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Two lanes is two too few for 167 backers

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Feb. 21, 2013 at 4:14 pm with No Comments »
February 22, 2013 3:55 pm

House Democrats’ transportation package released Wednesday contains $1 billion for building links to I-5 for both Route 167 in Pierce County and Route 509 in South King County.167

Lawmakers say that would be the state contribution to a $1.8 billion total project that might also tap toll payers, the federal government or other sources. Here’s the official description of what that would buy:

(On 167:) Constructs a new alignment between SR 509 in Tacoma and SR 512 in Puyallup, including one lane in each direction between I-5 and SR 512. (On 509:) Connects SR 509 south from SeaTac to I-5, including one lane in each direction between S 188th and S 24th/28th Avenue and two lanes in each direction between S24th/28th Avenue and I-5.

Note that the biggest stretch of the proposed 167, from Puyallup to I-5 in Tacoma, would span one lane in each direction. That is not enough, says a coalition of government, business and union 167 backers including U.S. Rep. Denny Heck. The group wants a four lane highway.

The coalition told the package’s author, Rep. Judy Clibborn, in a letter Wednesday that it “would have to recommend opposition to the bill and any ballot measure that does not provide a timely path to completing SR-167.” (See full letter at right).

Tim Thompson, a consultant to the group, took pains in a conversation today to praise Clibborn and call her efforts to secure funding for the project “amazing” and “nothing short of incredible.” But he said only a four-lane road would accomplish the benefits his coalition is touting, and accomplishing that in phases would be costly.

“We just have to bite the bullet and get to a full completion of the project,” Thompson said.

He said that would require at least $1.25 billion for 167 alone, based on Department of Transportation estimates. It’s unclear how much of that could be accomplished through tolls and federal money. It’s also unclear how much Clibborn’s tax package would devote to 167, since it treats it as a single combined project with 509.

UPDATE Friday: Clibborn told me that the numbers could change but said her caucus is committed to 167. “The billion is a signal that this is THE project. It’s THE project,” she said.

She said she is hoping some kind of private-public partnership can be worked out. And she said it may only be possible to complete a portion of the project in 10 years anyway, regardless of the money spent.

Republican Rep. Hans Zeiger of Puyallup, by contrast, told me he’s holding out for $1.5 billion for 167. And the highway isn’t worth tolling, he said, since studies have shown tolls would raise hardly any money (No more than $65 million, according to the latest study out this month). Tolling I-5, as Clibborn proposes, could raise more.

“I’m opposed to the revenue package as long as it doesn’t fund the whole thing,” Zeiger said.

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