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Sell land under Seattle viaduct to pay for tunnel, lawmaker says

Post by News Tribune Staff on Feb. 18, 2009 at 1:23 pm | No Comments »
February 18, 2009 1:23 pm

State Rep. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, top Republican on the House Transportation Committee, has a novel approach to pay for Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct without robbing money from other state highway projects.


“We would raise $1 billion by selling the real estate where the viaduct currently sits and then dedicate all sales tax on tunnel construction and related private development back to the project to reduce costs,” he said.


That’s how the state would come up with $1 billion of the $2.4 billion the Legislature already has committed to the project. It’s an interesting idea that’s going to go nowhere, of course.


But you gotta hand it to Roach for coming up with a way to maximize the use of state lands. Face it, downtown Seattle waterfront property under the state highway (the viaduct is Highway 99) will be worth a fortune when the viaduct is torn down, so why not sell it to developers instead of turning it into a promenade for Seattle?


“It would also free up $1 billion for other projects throughout the state,” he said.



Gov. Chris Gregoire wants to delay to death other projects around the state to keep the viaduct and Highway 520 bridge projects on track. She also is trying to commit the state to paying $2.82 billion, plus any cost overruns on the tunnel.


“In the deal the governor made with the city of Seattle to replace the viaduct with a tunnel, she promised $420 million more than can be delivered and also pledged that the state would cover cost overruns. So now she’s looking to take money from other highway projects across the state to fill in that gap. House Republicans believe that’s unacceptable and we’re ready to defend against funding being siphoned away from those projects,” said Roach.


Roach also introduced bills to streamline permits, open HOV lanes during non-peak hours and weekends and make congestion relief a higher priority.


Before you read any further, let me remind Rep. Roach that his Republicans are outnumbered 62-38 by Democrats, so the phrase “when hell freezes over” comes to mind when one looks at the prospects for his bills.


Rep. Roach introduces GOP transportation efficiency package

Bills would streamline permitting, open HOV lanes, provide congestion relief


In an effort to get Washington moving again, Rep. Dan Roach has introduced a series of transportation efficiency bills designed to streamline the permitting process, open HOV lanes during non-peak hours and weekends, make congestion relief a higher priority, and address financing of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement.


Roach, ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, said frustrated commuters are tired of sitting in traffic while indecision rules in Olympia.


“The inability of leaders in Olympia to make important decisions regarding our transportation system has been costly not only in terms of dollars, but in how it affects people’s daily lives. Delays on how to address replacement of the viaduct and the 520 bridge have boosted the price of both projects and that is putting other important highway improvements outside of Seattle at risk,” said Roach, R-Bonney Lake. “We’re proposing some decisive policy changes that can be implemented now that would help to deliver long-needed transportation projects in Washington.”


House Bill 2039 would expedite the permitting process with clear deadlines and decisions for projects estimated to cost $1 billion or more.


“Inflated cost-overruns of mega projects are measured in terms of hundreds of millions of dollars simply because the state doesn’t have a clear, precise and easy permitting process to follow. The legislation I am proposing would streamline that process and remove the hurdles that create delays and drive costs up,” said Roach.


House Bill 2038 would open high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes during non-peak hours and weekends. Peak hours would be defined as 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. during weekdays.


“Other states have opened their HOV lanes during non-peak hours with great success. It’s an inexpensive way to make the most of our existing highway capacity and it would free up traffic,” added Roach.


House Bill 2037 would modify transportation policy goals to include congestion relief as a higher priority for state transportation investments. Also included in these goals are: safety, preservation and environmental stewardship.


“This is a simple change that puts more focus on congestion relief when it comes to transportation projects. When we make that a priority, it will hold the state Department of Transportation accountable for increasing road capacity, which will help get people, traffic and goods moving again,” noted Roach.


House Bill 2036 addresses funding of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle.


“In the deal the governor made with the city of Seattle to replace the viaduct with a tunnel, she promised $420 million more than can be delivered and also pledged that the state would cover cost overruns. So now she’s looking to take money from other highway projects across the state to fill in that gap. House Republicans believe that’s unacceptable and we’re ready to defend against funding being siphoned away from those projects,” said Roach.


“Our plan provides a better alternative in that we maintain the Legislature’s original promise to provide $2.4 billion for the viaduct. But of that, we would raise $1 billion by selling the real estate where the viaduct currently sits and then dedicate all sales tax on tunnel construction and related private development back to the project to reduce costs,” said Roach. “This legislation would also dedicate all future property, sales, business and occupation, real estate excise and leasehold excise taxes on new development back toward repayment of the tunnel bonds. It would also free up $1 billion for other projects throughout the state.”


House Bill 2238 would require the Department of Transportation to use $1.955 billion identified in the 2008 transportation budget to build the 520 bridge section first. The measure would also exempt sales tax on construction of the bridge project to reduce costs.


“The 520 bridge is a major safety issue and must be replaced. Enough money has already been appropriated to replace the bridge and build the pontoons. This legislation would help to keep the governor’s promise to open the new bridge by 2014,” said Roach. “Also, this legislation specifies that the pontoons are built large enough to provide for additional capacity in the future without retrofitting. We eliminate authorization of pre-construction tolling and require any tolls collected after the bridge open must be used only for roads and in the 520 corridor.”


Roach said policy changes such as these could add up to billions of dollars saved that could be pumped back into highway projects across the state.


“When voters allowed the nine-and-a-half cent state gas tax increase to remain intact back in 2005, they did so with the expectation of 16 years worth of highway projects being funded. However, the governor’s transportation budget is proposing to drop all projects that were slated for construction after 2015 and use the savings for mega projects in the Seattle area,” said Roach. “House Republicans have a better solution because our plan allows big projects to proceed without risking other important highway projects across the state, and we do so by making government more efficient and accountable with the taxpayers’ dollars.”


The five bills have been referred to the House Transportation Committee for further consideration.


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House Republican Transportation Policy Bills

At a glance


House Bill 2039 – Expedited Permit Process for Major Projects


Categories:
Transportation
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