Politics & Government

Inslee plan has money for JBLM bottleneck, leaves smaller projects out

Gov. Jay Inslee’s transportation spending plan earmarks more than $5 billion to just seven major highway projects, including $278 million for the Interstate 5 bottleneck at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Unlike proposals from both parties in the Legislature, which have spread out money among dozens of projects big and small, Inslee’s plan is silent on which should be funded with $350 million it leaves up for grabs.

The Democratic governor’s office chose projects that would promote safety and economic development and complete unfinished work and left the door open for others to add their own priorities, Inslee policy adviser Charles Knutson said.

That didn’t satisfy some advocates of projects left out.

“He’s leaving $300 million on the table for the rest of the state to go after. It hardly amounts to scraps,” said Mark Brown, a lobbyist for Lacey and southwest Washington cities like Vancouver. Brown called it a “a very Puget Sound-centric project list.”

Knutson said the amount is enough to pay for many smaller projects with big implications locally. “It can do a lot of good around the state, particularly in rural areas where some of these projects are very meaningful to communities,” he said.

Inslee’s office said revenue from his tax plan would go first to a more than $850 million extension of state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma and a more than $1.4 million completion of state Route 520 on the Seattle side of Lake Washington.

“They are the very first dollars spent, 520 because it’s a seismic issue and 167 because it’s an economic issue,” Knutson said.

Inslee would not directly raise the gas tax. Instead, a proposed charge on large sources of greenhouse gas emissions would raise about $1 billion a year for a host of state programs, including maintenance and operations of highways now paid for with gas taxes. That would allow the state to borrow against existing gas tax revenue for bonds to build new highway projects.

By contrast, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Curtis King, a Yakima Republican, has called for adding 11-1/2 cents to the state’s current 37-1/2 cents-a-gallon gas tax. Democrats in the Legislature have pursued a roughly similar gas tax increase.

“He’s taking care of King County,” King said, noting what he said appeared to be full funding for projects on SR 520, Interstate 405 from Renton to Bellevue and state Route 509 near SeaTac. “It didn’t appear to me that he fully funded JBLM or 167, and he definitely didn’t fully fund (an I-90 project on) Snoqualmie Pass or (Spokane’s) North South Freeway.”

King’s plan would devote $350 million to widen a stretch of I-5 at the north end JBLM, a bit more than Inslee’s plan.

Neither is enough money to widen the highway along the full length of the base, which requires replacing four intersections at a potential cost of $820 million.