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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Part of $17 billion transportation bill approved in state Senate

An STA bus heads west on 14th Avenue past old streetcar rails on Madison Street in Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
An STA bus heads west on 14th Avenue past old streetcar rails on Madison Street in Spokane. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

OLYMPIA – A nearly $17 billion, 16-year transportation package is on its way to becoming a reality after passing in the state Senate on Tuesday night.

The package invests in the state’s infrastructure by funding maintenance of roads, new transit projects and replacement of existing fish passages.

In Spokane, the package would provide $50 million to start work on a bus rapid transit line on Division Street. It also allocates $4 million for the design of a bridge over Interstate 90 near Liberty Park. There is also money for bicycle and pedestrian projects in Spokane.

A bill that lays out where the revenue for the package comes from passed in the Senate 29-20 Tuesday.

Senate transportation chair Marko Liias, D-Everett, said the proposal centers on equity, health and environmental sustainability.

“We are on the verge of a new day in transportation,” Liias said on the floor.

The package does not use a new gas tax or new bonding to fund it. Bond bills, which are often used to fund transportation, require a two-thirds vote to pass. Without one, Democrats do not need Republicans on board to pass the package.

Instead, it is funded with more than $5 billion from the cap-and-trade plan, which puts a cap on emissions for the largest polluters in the state. Under the plan, the state keeps the revenue from allowances purchased by polluters that cannot clean up their work to meet the cap. It’s also funded with infrastructure funds and general fund money.

Republicans criticized Democrats on Tuesday for how quickly the proposal was introduced and passed on the floor. Democrats introduced it last week.

“It’s a huge proposal with absolutely no Republican input,” Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said on the floor.

The bill includes a 6-cent exported fuel tax and a fee increase for enhanced driver’s licenses and ID cards.

Republicans tried to remove the taxes and fees from the proposal, arguing the state has plenty to pay for this package from state and federal funds.

King said he’s worried other nearby states would retaliate against Washington for having the tax on exported fuel.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said fuel companies may shift the cost at the pump to state residents.

“And we’ll never be the wiser,” he said.

Democrats, on the other hand, said fuel produced in Washington already has a tax, and this tax would be on fuel not made in Washington and therefore not currently taxed.

Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, said the increased fee is only on enhanced licenses and cards.

“It is not required to be able to drive or travel in the state of Washington,” she said.

A second bill, which outlines where the money is going, still needs to pass the state Senate. That bill will likely move next week along with the supplemental transportation budget.

One project included in that bill is the Division Street bus rapid transit line, a project that coincides with the completion of the North Spokane Corridor. The new line will use electric buses and adds stations every half-mile along the street, with buses stopping every seven-and-a-half minutes.

Other funding for Spokane includes $4 million for the design of a pedestrian land bridge over Interstate 90 near Liberty Park, $1.5 million for a transload rail facility at the Spokane International Airport, $2 million for a Cook Street bicycle and pedestrian greenway and almost $4 million for a Pacific Avenue bicycle and pedestrian greenway.

The $17 billion package must still pass the state House of Representatives. The session ends March 10.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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