Area lawmakers in no rush to OK transportation revenue package

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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After Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he could call legislators back to Olympia this fall to pass a new transportation revenue plan, some members of Clark County’s delegation said they didn’t see a need to rush.

“I don’t understand the urgency of the November date when we’d be going back into session in January,” said Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver.

Vick and Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, both pointed to a study commissioned by the Legislature that would examine why transportation projects cost more in Washington state than in other parts of the country. That study won’t come out until January.

“We need to get the report back,” said Orcutt, ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee. “Then, we need to implement policies that will actually reduce our costs. … Anything else is doing a huge disservice to the taxpayers of this state.”

Orcutt said transportation projects cost up to twice as much as comparable projects in other states.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said she understands the importance of moving relatively quickly to pass a new transportation package. Paying for needed infrastructure projects throughout the state would create jobs, she said, but she doesn’t have a preference about whether a transportation package should get a vote this fall or early next year.

“We would want to make sure that we have had enough time to fully vet and determine what our priorities for this region are,” Cleveland said.

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, said she wouldn’t want to see lawmakers head back to Olympia for another special session without being sure a new transportation package would pass.

“I don’t think we can have a special session until we know what the results can be,” Wylie said.

It’s also apparent that the Columbia River Crossing project won’t be included in a new transportation package come this fall, or in January. All of the project’s critical deadlines will have passed by Sept. 30. Supporters of the project wanted Washington state lawmakers to commit $450 million toward the CRC during the 2013 Legislature, but that didn’t happen.

In a post-CRC transportation package, legislators said it will be necessary to take stock of other transportation needs facing Clark County.

“If we’re all being asked to pay additional taxes” for new transportation projects, Cleveland said, then “we also need to ensure that this area and region has projects that are going to move forward and be furthered by that funding.”

Orcutt and Vick said legislators can’t ignore congestion on Interstate 5 over the Columbia River. Orcutt said “there has to be a discussion of a third bridge” in addition to the I-5 and Interstate 205 bridges. Vick said that Clark County is a rapidly growing community that requires infrastructure improvements.

“To ignore Southwest Washington in any transportation package would be a bad idea,” Vick said.