State transportation package proposal has funding for local projects

Murrow News ServiceFebruary 13, 2014 

OLYMPIA -- The latest proposal for a state transportation revenue package would fully fund the Red Mountain interchange and other Mid-Columbia road projects.

The new $12.3 billion proposal, introduced by Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, was unveiled Thursday as more than 40 members of the Tri-Cities Legislative Council visited Olympia.

About $6.5 billion would pay for road projects, including these:

-- The Red Mountain transportation project, which would create a new interchange off Interstate 82, providing better access to Benton City, West Richland and local wineries in the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area (AVA). It will cost about $30 million.

-- Pasco's Lewis Street overpass project, which will replace an 80-year-old railroad overpass at a cost of $27 million.

-- The expansion of Highway 12 between the Tri-Cities and Walla-Walla, a project that could cost more than $300 million to finish.

Cheryl Stewart, part of the Tri-Cities Legislative Council delegation, was excited to see Sen. King's proposal, she said.

"I think it's a great first step," Stewart said. "We'll see where it gets us. I think we have to pass a gas tax if we're going to get new revenue to fund it."

Diahann Howard, the Port of Benton's director of economic development and government affairs, said the inclusion of Tri-Cities projects helps the region both now and later.

"It's kind of a two-for-one," said Howard. "You're gonna meet current demands but you're also going to help support future economic development."

In the past 10 years, Franklin and Benton counties have contributed $200 million more than they've received in transportation revenues, officials said.

The legislative council met to hear remarks from Gov. Jay Inslee and many lawmakers, including including Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, Senate leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, and Reps. Larry Haler, R-Richland, Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, Susan Fagan, R-Pullman.

Schoesler said raising the minimum wage would not be met with a "warm welcome" if it came to the Senate.

Brown, along with Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, and Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, briefed local leaders on energy issues, including legislation involving nuclear energy, incremental hydropower and renewable energy reforms for I-937.

Inslee applauded the Tri-Cities for its success in implementing an advanced Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program, and also mentioned the success of Pasco High School's dropout prevention program.

Inslee also talked about statewide education budget concerns, as well as long- and short-term transportation issues -- including a 52 percent reduction in the state's road maintenance budget if the transportation package is not approved.

In addition, 71 state bridges will be added to the list of structurally-deficient spans if a transportation package cannot be passed, Inslee said.

Inslee encouraged legislators to find bipartisan solutions to pass a package.

-- Tri-City Herald intern Matt Benoit is a Washington State University student: 509-947-9277, mbenoit@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Matt_Benoit_

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