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Initial Forward Washington package unveiled

Initial Forward Washington package unveiled

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Steve Hobbs (D-44) has unveiled an initial $15 billion Forward Washington transportation package that relies in part on revenues from a cap-and-trade bill. Though Hobbs and other committee members speaking at an April 6 work session said more tweaks will be made before advancing, testimony offered by a variety of stakeholders was mostly positive – though some did express concerns over the proposal.

For others, Ranking member Sen. Curtis King (R-14) perhaps summarized their sentiments by saying “a lot of things in here I have concerns about, but there are also some good things in here.”

As currently written, the package would spend a total of $15.4 billion, funded primarily by $5 billion from an increase to the state gas tax of $.098 per gallon, with another $5 billion from 2SSB 5126’s cap-and-trade program. Another $800 million would be generated from a new statewide special transportation benefit assessment, or impact fees, while $700 million would come from new per-trip fees for third-party delivery services.

The transportation package would fund several major projects in the state, including $2.3 billion in fish barrier removal as part of a U.S. court injunction affecting culverts on state highways. Another $3.1 billion would fund the replacement of the I-5 Bridge spanning the Columbia River from Vancouver to Portland.

Other major projects included in the package are:

  • State Route 18 widening between Issaquah Hobart Road and Raging River Road;
  • The Apple Capital Loop in Wenatchee;
  • State Route 3 widening in the Gorst Area of Kitsap County;
  • The State Route 520 interchange in Bellevue;
  • A direct-access ramp to Interstate 405 at North 8th Street; and
  • Improvements to Interstate 5 high occupancy lanes through Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The package would also fund maintenance and preservation projects, including replacing the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge as well as portions of the US 2 trestle.  

“This is going to benefit all Washingtonians,” Hobbs said.

The package also puts Washington on the path to a road usage charge (RUC) by implementing the program with hybrid and electric vehicles by 2025. The per-mile rate would start at $.02 per mile and then $.025 per mile in 2029. Existing alternative fuel vehicle fees would be eliminated.

Speaking in favor of the bill, Washington Roundtable Vice President Neil Strege told the committee that regarding major infrastructure and preservation needs in the state, “this plan accomplishes all of those goals. We urge you to begin negotiating as soon as possible.”

Also in support was Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rachael Smith. “Our transportation system faced major funding gaps before COVID, and we simply can’t return to pre-pandemic (funding) levels.”

Bellevue City Councilmember Jennifer Robertson told the committee “we urge you to pass the package this session,” noting that Bellevue is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. “With that growth comes immense pressure; we must tackle these challenges.”

However, the bill did receive some pushback from the Eastside Transportation Association for not including $500 million worth of projects included in the I-405 masterplan, which has a total of $5 billion worth of unfunded projects.

Also opposed to sections of the bill was Building Industry Association of Washington Government Relations Director Jan Himebaugh, who said the cap-and-trade program and the statewide impact fees will only raise the price of new homes. “Adding costs to homes further removes access to the wealth generating opportunity of homeownership.”

The last transportation package was Connecting Washington, passed in 2015, which raised the state gas tax by $.12 per gallon and funds $16 billion in projects.

2SSB 5126 has been referred to the Rules Committee.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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