Benton, Cleveland vote against transportation package

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer



Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver

Two Southwest Washington senators bucked majorities in their respective parties to vote against a $15 billion transportation package on Monday. The package carves out about $160 million for a handful of highway projects in Clark County, plus $6 million in transit and rail upgrades.

“It’s woefully short for what our needs are in Clark County,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.

The package includes an incremental gas tax increase of 11.7 cents over the next three years.

Not enough of the revenue raised from the gas tax would come back to Clark County, Benton said.

“I don’t think that’s right because we’re a fast-growing county,” he said.

The chamber passed the revenue bill on a 27-22 vote. They also passed a spending bill directing money to specific projects.

Along with Benton, Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, voted against the package.

“It is difficult for me to ask the people of my district to pay a higher gas tax and additional fees without including a plan for the next steps in replacing the lifeline in and out of my community — the Interstate 5 Bridge — which is why I voted against the revenue and spending portion of the transportation package,” Cleveland said in the statement.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, was a yes vote.

“This is a good start,” she said.

“I have commitments from the chair of (the) Senate Transportation (Committee) that we have a few critical projects to be added in — a real departure from the House budget a couple of years ago that funded only a bridge and nothing else in Southwestern Washington,” Rivers said in an email.

The package now heads to the House, where negotiations will continue.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said although there are good elements, “the bad greatly outweighs the good.”

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said he believes the “negotiations really begin” now on the package, which would cover the next 16 years.

“(Southwest Washington) is aced out of any kind of project for 16 years — that’s way too long, and we’re dealing with a failing bridge you may have heard about,” Moeller said.

Republican Rep. Liz Pike of Camas likes the idea of approving “bold transportation reforms,” but she’s not a fan of raising taxes.

“After the reforms are implemented, we can rebuild trust with (Washington) taxpayers,” Pike said.

The plan also includes what some Democrats have coined a poison pill. If a low carbon fuel standard is passed, which Gov. Jay Inslee is pushing, all non-bondable revenues — such as fee-based money going toward transit and bike paths — would instead be moved into the main transportation account.

The biggest chunk of the Senate plan, $82.8 million, would pay for a new interchange at Interstate 5 and Mill Plain Boulevard.

Other identified projects in Clark County include:

• $35 million to widen state Highway 14 between Interstate 205 and Southeast 164th Avenue.

• $21.4 million for improvements to the Camas Slough Bridge along state Highway 14.

• $7.7 million for widening Main Street/state Highway 502 in Battle Ground.

• $7.3 million for a railroad overpass in Ridgefield.

• $6 million for improvements to state Highway 501 (Mill Plain Boulevard) from Interstate 5 to the Port of Vancouver.

The proposal also includes $4.3 million for upgrades at two C-Tran facilities, and another $1.9 million for the Port of Vancouver’s West Vancouver Freight Access project.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.