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Tuesday, October 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Roundtable: Road projects have big payoff

OLYMPIA – Washington would get a major economic boost by finishing the North Spokane Corridor and some other major road projects worth $7 billion, a state business group said Tuesday. It faces significant costs and problems if the Legislature continues to deadlock over some type of tax-funded roads package. . . 

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A new study released by the Washington Roundtable looks at finishing the much-discussed and long-delayed corridor and five other major road projects that have been included in the failed tax packages considered by the Legislature in recent years. The Legislature has been unable to reach an agreement on any single plan despite repeated statements from members of both parties that some major improvements are needed.

“This is not a suggested package,” Steve Mullin, of the Roundtable, said. It leaves out some transportation issues on which there is significant disagreement, such as money for mass transit and ferries, but suggests spending levels for the six major projects that have been considered.

For the corridor, that’s $750 million, which is below some estimates for finishing the project as originally planned but enough to connect the new road from North Spokane to Interstate 90. Other major projects in the study are an expansion of I-5 through Joint Base Lewis McChord, widening of I-90 through Snoqualmie Pass, adding lanes to I-405 between Bellevue and Renton, a new four-land Pacific Sound Gateway connecting ports to I-5 and adding new lanes to State Route 520 and making it earthquake proof. Also in the study are $1.25 billion for preventive maintenance around the state.

All of that would cost an estimated $7 billion, the study says. Over the next 30 years, those projects would boost the state's economy by $42 billion through a combination of jobs, shorter commute times from eased congestion and better road surfaces and improved trade at the state’s ports.

The study does not recommend the source of that $7 billion. Mullin said all packages that have been considered by the Legislature have had some level of higher gasoline taxes, between 9.5 cents and 12 cents per gallon, as well as higher fees based on vehicle weight and some bond proceeds.

The study does not consider the impact on the state economy of reducing state residents’ disposable income by paying higher taxes, which often comes up from opponents of transportation packages that seek to raise taxes.

The projected economic boost is the “good news” of the study, he said. The bad news is that without a major infusion of new money, the state’s roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate, congestion will get worse and the state could lose some of the business at its Puget Sound ports.

“We don’t really have much time to wait,” Mullin said.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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