The $8.9 billion House transportation budget plan unveiled today includes $520,000 to buy 20 new vans to be driven by soldiers and civilian employees commuting to work at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
It’s one of several nods by the House Transportation Committee to the congestion on Interstate 5 around the base. The budget proposal also directs just more than $100,000 in mostly federal money to finish outfitting northbound I-5 on-ramps with stop-and-go traffic signals. And it directs the Department of Transportation to work with local agencies to figure out how to reduce vehicle use around the base, including through the use of public transportation.
But the budget Democrats and Republicans released doesn’t contain any money for that planning, and it doesn’t include $6 million that WSDOT has said it would need to study the cost of major improvements to I-5 around the base.
Rep. Marko Liias said WSDOT already has a good idea of the road improvements needed around the base. “The real money to solve that problem is going to have to come from our federal partners,” said Liias, D-Mukilteo, “and also from potentially new revenue as we move forward.”
And that is the story of this House budget plan, which GOP Rep. Mike Armstrong called “bare-bones.” There is very little money for new projects, and lawmakers say voters will have to approve new taxes before the state can address its transportation needs.
The state expects its transportation accounts to start bleeding red ink, mostly due to the decline in gas tax collections due to the economic downturn and drivers using more fuel-efficient vehicles. The state expects to collect 19 percent less revenue over 16 years than it projected in 2007.
Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn said she hopes to have an outline of a tax package written by the end of this year’s legislative session, but would not seek to put it on the ballot until 2012.
A highway across the military base should be part of a revenue package, Clibborn said.
Clibborn, a Democrat, and her Republican counterpart Armstrong agreed new tax revenue is needed for the transportation system. But Clibborn prefers gas tax increases while Armstrong called that an “antiquated system” of funding — while declining to say what other kind of tax or fees he would push instead.
The committee’s proposed budget does include one major increase in revenue. It would raise ferry fares by 7.5 percent this year, even as it cuts ferry runs like the one from Point Defiance to Vashon Island.
The fare hike is less than what Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed, even as it also proposes fewer reductions in ferry runs than Gregoire sought.
The governor proposed a 10 percent increase in ferry fares, plus a surcharge that would vary based on the cost of diesel fuel that House budget writers declined.