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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: GOP offers alternative to hiking gas tax

Lawmaker: Reform must come first

Failure this summer of a proposed 10.5-cent increase in Washington’s gas tax to fund big transportation projects such as the North Spokane Corridor has caused some state lawmakers to seek new ways to stretch existing funds.

Last week, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, released a package of transportation reforms that would free up money for more construction.

Lawmakers are taking their ideas on the road later this year to gauge reaction from the public, government agencies and the private sector.

Lawmakers are planning to hold a public meeting in Spokane on Oct. 22 at the Eastern Region office of the Washington Department of Transportation, at North Mayfair Street and North Foothills Drive. The time for the event has not been set.

King said at least some of the reforms are needed before conservative lawmakers will support a tax increase. He said he believes the public wants lawmakers to make better use of the taxes that are already collected before asking them to pay more.

King is co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and a leader in the majority coalition caucus made up of Republicans and conservative Democrats.

“Some of these (reforms) are vitally important to our caucus and the ability to move forward with a revenue package,” he said.

In June, lawmakers rejected a 10.5-cent increase in the state gas tax that would have raised nearly $10 billion through 2025.

Under that plan, bonds would have been sold to raise funds immediately for the state’s largest construction projects, including $420 million to extend the North Spokane Corridor through Hillyard to the Spokane River and another $155 million to extend widening of Interstate 90 on the east side of Snoqualmie Pass.

Before majority caucus members will consider higher taxes, King said, he and his colleagues want sales taxes collected on transportation projects returned to the transportation budget, a move that would raise an estimated $400 million for transportation over 10 years.

The plan also would use environmental legacy funds to pay for stormwater elements of transportation projects, which would increase construction funds by a similar amount.

The lawmakers also are calling for re-examination of the requirement that contractors pay prevailing wages, and they want to streamline environmental permits for construction. Public-private partnerships are being encouraged for some projects.

Recent engineering errors uncovered in Western Washington are getting attention, too. The coalition wants to require the Department of Transportation to report to the Legislature when they make those kinds of mistakes.

Other reform proposals involve ferries, toll roads and Sound Transit.

Bus improvements at SCC

Work started last week on renovation of the Spokane Transit Authority’s bus center at Spokane Community College.

Changes to the 30-year-old loading and unloading area will be finished by mid-September, in time for the fall quarter.

Burton Construction Inc., of Spokane, is the contractor on the $115,000 project funded mainly with a federal grant.

An upgraded passenger platform with assigned zones for each route will be built, clearing up confusion about where to wait for buses. Up to six buses will be able to load and unload at the improved center.

In addition, buses heading south on Greene Street are going to start using the bridge underpass rather than attempting to make left turns onto Greene when they depart campus.

STA provides 800 trips a day through the campus transit center.

‘Cougar card’ free bus pass

STA announced last week that it is teaming up with Washington State University Spokane to create a new “Cougar card” that will give students and staff unlimited rides on STA buses.

The program is being funded through WSU-Spokane parking revenue and student fees.

The idea is to reduce demand for parking at the Spokane campus. The pass program is similar to the “Eagle pass” offered at Eastern Washington University. That decade-old program has resulted in consistently full loads of passengers riding buses to and from the Cheney campus.

New ferry coming

The new Sanpoil ferry is making her maiden voyage on Wednesday on the Columbia River crossing on state Highway 21 north of Wilbur.

A vessel christening is set for 11 a.m. at the south terminal. Regular service on the 20-car ferry should start by midafternoon.

Members of the Colville Confederated Tribes are participating in the ceremony.

The 116-foot Sanpoil replaces the Martha S., which went into service in 1948.

The 1.25-mile crossing serves about 60,000 vehicles a year. The ferry will continue to be free to the public.

Foss Maritime Co. won the contract for the $9.5 million vessel that was manufactured in the Portland area and shipped to Grand Coulee, where it was assembled in recent months.

Lane restrictions

• Starting Saturday, drivers on Harvard Road in Liberty Lake may run into lane restrictions during construction of a roundabout at Mission Avenue and the westbound I-90 off-ramp.

• Elsewhere, U.S. Highway 2 between Farwell Road and Deer Road is getting new lane markings, a job that may cause weekday lane restrictions from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.

• A project starts today to resurface the concrete deck of the southbound Sullivan Road bridge over Union Pacific Railroad tracks just south of Marietta Avenue. Traffic will be reduced to a single lane in each direction during the three-week construction period. A federal grant for bridge repairs is financing the job.

Events block streets

Spokane officials are warning drivers to be on the lookout for participants in the Spokane to Sandpoint bicycle relay run that starts at 9 a.m. Friday.

Also, Garland Avenue through the Garland business district will be shut down Saturday for the annual Garland Block Party.

Repair closures

Several major construction projects are continuing in Spokane.

In addition, repaving is planned for Northwest Boulevard from Garland Avenue to G Street and at the intersection of Hatch Road and 57th Avenue.

Utility repair continues in the vicinity of Freya Street and Hartson Avenue, where a water line broke last week.

An ongoing lighting project on I-90 downtown will result in closure of the eastbound on-ramp at Monroe Street today at 7 p.m. until early Tuesday.

County road work

In Spokane County, repaving work continues on Argonne Road from Wellesley Avenue to Bigelow Gulch Road, which is limiting traffic to one lane in each direction.

Farwell Road is closed from Market Street to the North Spokane Corridor for a widening project.

Bruce Road from Stoneman Road to Day-Mount Spokane Road will be closed starting Aug. 19 for reconstruction.