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Tax package includes $1.27 billion for 167, 509 & I-5 HOT lanes; assumes new Pierce Transit taxing authority

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on April 16, 2013 at 11:27 am with No Comments »
April 16, 2013 2:36 pm
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Rep. Judy Clibborn wears a SR 167 button Friday along with Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson.

Updated 2:30 p.m. with more on projects. Updated with timeline for gas tax increases.

House Democrats today called for raising the gas tax by 5 cents this year and then gradually by another 5 cents over at least three years and raising a series of fees to pay for roads, ferries and other spending.

The biggest beneficiary would be the so-called Puget Sound Gateway, at $1.27 billion, the amount sought most recently by backers. The project combines an extension of state Route 167 between Puyallup and the Port of Tacoma with an extension of a similarly unfinished stretch of state Route 509 near SeaTac.

Altogether, the statewide plan calls for raising $7.8 billion over a dozen years from the gas tax, weight fees on trucks and cars and registration and title fees. That doesn’t count $600 million from fees passed last year. It’s House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn’s second formal try at a tax proposal this year and is scaled back from her first plan that would have raised more over a shorter 10-year period by including a statewide vehicle excise-tax and other revenue sources.

But it devotes a larger share, $900 million, to maintaining existing roads. Mass transit, local governments, rail, pedestrian routes and ferries would all get shares.

The megaprojects in the package also rely on some $3 billion in tolling, including an estimated $330 million raised for SR 167 and SR 509 by tolling the two new roads and HOT lanes between Seattle and Tacoma.

Paired with the statewide tax increases would be local measures for Pierce, King and Snohomish county transit agencies to boost their revenue. Pierce Transit would be allowed to create a subdistrict where officials could ask voters for up to an extra 3 tenths of a cent in sales tax. If it was proposed and passed, only sellers in the subdistrict would have to charge the higher tax on top of the current 6 tenths of a cent.

City councils in Tacoma and elsewhere would also be allowed to charge a special $40 car tab fee, up from $20 allowed now.

The most notable statement issued on the package today is a cautiously optimistic one from a Republican with a key role as Senate Transportation Committee co-chairman, Curtis King of Yakima, an indication that the prospects for the tax package in the more conservative Senate may have improved:

Members of both parties can agree to the critical need to invest in our transportation system and though I don’t agree with everything in this package, I agree that we need to have this conversation. Businesses and farmers east and west of the mountains depend on the ability to easily move goods across our state and I am committed to finding a bi-partisan solution that incorporates cost-savings and reforms to keep our economy moving.”

But King and other Republicans will almost surely refuse to support the package as long as it contains $450 million for the Columbia River Crossing. That project is hotly debated by opponents of adding light rail as part of replacing the Interstate 5 bridge to Portland.

Sen. Tracey Eide, the Democratic Senate co-chairwoman, also issued a statement saying lawmakers “are committed to finding a solution that members of both parties can embrace and I think revisions to the proposal bring us closer to bi-partisan investment that will help our economy for years to come.”

UPDATE 2:30 p.m.: One Pierce County project that is not funded is an extension of the widening of the existing SR 167 to create HOT lanes running into Puyallup. One local project that is funded, though, is the rebuilding of I-5 interchanges near Joint Base Lewis McChord — funding $175 million of a project that has been estimated at $350 million. A short stretch of I-5 would be widened to eight lanes and a longer one would have road shoulders opened to traffic at rush hour.

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