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News / Clark County News

Transportation package has its detractors

Lawmakers concerned by priorities, higher tax

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: February 17, 2015, 12:00am

Southwest Washington lawmakers raised concerns Monday over the $15 billion transportation state package unveiled last week by a bipartisan group of senators.

Rep. Jim Moeller’s reaction to the proposal was straightforward.

“It stinks,” the Democrat from Vancouver said. “I’m sorry, but one project per legislative district does not a package make, in my opinion.”

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, said the region does not get its fair share of dollars in the broad revenue proposal.

“The package as it sits right now … is not a good package for Southwest Washington,” Harris said.

The transportation package includes a gas tax increase of 11.7 cents per gallon over the next three years. It carves out $160 million for a handful of highway projects in Clark County, plus $6 million in transit and rail upgrades. The biggest chunk, $82.8 million, would pay for a new interchange at Interstate 5 and Mill Plain Boulevard.

The package consists of 11 different bills and has bipartisan support in the Senate. It has yet to have a public hearing.

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, noted the package could look drastically different if and when it makes its way to the House.

She’s voiced concerns with the current proposal. Specifically, she’s reluctant to increase the state’s gas tax.

“The public is wary of (the Washington State Department of Transportation) after having to foot the bill on several costly engineering mistakes,” Pike wrote in an email. “Before presenting new taxes to the public, we need to put serious reforms in place first. We must rebuild trust with the taxpayers of this state.”

Rep. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, echoed Pike’s sentiment and added, “Raising gas taxes will be felt most by those that can afford it the least.”

Republican Sens. Don Benton and Ann Rivers noted that this is only the start of negotiations.

Through a spokeswoman, Rivers said she’s “pleased with the inclusion of so many projects” in her legislative district. Both Rivers and Benton said they will continue to push for a new interchange at Interstate 5 and Northeast 179th Street near the Clark County Fairgrounds.

Benton, who is vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, released a statement saying he will continue to push for a package that “works for the entire state, including Clark County, and not just Seattle.”

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, pointed out the most notable missing piece: the lack of any funding to improve or replace the I-5 bridge.

“The current transportation package will commit our community, region and state to another 16 years without any discussion about taking steps forward to replacing the bridge,” Cleveland said in a statement.

“By the end of the proposed transportation package in 2031, the bridge will be over 114 years old and will be in even more serious need of repair and replacement.”

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‘Good place to start’

Mark Brown, a lobbyist representing the region in Olympia, said he told lawmakers to be patient.

“Essentially it seems to me this is a very good place to start the 2015 discussion in terms of a transportation package,” Brown said. “It’s robust, it’s bipartisan and there are a number of elements which will directly benefit Southwest Washington, including funding for specific projects.”

Other identified projects:

• $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.

Reps. Brandon Vick, R-Felida, and Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, could not be reached for comment.

Eric Florip and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Columbian Political Writer