Transportation Plan Effect Won’t Be Instant So Many Decisions Are Yet To Come; First, Plan Must Be Approved By Voters
It could be months or a year before residents learn exactly what this year’s legislative action on transportation means for Eastern Washington.
State lawmakers hit the road home from Olympia this week, after passing a Republican plan that raises $2.4 billion for roads and bridges without raising taxes.
But so many decisions are yet to come that it’s tough to say exactly how the plan would translate to road work in the Inland Northwest.
First, the plan has to be approved by voters this fall.
Additionally, House and Senate lawmakers don’t yet agree on how the money should be spent and aren’t likely to until the 1999 session.
In the meantime, an interim budget - $195 million - doesn’t go to voters, but still must be signed by the governor.
While some of that money already has been earmarked for specific projects, determining how the rest gets spent will be left to state transportation officials.
“You never really know what’s happened until the final day of the session, and then it sometimes takes time to decipher,” said Spokane County Commissioner Kate McCaslin.
Transportation officials and legislators maintain that most of the spending decisions aren’t controversial.
All sides tend to agree on 95 percent of the spending decisions, said Randy Hain, director of program management for the Department of Transportation. What remains is “tinkering at the margins.”
But that tinkering leaves a lot up in the air for Spokane and other areas.
The following is a breakdown of often-discussed Eastern Washington road projects, and where they stand in the process:
Evergreen interchange - The $6 million in state money Spokane area officials requested to build a $23.4 million interchange over Interstate 90 at the Spokane Valley Mall is in the supplemental budget, awaiting Locke’s signature. It doesn’t require voter approval.
Spokane beltway - Lawmakers also put $250,000 in that budget for a Spokane County-led study to explore a bypass from North Spokane to the Valley.
Interstate 90 widening - House Republicans say they would spend $40 million to add a fifth and sixth lane to the interstate between Sprague Avenue and Pines Road. The Senate spending plan lists generic improvements to I-90 as a priority. Work likely will require voter approval.
Interstate 90 - House Republicans also have $45 million in project work along I-90 between Sprague and Harvard outlined on a list of so-called “mobility” projects. The state would provide some of the money for those projects only after local or federal matching money was found - and only if voters approve the GOP package. Even then, these projects rank 25, 55 and 56 on a list of 58 projects that are to be done in priority order as money becomes available.
The Senate would provide far less money for “mobility” projects, and doesn’t list any priorities.
Railroad crossings - The House also has nearly $20 million in that list to improve railroad crossings at Park, Barker and Evergreen roads.
Again, those projects are in the bottom third of the priority list and still require voter approval.
North-South freeway - The House doesn’t include any money to start a $2 billion, 20-year project to build a freeway from I-90 north 10 miles. The Senate wants to add money to start the project, but doesn’t say how much. Depends on voter approval.
Highway 395 - The House wants to spend $6.6 million to improve the highway between Hastings Road and milepost 172. Depends on voter approval.
Highway 195 - The House also wants to spend roughly $5.4 million to make improvements near Thorpe Road. The Senate makes no mention of this project. It needs voter approval.