Having been tackled behind the line of scrimmage on his last run, Gov. Jay Inslee is now trying an end around. Or maybe it’s a flea-flicker. Or maybe it could be categorized as a Hail Mary in football parlance, because the governor’s latest proposal is so outlandish.
Inslee said this week that he might pursue a broad transportation package from the state Legislature that does not include money for the Columbia River Crossing. Remove the CRC from the funding plan, pass an additional gas tax, and allow projects throughout the state to move forward while Southwest Washington languishes.
That would mean Clark County residents would be helping to pay for the rest of Washington’s major projects without receiving any consideration for their most pressing transportation need. Sound fair? Of course not. And it demonstrates a lack of ingenuity on the part of the governor.
Inslee suffered a political defeat earlier this year when the state Senate opposed a major transportation bill he supported. The bill would have added a statewide 101/2-cent gas tax in order to, in part, provide Washington’s funding for the CRC — construction of a replacement Interstate 5 bridge and the revamping of several interchanges on both sides of the river. When the Senate opted to not pass the transportation bill, the CRC office began closing up shop and major transportation projects throughout the state were left in limbo.
Inslee’s solution? Cut off Clark County like a gangrenous limb. Well, except for our money, of course. Our money would still be good, even if our needs are insignificant.
Not that such an approach would be anything new. In 2003, the Legislature enacted a “nickel” funding package — a gas tax of 5 cents per gallon. Of the $3.9 billion earmarked from that tax increase, $2.2 billion went for congestion-relief projects in the Puget Sound area; $177 million went to the Alaskan Way Viaduct project in Seattle; and $52 million went for the state Highway 520 bridge over Lake Washington (a project beset by design flaws, cost overruns, and delays).
The catchphrase used to promote the 2003 gas tax: “It’s your Nickel, Watch it Work.” Very catchy. And Clark County residents only need to drive three hours in order to see their nickels in action.
In 2005, the Legislature passed a 91/2-cent gas tax to be phased in over four years. The bulk of expenditures from that tax increase: $2 billion for the Alaskan Way Viaduct; $551 million for the I-90 corridor east of Seattle; $500 million for the Highway 520 bridge; and $152 million for freeway improvements in the Spokane area. The absurdity of this disparity can be found in two statistics: Interstate 90 over the Snoqualmie Pass carries 27,000 vehicles on an average day; the I-5 Bridge carries 134,000 on an average weekday.
Yet, while I-90 undergoes all sorts of improvements, the taxpayers of Southwest Washington continue to wait. They’re waiting for a governor with the political will and moxie to shepherd a new I-5 bridge through the Legislature. They’re waiting for lawmakers who recognize that we do, indeed, have traffic in this part of the state. They’re waiting — after years of contributing to billion-dollar transportation projects in other parts of the state — to have their needs addressed.
Inslee’s suggestion for separating the CRC from the rest of the state’s transportation projects should be sacked at the outset. Or, more accurately, it never should have found its way into the playbook.