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Transportation budget maintains status quo

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Feb. 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
February 22, 2010 4:54 pm

Projects scheduled last year will go on as scheduled. Little new work is being proposed.

That’s the bottom line from the rollout today of the Senate’s proposed transportation budget.

The budget’s $8.6 billion price tag includes a $1 billion increase from last year that reflects mainly federal money, including stimulus funds for high-speed rail, senators said.

Maintaining the status quo means less to disagree about. Two Republican and two Democratic members of the Senate Transportation Committee sat together at a news conference today to outline their bipartisan proposal.

Among the little new money proposed in the budget is $3.6 million to fund a new Washington State Patrol academy class to maintain staffing of troopers. The class would have 54 members, a size that usually produces about 45 graduates, senators said. Meanwhile, three engineering jobs in ferry terminals would be eliminated.

One other thing on ferries: The budget would take a step forward in allowing motorists to reserve spots on the boats. The proposal would give the state ferry system the go-ahead to start a $12 million reservation pilot program that had been budgeted last year pending a study of the issue. Senators said reservations could save $280 million by avoiding the need to expand terminal holding areas.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge could also get more time—until 2014—to pay off the start-up loan it received from state transportation funds. But the budget would defer the loan only if lawmakers shift revenue of bridge toll fines from the courts to the bridge, as the Senate has voted to do.

The bridge doesn’t have a way to pay the loan right now, but Sen. Derek Kilmer says getting the money from toll violators would make repayment possible.

That should also keep down tolls, Kilmer said. The state Transportation Commission has recommended charging regular bridge users 50 cents more per trip. “It’s my hope that the Transportation Commission would see this and reach the conclusion that its toll increase proposal is unwarranted,” Kilmer said in a news release.

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