OLYMPIA -- Lawmakers should let citizens vote on a gas tax increase to pay for the Duportail Bridge project, said Richland city councilman.
Councilman Phillip Lemley told the Herald the council will consider options to increase revenue but not without voter approval.
"I don't think a minimum of four people should create a legacy of debt for the citizens," he said.
Construction on the $32 million bridge could begin as soon as 2013, said Pete Rogalsky, public works director for Richland. The bridge would link the Richland bypass highway to south Richland near Duportail Street, alleviating traffic that crosses the Yakima River via Interstate 182.
But the project depends on $20 million the city has requested from the state. Neither the House nor the Senate 2012 supplemental transportation budgets approved money for the bridge.
Lawmakers still can modify the budgets or pass a separate funding package to include the Duportail Bridge project, but Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, said this is unlikely.
And a gas tax increase would not work in the Tri-Cities because it would not raise enough money, he said.
Each year, Richland receives $1 million from the current state gas tax, Rogalsky said.
City officials should continue to seek state funding next year, Delvin said.
Rogalsky said city officials will always have difficulties accessing state funding for the project because the bridge does not connect to a state highway.
"Because it's a local street, the bucket of money for projects is much smaller," he said.
Lemley said the state will have to rebuild I-182 and the interstate access points on Queensgate Drive in the future, but the bridge could alleviate some of that traffic.
"The governor talks about building up the infrastructure of economic corridors and partnering with local cities. Well, here we are, governor," Lemley said.
The city also has applied for $2 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The money will specifically be used to replace a water pipe in the bed of the Yakima River with a new pipe on the bridge's structure. The current total project cost includes the pipe replacement.
However, if the project does not begin soon, the city could lose that federal funding, Rogalsky said.
The city has already invested $2 million in research and property purchasing, Rogalsky said, and officials plan to put together $10 million more.
The city also is working on completing an environmental assessment of the project proposal.
The city will make detailed plans of the project public within 60 days.
-- Eric Francavilla, a Herald intern from Washington State University, can be reached at email@example.com.