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House, Senate panels close on transportation budget

OLYMPIA – The two legislative committees trying to decide how to spend nearly $9 billion on transportation over the next two years “largely agree” on how to spend it, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen said Tuesday.

Neither would seek an increase in the gasoline tax this year, although some members of both panels say that could happen in 2012. Both would spend nearly $72 million on the next phase of Spokane’s north-south freeway.

There is one big difference between the two budgets for Eastern Washington, however. The House proposal sets aside some $12 million to replace the 63-year-old Keller Ferry, which crosses the Columbia River between Ferry and Lincoln counties. The Senate proposal sets aside no money to replace it and specifically states that none be spent.

“As long as the boat continues to float, I’m not so sure it’s as big a priority,” Haugen, the Camano Island Democrat and longtime head of the Senate Transportation Committee, said as the panel’s spending plan was released. Replacing the Keller Ferry should be part of a tax increase package voters might get next year, she said.

The Senate transportation proposal would spend about $120 million for new ferries – about $20 million more than the House spending plan – for boats on the Puget Sound runs. The state has a 64-car ferry being finished in the coming two-year budget cycle and would start working on a pair of 144-car boats.

Both chambers’ Transportation Committees are proposing to spend about $72 million on Spokane’s North Spokane Corridor. They pull the money from different pots, but the total is the same.

Other area projects on both lists, giving them a good chance of survival, are:

• $15.8 million in improvements for the Interstate 90 corridor between Spokane and the Idaho state line, with about $9.6 million for additional lanes between Barker and Sullivan roads

• $2 million for the Havana Road railroad track separation

• $1.9 million to extend Riverside Avenue

• $1.5 million for the Bigelow Gulch Road project

• $1.5 million for an I-90 port of entry west of the Idaho state line

• $1.1 million for congestion and safety management at U.S. Highway 195 and Spokane-Cheney Road

• $1 million for six programs to improve safety for children around schools or to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists in the Spokane area.

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