(UPDATED at 4:40 p.m. with comment from Rep. Fey and fuller description of the JBLM proposal.)
House Democrats pitched a nearly $10 billion transportation tax increase today whose single biggest outlay would go to a project that includes resuming the construction of State Route 167 to I-5 and beyond to the Port of Tacoma from where it stopped decades ago in Puyallup.
The 167 extension and a plan to connect Route 509 to I-5 near SeaTac Airport are being conceived of as a single megaproject, which Democrats dub the “Puget Sound Gateway.”
Democrats say it can be done for $1.8 billion, and they devote $1 billion to it in their proposal today, raised by increasing the gas tax by 10 cents over five years. The AP’s Jonathan Kaminsky has the big-picture look here, and House Democrats posted a breakdown of the projects that would benefit here.
The plan is silent on tolls, which likely would raise some of the rest of the money for the 167 and 509 projects. The plan’s author, Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, suggests tolling car-pool lanes on I-5 could be part of the solution, turning them into the pay-to-drive-alone HOT lanes.
Separately, the existing HOT lanes that span from Renton to Auburn would be extended south to Puyallup at a cost of $35 million, and north to Bellevue as part of a $675 million project to widen I-405.
The other big South Sound work designated for a piece of the money is the remaking of I-5 interchanges near Joint Base Lewis-McChord to allow some widening of that congested highway. The package would fund $175 million of a $350 million project that would open I-5 to eight lanes on a small section of the base’s north end — roughly from Thorne Lane to Berkeley Street — and provide shoulders that commuters could drive on during rush hour the rest of the way through the base, as far as Mounts Road at the south end.
Commuters may see JBLM traffic as a bigger problem than the need to extend major shipping corridors like 167 and 509 that are a top priority of industry, but Clibborn said finishing those extensions would get northbound and southbound trucks off of I-5. Between those and the wider north-south I-405, she said: “I think people will see a difference in their commute.”
Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma said the package is a testament to the strong push this year for Route 167 completion. “The level of effort has been jumped up, and it shows,” he said.