Gregoire appoints transportation task force

Panel will identify needs, recommend funding sources

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Gov. Chris Gregoire has named a high-powered panel to design a 10-year plan for funding the state’s transportation system and present it to the 2012 Legislature.

The “Connecting Washington Task Force” will review statewide transportation needs, recommend the most promising projects for investment and identify potential revenue sources.

“The demands on transit, roads and ferries will grow as our population grows and as businesses climb out of this recession,” Gregoire said Tuesday in a statement.

“Major transportation projects must be built, our ferry system must be preserved for future generations and the current transportation system must be maintained,” the statement said. “Connecting Washington will give the Legislature options to improve and maintain our transportation system and help keep our communities and businesses moving.”

New taxes, fees and tolls will be on the table as the task force meets to explore ways to pay for growing transportation needs. Those unmet needs include funding Washington’s share of the cost of building a Columbia River Crossing, estimated at $450 million.

The governor noted that the 2003 and 2005 transportation revenue packages, paid for with hikes in the state gas tax and other fees, have funded hundreds of transportation projects across the state. Most of those will be under contract or completed by mid-2013.

“To date, more than 90 percent of these projects have been completed on time and 92 percent on or under budget,” she said. After the 2013–15 biennium, more than 90 percent of the proceeds from those gas tax increases and fees will go to cover debt service — while the state’s transportation system faces new challenges.

Besides building a new bridge and light rail line linking Portland and Vancouver, those challenges include replacing the Highway 520 bridge that links Seattle and Bellevue, building the North Spokane corridor and keeping the state’s aging ferry fleet afloat.

The state’s transportation needs aren’t limited to maintaining highways and funding the ferry system, Gregoire noted. “As city and county populations continue to increase, more mass transit will be necessary to accommodate additional riders and to expand routes. “

Gregoire will chair the group and lead its meetings. Members include the chairs and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees, Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond and the chair of the State Transportation Commission, as well as local elected officials and representatives from tribes, organized labor, trade associations and businesses, transit agencies, and consumer and environmental advocates.

Clark County will be represented on the commission by Tim Schauer, chairman-elect of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and president and chief operating officer of MacKay & Sposito Inc.

Meetings will begin this month and continue throughout the summer and fall.

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.