20 annual car-tab fee for bus service, and $32 million from the Highway 99 tunnel project to provide extra peak-time buses (which run close to full) through the Sodo construction zone.
Metro has raised fares $1 since 2008 and plans another 25-cent hike next year.
“Our Legislature failed all of us: Not only will bus riders lose service, traffic congestion will get worse, and the economy and the environment will suffer too,” said the group’s co-founder, Katie Wilson.
Skeptics make their own arguments. Farebox receipts cover only 27 percent of Metro’s operating cost, and even after recent service changes, Metro still runs 56 routes that carry fewer than 300 daily riders, out of a total 225 routes. (The busiest line is the 7 on Rainier Avenue South, serving 12,360 daily riders, closely followed by route 358 on Aurora Avenue North.)
The transit supporters plan to write their grievances and toss paper slips into a cardboard bus. Wilson said she hopes to arrange a meeting with state Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who is aligned with Republicans. Tom recently said he prefers sales taxes to fund transit, instead of the car-tab taxes proposed in the 2013 bill. Supporters have been asking for a law that would allow King County voters to decide whether to raise taxes for local transit and roads.
Metro serves just over 400,000 riders a day, about the same as mid-2008 just before the recession.
June 27, 2013 at 2:04 PM
A plan to increase gas taxes 10.5 cents over the next year just passed the Washington state House of Representatives in a 51-41 vote, a day after the same bill failed.
The increase, along with boosts in car and truck weight fees, would support most of a 10-year, $10.04 billion package of highway expansions, ferry funding, maintenance, and bicycle-pedestrian projects.
House Bill 1954 would also allow King County to send to the ballot a car-tab tax increase of up to $150 per $10,000 of vehicle value, to be split 60 percent for Metro Transit, and 40 percent for city and county roads.
However, the bill will face turbulence in the Senate, where several Republicans either oppose the taxes, or oppose a $433 million payment toward the $3.5 billion I-5 Columbia River Crossing, between Vancouver and Portland. The CRC bridge plan includes light rail, leading some southwest Washington officials to warn about their constituents being yoked to future operating taxes for Portland-based Tri-Met.
The leading argument Thursday was that highway improvements are needed to sustain trade in Washington state. The largest single item is a $1.45 billion payment toward the “Puget Sound Gateway,” which would build extensions of Highway 167 to the Port of Tacoma, and Highway 509 passing through SeaTac between Seattle and south King County.
“This is a singular moment. This is a time when inaction is a loss of competitiveness,” argued Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo.
Gasoline taxes would increase 6 cents a gallon on Aug. 1, and another 4.5 cents July 1, 2014, if the bill is signed into law.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, opposed the bill, which would bring state’s total gas tax to 48 cents, compared to 26 cents currently in Idaho. “All this, and all the fees in this bill, are going to make it harder to do business in Washington, and they might as well move 20 miles across the border in Idaho,” he said.
May 2, 2013 at 1:26 PM
Three business groups north of the Highway 99 tunnel project called on lawmakers Wednesday to oppose tolls, which are supposed to fill a gap of up to $200 million in the $3.1 billion budget for the deep tube and interchanges.
Eugene Wasserman, president of the North Seattle Industrial Association, said he’s run out of patience with a state committee process that’s meant to propose toll revenues without causing thousands of motorists to avoid the tunnel and clog the surrounding streets.
“We went through all the scenarios, the waterfront, downtown, the Central Area, I-5. It’s a disaster,” he said. “It adds all kinds of strain on the system for nothing — $200 million, which is a small amount.”
The association, along with the Fremont Chamber of Commerce and Aurora Avenue Merchants Association, sent a letter to Senate Transportation Committee co-chair Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, House Majority Leader Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle and former port commissioner, and Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who is aligned with Republicans.
Wasserman suggests the tunnel budget gap be filled with whatever revenue plan comes out of the late May special session. Earlier versions by Clibborn punt on the question of how to raise $200 million, but even that amount seems unattainable without diverting as many as 40 percent of drivers elsewhere, the latest models say.
The letter says in part:
The imposition of the proposed tolls would increase traffic congestion throughout Seattle, increase air pollution; force increased delays on our freight, and transit, increase noise and air pollution in the City’s new waterfront park and in a slow growth economy increase the transportation costs on low-income people.
With the legislature considering a gas and other transportation taxes we do not see any reason that the $200 million to be raised from tolls should not be included in that package. Particularly, since there is very little in the proposed packages that benefits Seattle…
On the other hand, canceling the toll plan may cause its own political backlash. Some lawmakers outside Seattle resent the $2.6 billion in state and federal taxes already earmarked for the $3.1 billion budget for the tunnel and its interchanges, since one rationale for the four-lane tube (instead of an elevated structure) was to create local benefits, in the form of a quieter and sunnier waterfront for Seattle. A 2009 legislative clause declared an intent to make Seattle cover cost increases, while Sen. King this year vented his “moral outrage” over the prospect of tolls failing to cover a Highway 99 budget gap.
April 3, 2013 at 9:04 PM
Seattle resident Elizabeth Campbell has filed a proposed statewide initiative, seeking to halt the Highway 99 tunnel. But by time the measure could even reach the November 2014 ballot, tunnel boring is scheduled to be close to done.
Campbell previously led anti-tunnel Initiative 101 for Seattle voters only, and gathered more than 21,000 valid signatures to qualify, but a judge voided I-101, saying the city couldn’t interfere with a state project. A separate anti-tunnel advisory measure, Referendum 1, did reach the August 2011 ballot — but a majority of voters supported going ahead with the tunnel.
Campbell’s new measure needs 246,372 valid signatures statewide, by Jan. 3, for the next Legislature to forward it to the November 2014 ballot, the Secretary of State’s office said Wednesday. Signature gathering might begin in a few weeks.
By late 2014, drilling should be nearly finished for the two-mile tunnel from Sodo to South Lake Union.
The Tunnel Termination Initiative, linked here, seeks to terminate the $1.4 billion construction contract. It cites “the collapse of the tolling plan” — so far, officials have failed to close a $200 million funding gap or find a toll rate that minimizes the likelihood of traffic diversion onto downtown streets. The text calls on the state to “restore SR 99 to its pre-contract functionality,” meaning a highway that can handle 110,000 cars a day. The state Department of Transportation planned to serve about two-thirds that volume in a tolled tunnel.
April 3, 2013 at 1:31 PM
Senate leaders think it would be nifty if motorists can someday drive onto a ferry, or drive on a toll highway, using the same windshield-mounted Good2Go transponder.
The proposed Senate transportation budget, released Wednesday morning, calls for a $250,000 study and plan, to be published by Nov. 29.
Committee co-chair Curtis King, R-Yakima, hopes that somebody from Yakima could cross both Lake Washington and Puget Sound on the same pass, or that a commuter using the future I-405 high-occupancy or toll (HOT) lanes can use Good2Go for an occasional business or recreational trip.
“It would be less cumbersome,” he said, than the existing separate payment methods.
Jordan Schraeder, The (Tacoma) News Tribune’s statehouse reporter, challenged that assumption, pointing to many foulups with the launch of highway tolls. At the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, some 4,300 or more bogus citations were sent to law-abiding citizens, and 350,000 toll bills were late.
King replied, “We have had problems and we are going to be auditing that too, so we can ensure that system works. A lot of the early problems on that system have been corrected.”
Already, people who walk aboard ferries from Seattle to Bainbridge and Bremerton — riding the vessels like transit — can pay with an ORCA transit farecard.
The $8.7 billion, two-year budget was described as “bare bones” to sustain programs at existing levels, including ferry service. It contains $61 million for I-5 pavement repair. Another $200 is earmarked for the Highway 99 tunnel and interchanges, leaving a $200 million gap to be filled by tolls or other money, on the $3.2 billion project.
February 22, 2013 at 5:28 PM
Washington state drivers who get stuck with a $40 toll penalty would get the chance to explain any “mitigating circumstances” to a judge, under House Bill 1941, filed this week.
Currently, judges in state toll court have virtually no leeway and reduce the fines only about one-fourth of the time — for instance, when a driver is sent to war in Afghanistan and doesn’t receive state notices in the mail right away.
For each unpaid crossing, the state Department of Transportation tacks on a $5 administrative fee after 15 days, and a $40 civil penalty after 80 days.
This Seattle Times story last yearexplains how families can quickly lose hundreds of dollars, simply by procrastinating or failing to receive forwarded mail. Washington state has some of the nation’s harshest fines for toll scofflaws.
It’s unclear how much money drivers would save or the state would lose, if the bill were to pass. In the first six months of tolling on Highway 520 last year, about 2,000 drivers tried in vain to explain away $48,000 in penalties, legislative staff says. But they point out that some drivers don’t even bother challenging their fines because they know the system is rigid. So there would likely be an increase in hearings and legal costs to the state, a fiscal note says.
The stakes become even higher considering the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the potential spread of tolling to the I-90 floating bridge, I-5 express lanes, Highway 99 tunnel, Columbia River Crossing or other corridors.
Sponsors are Cyrus Habib, D-Bellevue; House Transportation Committee chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, and Larry Springer, D-Kirkland.
In other tolling news, Clibborn and Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton, have filed House Bill 1945, requiring the state to study I-90 toll options to relieve costs to Mercer Island residents or people who work there. The state would study charging only those drivers who cross all of Lake Washington, and study whether Mercer Island drivers could choose only half of the lake to pay tolls on, either west or east of the island.
A companion Senate bill was filed by Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, and Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue.
October 5, 2012 at 7:30 AM
Less than a week after King County eliminated downtown Seattle’s free-ride bus zone, County Councilmember Reagan Dunn thinks maybe it should be brought back.
In a letter Thursday, linked here through DocumentCloud, he says “low-income and homeless people depend on this service for survival.” But he argues further that free rides are good for business, especially as cruise ship passengers and other tourists use free buses to move easily through downtown: “Businesses in the Ride Free Areas count on the economic benefit this service has helped to provide and bolster. Simply ending this service with no alternative could conceivably lead to adverse effects on the downtown economy and the city of Seattle as a whole.”
Dunn said the city and county should do an economic impact study, costing perhaps $15,000 to $30,000, to find out if business losses outweigh Metro’s gain.
On the first day of downtown fares Monday, trains and buses in the downtown tunnel were delayed about nine minutes in the afternoon peak, because passengers took longer to get aboard buses. Previously people paid at the end of the ride, in outlying neighborhoods.
“I was out with [Metro general manager] Kevin Desmond Monday and saw how the process was working, and I wondered, ‘Have we thought through this, beyond a line item in the budget?’” said Dunn.
But Metro says this week’s change has generally gone well. Downtown fares are projected to bring in a net $2.2 million, a tiny fraction of the $643 million operating budget. Dunn said he still believes, as in 2009, that Seattle should be paying more to subsidize downtown free rides, maybe a 50-50 split with the county.
The pros and cons were well-publicized before and after last year’s County Council vote to charge fares downtown. (Dunn opposed the package, which also imposed a $20 car-tab fee to sustain Metro bus service hours, saying the fee should have been referred to the voters.) This sudden activism by Dunn, a Republican from Maple Valley. occurs during his race against Democrat Bob Ferguson, a county councilmember from north Seattle, for state attorney general. (Ferguson voted for the combination of downtown fares and the $20 fee.)
So is Dunn just trying to soak up a few votes from the Seattle left and business lobby? “This is a sincere proposal, it’s not based on any political consequences. We need to do that sooner or later,” he answered. If the goal was boosting poll numbers for the AG’s race, Dunn says, he would have voted yes for the Sonics arena.
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