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. The state faces significant costs and problems if the Legislature continues to deadlock over some type of tax-funded roads package.
A new study released by the Washington Roundtable looks at finishing the much-discussed and long-delayed corridor and five other large road projects that have been a part of every failed tax package considered by the Legislature in recent years. The Legislature has been unable to reach an agreement on any plan despite repeated comments from members of both parties that some major improvements are needed.
“This is not a suggested package,” Steve Mullin, of the Roundtable, said of the study. It leaves out some transportation issues on which there is significant disagreement, such as money for mass transit and ferries. It 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 Interstate 5 through Joint Base Lewis-McChord, widening of I-90 through Snoqualmie Pass, adding lanes to Interstate 405 between Bellevue and Renton, a new four-lane 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 is brought up by 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.
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