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$7.7 billion Washington transportation budget gets House OK

OLYMPIA – The House approved a transportation budget Thursday that includes money to repave nearly 2,100 miles of state highway, repair up to 50 structurally deficient bridges and continue work on the North Spokane Corridor.

“It’s a good budget for Eastern Washington,” Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said before the budget passed on a bipartisan 78-19 vote.

The House’s $7.7 billion proposal will be considered by the Senate, which has crafted a budget that’s about $320 million smaller. House Democrats are expected to unveil a separate package next week that generates new revenue through taxes or fees.

The North Spokane Corridor would get $36 million for a series of projects that include relocating a stretch of BNSF railroad. The House also passed Riccelli’s amendment to require that any savings on those projects stay in a fund for completing the corridor.

“There’s not a lot of money, but when the savings occur we want to keep the money in that project,” Riccelli said.

The budget also sets aside $379 million to repair the state Route 520 floating bridge in Seattle, $109 million to widen a stretch of Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass, and $275 million to add lanes to Interstate 5 in Western Washington.

House members fiercely debated whether the state should pay $17 million in repair costs for the Alaskan Way Viaduct project in Seattle, where the world’s largest tunneling machine, Bertha, has been stuck underground for over a year. The budget sets aside a total of $640 million for the project, but opponents argued that’s more than the Legislature agreed to pay before the project began.

The city of Seattle voted to cover excess costs before Bertha broke down; opponents argued that state taxpayers shouldn’t pay for repairs.

“Seattle’s got to buck up and pay for their mistakes,” said Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, argued that the Legislature had always planned to invest more into the project.

The budget provides $110 million to begin construction on more than 20 culverts to allow fish to swim more easily through several rivers and $80 million devoted to fixing bridges deemed structurally deficient.

Some money would be used to launch a pilot program for a mileage tax – charged per mile driven – that could someday replace the gas tax, which is charged per gallon of gas purchased.

“This is our future,” said Clibborn, who heads the House Transportation Committee. “The gas tax is failing – it will continue to fail. As we have seen already, the gas tax will not be there when we get into the long future.”


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