OLYMPIA -- House Democrats passed a two-year spending plan for the state's transportation system today, overcoming Republican objections about a controversial bridge over the Columbia River and the way tolls are set on roads and bridges.
Included in the bill is some $79 million for projects in Spokane County, including about $68 million for the North Spokane Corridor. In an amendment sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, before the final vote, any money saved in the next two years on that project will be held and spend on future portions of the longtime Spokane road project.
Transportation budgets are often bipartisan bills in the Legislature, but this proposal had several elements that caused some Republicans to balk. One is some $450 million for the Columbia River Crossing, a controversial bridge connecting Vancouver with Portland that critics say is poorly designed and too expensive, in part because of the inclusion of light rail capacity. Light rail exists on the Oregon side of the river, but not the Washington side.
The other is the delegation of the authority to set fees on bridges and toll roads to the Washington Transportation Commission, rather than requiring the Legislature to set them.
'It's a solid budget. It doens't have a lot of frills," Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said.
Riccelli said it was a good budget for Eastern Washington, with money for transportation projects that help farmers and local businesses plus the "Safe Routes to Schools" program as well as the North Spokane Corridor.
But Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said some of the priorities were misplaced, by spending money for the State Patrol to set up traffic cameras to control speeders in some areas rather than hiring more troopers and only supplying partial money for the North Spokane Corridor rather than the whole project. "Clearly this budget needs a lot more work," Shea said.
It will get more work. After passing on a 68-28 vote, the bill now moves to the Senate which has some different plans on how to spend the state's transportation money