OLYMPIA – House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a two-year state transportation budget that includes nearly $100 million more toward construction of the North Spokane Corridor, $6.7 million for a county-owned rail line west of Spokane and a “foundation” of more than $800,000 toward a new local rail-loading facility.
“It’s as good as we could have expected,” said Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane.
Despite sharply higher project costs due to a worldwide surge in demand for construction materials like steel, concrete and asphalt, lawmakers said they were pleased to keep promised projects throughout the state largely on track. Lawmakers – who promised the public a long list of projects during two recent gas-tax increases – said they worked hard to keep those promises.
The $7.5 billion budget includes $915 million to get started on replacing Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct and hundreds of millions more for the nearby state Route 520 floating bridge.
A disproportionately high percentage of the added dollars were in Eastern Washington and rural Western Washington, said Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane.
“That’s something I appreciate,” he said.
House Transportation Chairwoman Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said the budget made up a nearly $2 billion shortfall, due largely to materials cost increases.
Senate Transportation Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen said that meant, however, that few new projects were added.
“This budget was probably the easiest of the three (state budgets) because it’s kind of like your own life: When you have no money, you have to make some decisions,” said Haugen, D-Camano Island.
Some Republicans were unhappy with the end result. Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-Otis Orchards, said she’ll vote no because Puget Sound megaprojects are getting funded while Spokane’s North Spokane Corridor construction creeps along.
“It’s just a lack of importance that the Puget Sound area gives the second-largest city in the state,” Schindler said.
Rep. Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island, said Democratic budget-writers ignored a Republican push for more efficiencies and productivity measures. Proven technological tools, he said, would have helped the projects get done faster and cheaper.
“It’s a business-as-usual budget,” he said. “… There just isn’t any sense of urgency or any sense of leadership from the Legislature. … We’re afraid to make changes.”
Here are some of the local items in the budget:
“North Spokane Corridor (also known as the North-South Freeway): $99 million more.
“Streetcar study for downtown Spokane: $250,000.
“Legislative transportation “summit” in Spokane to talk about potential local contributions to paying for the North Spokane Corridor: $25,000.
“Study of the region’s role as a transportation hub: $250,000.
“Geiger Spur: Money to cover increased costs for the county-owned 3.5-mile track: $6.7 million.
“A proposed “transloader” rail facility on the West Plains: $860,000 of a requested $4.3 million.
Marr said that getting more money for this project was difficult, given a late $2 million request from Spokane County for extra costs associated with the Geiger Spur. Of the money allocated, $800,000 is for buying land and $60,000 is for site engineering work.
Said Wood, “This is, for lack of a better word, a foundation.”
“Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad: The budget includes about $11 million for work on this state-owned Eastern Washington short-line rail system. Of that, $3.6 million would be spent on immediate improvements, and the remaining $7 million would be put into a grant fund for a port or other agency to take over ownership of the old lines. Farmers and local economic development officials say it’s critical to preserve the rural railroad, much of which former owner WATCO said was unprofitable.
The state doesn’t want long-term ownership of the rail lines, Marr said, and is hopeful that officials closer to the farm community can get the shipping commitments it will likely take to make the lines break even.
“Within five years, we will no longer be in the railroad business,” he predicted.