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State Senate’s transportation budget skips new funds for CRC

'Bare-bones' proposal puts emphasis on maintaining current projects

The Columbian
Published: April 2, 2013, 5:00pm

OLYMPIA — Co-chairs of the Senate Transportation Committee unveiled a proposed $8.7 billion, two-year transportation budget on Wednesday that focused on maintaining current construction projects, roads and highways. The proposed budget includes no portion of the $450 million in construction money Columbia River Crossing backers are hoping for this session, but it does include nearly $82 million to cover ongoing planning costs for the megaproject.

In the proposed Senate transportation budget, “the priority was given to maintenance,” said Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way and transportation co-chair. She added that no major investments were made in future transportation projects because the state simply doesn’t have enough revenue.

The preservation of existing infrastructure has been neglected in past budgets, said transportation co-chair Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima.

The Senate’s transportation budget plan puts $4.1 billion into maintaining and improving roads, banks $200 million in projected toll revenue toward the Alaskan Way Viaduct project and puts $1.2 billion toward servicing existing and planned bond debt. It doesn’t make any major investments in future transportation projects.

As the senators outlined the proposed budget at Wednesday’s press conference, they continually stressed the bipartisan effort expended on the proposal; however, King and Eide did disagree over the importance of the CRC.

Eide, who has served on the Senate Transportation Committee for 17 years, said she thinks the CRC is one of the top three priorities for transportation.

“When I look at it, this is the only stop sign along (Interstate 5) along the West Coast,” she said. “I think it’s time to step up to the plate and get this done.”

King, whose 14th District extends into east Clark County, countered that the bridge’s plan has issues that need resolution.

“I think the vast majority of us want a bridge, but we believe that there are other elements that have to be addressed first,” King said.

For example, King said light rail is a potential deal-breaker in his opinion. He said that bridge height and traffic flow problems were also issues that need to be tackled.

King and Eide said the budget could change based on whether a revenue package comes out of the House.

A nearly $10 billion transportation revenue package proposed earlier this session by House Democrats includes $450 million for the CRC. Eide and King said they will consider and discuss the specifics of that package once it makes it to the Senate.

“The House revenue package is going to include money for the CRC, so it’ll be up to the Senate to remove it,” said state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. Moeller sits on the House Transportation Committee and is a proponent of the bridge-replacement project.

CRC planners say Washington state needs to dedicate at least a portion of its $450 million share this year, or the project could face significant setbacks. Oregon has already passed a bill through its Legislature that dedicates its $450 million share — but only if Washington lawmakers also put up money, and other conditions are met. Federal money is expected to follow suit if all goes according to plan.

In addition to replacing the I-5 Bridge, the $3.4 billion CRC would rebuild freeway interchanges on both sides of the river and extend Portland’s light-rail system to Clark College. Backers are pushing forward even as logistical and financial questions remain unresolved.

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If the Senate’s transportation budget is approved by the full Senate, it will move to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

The 105-day legislative session is set to conclude on April 28.

Stevie Mathieu and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

I-5 Bridge