A new draft of a transportation revenue package is circulating among state lawmakers, but its shortage of money for Clark County projects is raising concerns in Southwest Washington.
The latest iteration of the plan, drafted by Sen. Curtis King, raises the gas tax 11.5 cents a gallon over 12 years and sets aside $7 billion for transportation projects across the state. But about $100 million from that pot would head to Southwest Washington. Just $41.4 million would be spent in Clark County, which is one half of 1 percent of the package's project dollars.
State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said the plan skimps on money for his corner of the state.
"I'm hoping this is not their best and final offer, and that we'll still negotiate," Moeller said Thursday. "At the moment, I'm not voting for this, and I doubt there will be anybody from the 49th (District in Vancouver) voting for it."
The package does include $7.5 million to widen state Highway 502 in Battle Ground, $7 million for a railway overpass on Pioneer Street in Ridgefield, $1.9 million for railway improvements in west Vancouver, and $25 million to create access to Interstate 205 from 18th Street. It also makes about $35 million available for local governments in Clark County to use on their roads.
Previous versions of the transportation plan assigned $450 million to the Columbia River Crossing project, but the Republican-controlled Senate held steadfast against paying for the controversial CRC. Because money for the CRC has been scrapped, several state legislators from Clark County said they hoped to be able to get $450 million worth of other transportation projects for their area. That would be about a 6 percent share of the $7 billion.
But this new plan? "I don't know how anyone, (Republican) or (Democrat), could vote for that package in Southwest Washington, when (transportation leaders previously) were willing to spend $450 million on the bridge alone," Moeller said. "I would like to see a lot more projects for Southwest Washington before I get to yes."
Moeller and the other two lawmakers from the 49th — Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, and Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver — said last month that they wanted to see $450 million worth of Southwest Washington projects in the transportation package, now that the package no longer includes the CRC.
They want new interchanges on state Highway 500 in Vancouver, at Northeast 42nd Avenue and Northeast 54th Avenue (at a cost of $70 million); widening state Highway 14 between I-205 and Southeast 164th Avenue ($37 million); upgrading the I-5 interchanges at Mill Plain Boulevard ($80 million); and modifying state Highway 501 between I-5 and the Port of Vancouver to increase freight mobility ($6 million). All of those projects are missing in King's proposal.
"There's a lot of consternation about what's not in it," Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said last week, adding that negotiations are ongoing. She said she's happy to see the plan includes projects in her 18th District, and that it includes money for local governments to make their own road improvements. However, she does wish more money was headed to local governments.
"Certainly, I didn't get every project I wanted," Rivers said, but the reality is that there's only so much money to go around, she added. Earlier this year, Rivers and other Republicans fought against paying $450 million for the CRC, which would have replaced the I-5 Bridge and extended light rail into Vancouver.
With previous transportation packages passed in 2003 and 2005, Clark County got a fairer share, said Mark Brown, a lobbyist for the cities of Vancouver, Ridgefield and Battle Ground. Those gas tax hikes came with significant road improvements, including replacing a traffic signal at St. Johns Boulevard on Highway 500 with freeway interchange, and straightening out the sometimes-deadly curve across the Highway 14 Slough Bridge into Camas.
"The reason the region did so well with the last two revenue packages is because we had a bipartisan group of House and Senate members who were willing to support the tax increases but only in exchange for significant funding for a large number of projects throughout the county," Brown said. When it comes to the new package, "we've got four of our projects firmly on Sen. King's radar screen, and that's very good, but in total the share to the region is woefully inadequate."
King, R-Yakima and co-chair on the Senate Transportation Committee, did not return requests seeking comment for this story. His district includes eastern parts of unincorporated Clark County.
If the $7 billion was spread evenly throughout the state, each of Washington's 39 counties would get about $180 million. That's impossible, though, when the package includes megaprojects, such as the $1.6 billion Puget Sound Gateway in Pierce and King counties, the $1.3 billion improvements to state Highway 520 in Seattle, and the $750 million North Spokane Corridor.