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Corridor costs on agenda

Gov. Chris Gregoire discusses her supplemental budget proposal Tuesday in Olympia. 
 (Richard Roesler / The Spokesman-Review)
Gov. Chris Gregoire discusses her supplemental budget proposal Tuesday in Olympia. (Richard Roesler / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – If Spokane-area drivers want to see the North Spokane Corridor move quicker than it has in the 51 years since it was first proposed, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday, the region will likely have to pony up some local cash to help pay for it.

Unveiling her budget proposal for the coming year, Gregoire on Tuesday pledged to continue work on the freeway linking U.S. 395 and Interstate 90. But she warned that the region shouldn’t expect the state to shoulder the entire $3.3 billion cost.

Gregoire wants the state transportation department “to explore options for user fees to help fund construction of the corridor,” according to a budget summary her office released.

“We’ve got to find a new way to do business there,” she said. “What I’m trying to do is engage in a partnership with the locals to really expand our view of how can we move this thing forward without simply relying on state dollars.”

One possibility, she said: forcing trucks onto the fast new corridor and charging them a fee.

State Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, said tolls probably won’t work on the project, since there are too many local-street alternatives. But he, too, says that local dollars will be necessary, as they have become in Puget Sound mega-projects. Simply insisting that the state provide all the cash, he said, “doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”

Another option, Marr said, might be a vehicle license fee of $20 or $40 a year. Although the resulting money – say $8 million a year – would be a tiny fraction of the $150 million a year the state will have to spend for two decades, at least it shows that the region’s willing to shoulder some of the cost.

Other possibilities, he said, include a local-option gas tax or impact fees.

“People ask why the Puget Sound has become kind of the nexus for the mega-projects that we’re investing money in,” said Marr, who is vice chairman of the Senate transportation committee. “Number one, it’s their need. But number two, it’s their willingness to say, ‘OK, we’re willing to go on and take a piece of this.’ “

State Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-Otis Orchards, said the corridor is a key part of a statewide transportation network and should be paid for by the entire state. Spokane-area residents have been helping pay for projects elsewhere in the state for many years, she said.

“One of the main purposes of government and one of the priorities should be building and maintaining a state system,” she said. “We have already paid a lot of money into that system and gotten very little back.”

Other local items in the budget proposal Gregoire unveiled Tuesday include $1.8 million for Washington State University and $306,000 for Eastern Washington University to boost campus security and emergency communications.

“We do not need what happened at Virginia Tech to happen at any of the campuses here in our state,” she said, referring to the April attack in which a single gunman killed 32 people in two attacks.

Other local items:

“$2.4 million, shared between Spokane and Pierce counties, to pay for long-term jail costs.

“$6 million for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Spokane Tribe as part of a deal under which tribes would agree to support a state proposal to release billions of gallons more per year from Lake Roosevelt for farms, fish and cities.

“$2 million for local governments affected by the expected 1-foot-lower lake level during some of the year.