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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: North Spokane Corridor has one last chance in Washington Legislature

An upcoming session of the Legislature, be it special or regular, may be the last time Spokane sees an open road to full funding for a North Spokane Corridor that connects with Interstate 90. Let’s take it.

The Republican-controlled Majority Coalition Caucus has proposed a 10-year, $12.3 billion transportation package with $750 million for the corridor; the most recent estimated cost of completing the link to I-90 from Francis Avenue. Although most of the other new money would go toward the completion of several West Side megaprojects, there are enough other Eastern Washington road and rail components to prompt a complaint from the chairman of the House Finance Committee that this side of the state is getting a sweet deal.

If that’s really the case, where do we sign?

But, as with all deals, there is a price; a steep one. The gasoline tax would be increased by 4 cents next July 1, another 4 cents the following July, with a 3.5-cent tank topper the third year. Tolls, at least, would be off the table until new projects are completed, and probably for the foreseeable future on Interstate 90 at Lake Washington, where they would have intercepted Eastern Washington traffic headed for Seattle or the coast.

The Senate measure also stops the diversion of sales tax revenues from road construction to the general fund, although not until the 2017-19 biennium for projects already underway. One-half the money going into a hazardous substances tax paid in large part by oil refineries in Washington would be set aside for roads.

And, in a step toward tempering prevailing wages, contractors would have to disclose what they pay workers before being allowed to bid on transportation projects. The requirement already exists, but often unions, not contractors, fill out the forms, which keeps rates artificially high outside the Puget Sound region.

The House passed a smaller transportation plan in June; one that raised gas taxes by a penny per gallon less, included tolling, was less generous to local jurisdictions and set aside less for ongoing highway maintenance. The reforms in the Senate version were not in the bill.

But its most serious defect was the $390 million ticketed for the North Spokane Corridor; enough to keep work going, not enough to finish the job. Better to fill the tank with enough money to complete the connection to I-90 rather than risking another stop short of the destination. The package’s biggest defect, in fact, is the absence of funding for state Highway 904 from I-90 to Cheney.

Gov. Jay Inslee had pressed for a transportation bill in the just-ended special session for Boeing Co. But he sabotaged his own initiative in part by trying to roll in a cap-and-trade clean air provision. That, or a carbon tax, are ideas for another day. Wrap them with gas tax increases on an almost-certain ballot challenge and you have a surefire losing proposition.

Credit Eastern Washington Sens. Mike Baumgartner and Mark Schoesler for supporting this package despite the tax hikes. We share Baumgartner’s concern that another swing at full funding of the North Spokane Corridor may not come for years.

This is the exit strategy we have been looking for.

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