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Dec. 4, 2021

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Transportation bill goes before House

Senate OKs $16.1 billion plan, but local Republicans who oppose it say its fate uncertain

By , Columbian Political Writer
Published:
4 Photos
Carl Brown works on Highway 502 construction near Dollars Corner in Vancouver on Monday, the same day the Legislature unveiled a comprehensive transportation package that will keep road construction projects continuing for the next two decades.
Carl Brown works on Highway 502 construction near Dollars Corner in Vancouver on Monday, the same day the Legislature unveiled a comprehensive transportation package that will keep road construction projects continuing for the next two decades. Without a new funding package, the 502 project will be one of the last major projects in this part of the state. Photo Gallery

The transportation revenue package passed by the Senate in Olympia on Monday would raise $16.1 billion, and lawmakers plan to spend $50 million of that money on overhauling Clark County’s oldest freeway interchange.

The chamber passed the revenue bill on a 39-9 vote and it now heads to the House, which is expected to vote on it today. The Senate also passed a bonding bill tied to the package, but wasn’t expected to vote on a spending bill that designates the money to specific projects until today.

The package includes an 11.9-cent gas tax increase that would be phased in over two years.

In Clark County, it carves out $50 million to replace the antiquated Northeast 179th Street interchange on Interstate 5, and $98.7 million to rebuild the interchange at Interstate 5 and Mill Plain Boulevard.

“This is a damn good package for Clark County,” said Mark Brown, a lobbyist who represents the region in Olympia.

But some local Republicans struck a different tone.

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, said she was “adamantly opposed” to the plan. The package should make broader transportation reforms and, if it’s going to raise taxes, should be referred to voters, Pike said.

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, said the proposal doesn’t do enough for the region to warrant a yes vote, especially when it’s accompanied by a spike in the gas tax.

“I think it’s too much, the 11.9 cents is too much of a leap,” Harris said. Harris said he’s not sure if the package will pass.

On the other side, Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said she was conflicted. The package doesn’t include any funding to address replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge, she said, but overall, it represents a good investment for the state’s future. In the end, she voted yes on the revenue bills.

“It is a shame to commit to a 16-year package without including a path forward on a bridge,” she said. “Thankfully, there are some important projects that are funded in the package for our region.”

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, also voted in favor of the revenue package, though she said on the Senate floor that it was the “vote I’ve struggled the most with in my entire career.”

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, voted against the package.

Projects in the transportation package include:

• $25 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.

• $7.7 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 plan would increase the gas tax in two stages: a 7-cent increase on Aug. 1 and a 4.9-cent increase on July 1, 2016. The plan spends $8.8 billion on state and local road projects and $1.4 billion on maintenance and preservation. Another $1 billion would be spent on nonhighway projects, such as bike paths, pedestrian walkways and transit. It also would allow Sound Transit, which operates in the Seattle area, to ask voters to pay for potential expansions of its light-rail line.

Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release he’s “been fighting to get a transportation package” since his first day in office and “now is the time for the Legislature to act.”

“The state needs a transportation package,” Inslee said. “The current bill has a poison pill that pits clean air against transit. I oppose that and have worked hard to find a better alternative. … I will sign the bill even with this provision because of the jobs, safety improvements and traffic relief that the investments would provide.”

Brown called it “nothing short of a miracle” that the transportation package was agreed upon and he hopes to see it pass.

“It’s a tough vote for anyone who votes for it, it’s a really tough vote, and they have my respect and admiration because they realize this is a critical investment package and it needs to happen now,” Brown said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Columbian Political Writer
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