The House and Senate transportation committees unveiled their spending plans in quick succession this week, neither adding nor cutting many projects that have been in the pipeline for South Sound.
The two bipartisan budgets are similar, spending just short of $9 billion over two years on roads, ferries, buses, trains and the like.
With gas tax collections lower than expected, members of both committees and both parties say the state will need new tax revenue to avoid looming deficits. Voters might be asked to approve transportation tax increases in 2012.
This year, Senate committee Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said she might propose a set of fee increases that could be approved by the Legislature to fund the State Patrol and city and county transportation projects.
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The Senate budget calls for charging owners of electric cars $100 per year. And ferry riders would pay higher fares under both plans, although the details differ.
Supporters said paying for transportation projects is the main thing lawmakers can do this year to attack persistent unemployment. The Senate plan offers some 700 projects around the state to keep the construction industry working.
“We are creating jobs around the state over the next two years,” Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle, said.
Some of the South Sound road projects that are in both budgets, virtually assuring they will move forward in the 2011-13 budget period:
• Continue adding lanes on Interstate 5 between Grand Mound and Centralia, $82 million.
• Rebuild the I-5/U.S. Highway 12 interchange at Grand Mound, $16.4 million.
• Repave a stretch of I-5 in Tumwater from state Route 121 to north of Tumwater Boulevard, $2.8 million.
• Add noise-muffling walls along I-5 near Marvin Road in Lacey, $3.2 million.
• Continue extension of HOV lanes on I-5 in Pierce County, $320 million.
• Finish installing stop-and-go traffic signals on I-5 on-ramps near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, $111,000.
• Widen and improve state Route 3 in the Belfair area, $4 million.
• Continue work on interchange of I-5 with state Route 18 near Tacoma, $45 million.
• Replace state Route 162 bridge over the Puyallup River, $5.3 million.
• Replace state Route 167 bridge over the Puyallup River, $2.8 million.
Both budgets restore cuts Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed for transit agency grants. Locally, the program would spend $3.5 million on an Intercity Transit park-and-ride lot for Hawks Prairie and $3 million on a planned commuter rail connection to Lakewood.
The House plan would add an extra year to the state’s experiment with letting lone drivers buy their way into car-pool lanes between Auburn and Renton.
House Transportation Committee chairwoman Judy Clibborn wants to extend the four-year pilot project on Route 167 until June 2013 because she is trying to have the same pay-to-use lanes – known as high occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes – built on Interstate 405 from Lynnwood to Bellevue.
She foresees connecting the two stretches of lanes and expanding them, and she doesn’t want the Route 167 project to lapse before that can happen.
“I want them from Lynnwood to Puyallup,” the Mercer Island Democrat said.
Such an expansion of the lanes would ease traffic congestion and help raise money for improvements to I-405 and the extension of Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma, she and other supporters say.
The HOT lanes continue to lose money nearly three years after the pilot project began in May 2008. But the state Department of Transportation says they are about to start breaking even, because, with the start of tolling on the state Route 520 bridge, the tolling costs are spread among more toll projects.
Some senators look skeptically at expanding HOT lanes based on the losses on Route 167. They did not add time to the pilot project in their budget.
The department says the HOT lanes are a success because they have made commutes faster. Speeds in the regular lanes increased 11 percent in the project’s first two years, WSDOT said.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 jordan.schrader@ thenewstribune.com