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Transpo package is dead

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler talks about what will and won't happen during the remainder of the session at a press conference with House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen and Senate Republican Caucus Chairwoman Linda Evans Parlette.

OLYMPIA — Good news for Spokane motorists: You won't be paying an extra 11.5 cents in taxes for gasoline over the next three years. Bad news: The Legislature doesn't have a plan to come up with the money to finish the North Spokane Corridor or several other "mega projects" many people think it needs.

A possible $8 billion transportation package that would raise fuel and motor vehicle taxes and generate money for major road projects, maintenance and mass transit will not pass the Legislature this session, Republican leaders of both chambers said today.

The lasts chance for a package crashed with recriminations all around.

They blame with Senate Democrats for not being willing to accept reforms to the way the state plans, funds and builds major transportation projects Senate Democrats, in turn, said the predominantly Republican coalition that controls the Senate never even scheduled a committee hearing on their package so it could be brought to the chamber for a vote.

House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen said Inslee should have led a "cohesive effort" to bring the leaders of both chambers together and negotiate a deal. A spokesman for Inslee said the governor had a meeting with Senate Transportation Co-Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, on Monday and asked if a new proposal was worth bringing all leaders together for negotiations and was told "No."

 Inslee, who has made a transportation package one of his top priorities since taking office last year, said he was disappointed there would be no package and found it difficult to understand why the Legislature couldn't reach an agreement on something the state clearly needs.

 The Housed passed its version of a package last year, and Democrats who control that chamber said they were ready to negotiate as soon as the Senate passed one of its own. Senate Republicans introduced a different proposal last month that never had the necessary votes to pass and thus never came to a vote.

That Senate version had $750 million to finish the corridor, sometimes called the North-South Freeway.  The House version had about $480 million, which would complete the next phase.

The failure to reach agreement on the package is not a surprise. On a lobbying trip to Olympia in January, Spokane's business, political and civic leaders were told not to get to expect a package would come out of  the short legislative session.

Senate majority offers roads package

OLYMPIA — The coalition controlling the Senate released a $12 billion transportation package that would raise gasoline taxes by 11.5 cents over three years and finish several major projects, including Spokane's North-South Freeway.

They said they have support from 13 of their members — or half the ruling caucus — meaning they'd need 17 votes from minority Democrats to pass the spending package and its accompanying bonds. 

At a lunchtime press conference, a group of eight senators, including Spokane Republican Mike Baumgartner, called for quick negotiations with House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee to try to find a package that can get super majority support in both chambers. The Senate proposal differs significantly from the House plan in spending for some projects and calls for changes in the way the state plans, builds and taxes transportation projects. Among those changes, an end to sales tax on those projects, which is a financial hit to the state's general fund.

Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said removing the sales tax lowers the price of the project, and the general fund will more than make up the loss through the added economic development the projects will generate. The reforms are necessary to restore the public's faith after some high profile problems with big projects like the 520 bridge and the Alaska Way tunnel.

The package would spend $750 million to finish the North-South Freeway, which is also called the North Spokane Corridor, so it connects with Interstate 90. By building that and other large projects in phases, the state doesn't see the economic impact of a completed project, Republicans argued.

The North-South Freeway has been under construction for years, and under discussion for decades. Baumgartner said he grew up believing the road "lives in the land of fairies and flying unicorns."

"I will not support a package that does not allow full funding for the North-South Freeway to come to I-90," he said.

Also on the project list are $15 million for widening State Route 904 from Cheney to I-90, and $11.7 million to add a passing lane on U.S. 195 between Colfax and Spangle.

The gasoline tax would go up 4 cents next year, 4 cents in 2016 and 3.5 cents in 2017. The proposal doesn't have language that automatically sends it to the ballot, but senators said it could easily wind up there.

They challenged House Democrats and Inslee to meet with them next Wednesday morning to begin negotiations. Tom said he "absolutely" believed a transportation package could be passed in the current legislative session, which is now slightly more than half over.

House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, cast doubt on the prediction, however. She released a statement that described the package as undoing work from last year and putting "untested ideas" on the table. And the package doesn't have clear support from the coalition she added.

"We remain insistent that the Senate Majority either pass its proposal or provide a clear demonstrations that it has enough votes to pass," she said. "We look forward to resuming negotiations once the Senate Majority has finished negotiation among itself."


Sunday Spin: Spokane delegation makes its annual trek west

OLYMPIA – A delegation of more than 80 Spokane-area folks arrived here last week with their annual “agenda” – some might call it a wish list – of things the Legislature could do to make life better for the state in general and the center of the Inland Empire in particular.

This annual trek to the capital sponsored by Greater Spokane, Inc., herds well-briefed leaders of business, political, education and civic groups through the marbled rooms and committee rooms and is the envy of many other cities and counties around Washington. It has prompted the sincerest form of flattery, imitation, from other communities but many legislators still say Spokane’s full-court press lobbying remains the best.

At least that’s what some tell members of the Spokane throng. Others offer recollections of their last visit to the city or Spokane Valley, or some other anecdote to show they are all paisans. . . 

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Prospects poor for highway package, GSI group told

OLYMPIA – Don't get your hopes up for new money to finish the North-South Freeway, a group of business, civic and political leaders from Spokane was told Wednesday.

The chances the Legislature will pass a package of big road projects paid by a gasoline tax are almost non-existent.

Some legislators blamed politics or the lack of support among Republican legislators from the Spokane area. Others blamed problems at the state Transportation Department. Some said a package can't make it out of the Legislature during the current abbreviated session. Others said any package that did would surely wind up on the ballot, where voters would reject it.

Together, they painted a bleak outlook for one of the top items – and by far the most expensive – on the Greater Spokane Inc. 2014 agenda as more than 80 local leaders arrived in Olympia for their annual three-day lobbying session. .  .

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Transpo package gets hearing today

OLYMPIA – Senate negotiators will begin the push today for a package of new road projects and improved maintenance that could complete the long-discussed North Spokane Corridor and raise gasoline taxes by 11.5 cents over three years.
The package of 10 related bills, with a total price tag of $8.7 billion for projects all over the state, gets a formal airing at a Senate Transportation Committee hearing this afternoon. Whether it will prompt a special session or just lay the groundwork for more debate next year is unknown…
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Some gas tax money for N. Spokane Corridor

OLYMPIA – A proposal to raise the state’s gasoline tax by 2 cents per year for five years and impose or hike other taxes would provide some $420 million for further work on the North Spokane Corridor.

The long-running road construction project – sometimes called the North-South Freeway – is one of five designated statewide “impact” projects in the Connecting Washington package proposed Wednesday by House Democrats, and the only one in the Spokane area. . .

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Snip-snip: N. Spokane Corridor photo op today

Break out the giant scissors. We're having a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the North Spokane Corridor.

Make that another ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Today at 11 a.m., the powers that be will be holding a "Celebration of Progress" for the much-discussed roadway, a thoroughfare so deeply ingrained in the Spokane mythos that Mike Lowry once said that the oldest politician was the one who could claim the oldest date when he first made a speech mentioning what was then called the North-South freeway.

The celebration is to mark the opening of the northern half of the corridor. So that would be the North North Spokane Corridor, presumably.

This being an election year, the celebration will include politicians, including Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who disagree on many things, but not on whether the roadway deserves federal money.

It's at 11 a.m., where the corridor intersects with Parksmith Road. For directions, go inside the blog. (One interesting thing to note in the directions: "The event cannot be reached from the North Spokane Corridor. You must use Market Street.)

Let's hope the scissors have been sharpened, because nothing ruins a good photo op like a ribbon that refuses to be cut.

Feds to give N. Spokane Corridor $10 million

The U.S. Department of Transportation will give the state $10 million for the North Spokane Corridor, to be used to help relocate some railroad tracis and extend a bike trail.

A joint announcement from U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers says the state will get the money from the feds on Friday.

The money is known as a TIGER grant, which stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. It will be used to relocate 7.5 miles of BNSF rail lines near the Freya Street interchange, and to extend a bike and pedestrian trail for 1 mile into Hillyard.

All three members of Congress described the North Spokane Corridor — also known by some as the North-South Freeway — as a top priority for them and the community.

To read the announcement of the grant, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Senate Transportation Budget: No $ for Keller Ferry

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…

 To continue reading this item or to comment, go inside the blog.

For charts on the Senate and House Transportation budget proposals, click here.

Bigelow Gulch road construction begins despite lawsuit

Photobucket Photo Courtesy Of The Prairie Protection Association. That’s always a bad sign. The Spokesman-Review reports “Spokane County Commissioners are plowing ahead with a plan to widen Bigelow Gulch Road despite a federal lawsuit that could block or delay federal funding for the project.” Federal funds would total $12 million out of the $58 million proposal, making this a risky financial maneuver to begin construction on the part of the county. Why the lawsuit? Orchard Prairie neighbors sued to stop the Bigelow Gulch freeway project through the Center For Justice, asking for a more thorough environmental review on an expansion that will drastically impact the pastoral, 100-year-old community. “They are going to take a huge amount of cropland with this project,” said Don Hamilton, a resident of the area, in the S-R. Community members believe the county is trying to build a connector for the south end of the partially completed North Spokane freeway at Francis Avenue and Freya Street. As previously mentioned, The U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration allegedly failed to fulfill requirements by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the federal Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Also, one plaintiff alleged he was asked to leave for trying to record county officials at a public meeting two years ago about the proposal. More.

Spokane freeway revised

Photobucket Ah, the North Spokane Corridor. Originally proposed in 1946, this thing has had more delays than “Chinese Democracy.” Zing! (Last time, we promise.) And you’re kidding yourself if you think both are worth the wait. Richard Roesler of the S-R reports lawmakers are now proposing a slimmer version: “The plan, crafted by state engineers, trims costs on a three-mile stretch from Francis Avenue south to the Spokane River. Instead of the expected $720 million, the new plan for the section is pegged at $285 million.” The changes include: •A planned Wellesley interchange northwest of the Esmeralda Golf Course would be added later. •The road would have four lanes instead of eight. •Plans to put parts of the freeway below ground level would be shelved. “Instead of building a Cadillac, we’re building a Chevy,” said state Sen. Chris Marr. “It’ll get us where we need to go, and we can always upgrade.” Full story hereLight rail anyone?