Spin Control

Problems with mega projects could doom transportation package

OLYMPIA -- Problems with a pair of Seattle area "mega projects" could make it harder for Washington residents to swallow tax increases for transportation, some legislators said today at a preview for the 2014 session.

Expected cost overruns for the new 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington and delays in digging the tunnel for the Alaskan Way near downtown Seattle will prompt voters around the state to ask "What are you guys doing with our money," Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said at a forum sponsored by the Associated Press. . .

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That could make it difficult to get voter approval for gasoline tax increases to pay for a package that would include new major road and bridge projects, preservation and maintenance for crumbling roads, ferries, mass transit and reforms in the way the state handles transportation projects.

Some pontoons for the 520 bridge leak, and the cost to fix them could exceed the project's reserves by $170 million. Reducing other projects to pay for the state's mistakes on the pontoons "is not the way we should be running the system," Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima.

 Bertha, the giant machine boring a tunnel to replace the downtown viaduct, has been stopped for weeks because of an obstruction, which is thought to be a pipe that is on maps given to the contractor.

Those are two very different problems, state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said. The state is responsible for the 520 bridge problems and may have to increase the bonding on the project. The Alaska Way project has risk reserves that include some $40 million for what Peterson called "running into stuff." Bertha, she added "has been chewing through a lot of stuff."

Democrats who control the House said the Senate, which is controlled by the mainly Republican coalition, will have to pass a transportation package so that negotiations can begin on the differences. King, the co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he doesn't have a proposal yet, so he doesn't know how many Republican votes he will have for it.

"I have no crystal ball," he said, and any problems with major projects, a push for a carbon fuel tax or politics from the upcoming elections will make a package harder to pass. "That doesn't mean we're not going to try."

Members of both parties from both chambers agreed on one point: Any transportation package will be without the controversial Columbia River Crossing bridge between Vancouver and Portland. "There would be no way we could get a package out with the CRC on it," Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way.

Gov. Jay Inslee said there were major philosophical differences among legislators on things like the amount of money that should be set aside for mass transit and whether to shift sales taxes from road projects from the general fund to the transportation fund. He thinks that latter is "unwise" but he's open to discussions.

"We just need to get the votes, and that means compromise," Inslee said.

 

  




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Jim Camden
Jim Camden is the Olympia bureau chief, covering the Legislature and state government. He also is a political columnist and blogger for Spin Control.

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