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Wash. Gas Tax Legislation Fails in Senate, Killing Columbia River Crossings

Wash. state senate Republicans dealt a crushing blow to governors of both Wash. and Ore. by killing a 10.5-cent gas tax bill needed to tap $850 million in federal funds to finance rebuilding of two, obsolete I-5 spans over the Columbia River.
July 8, 2013, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Politics stymied yet another attempt by a state legislature to increase its gas tax, just as it did in Pennsylvania, both on the final day of their legislative sessions, June 30. Eric Florip writes that "the Washington Senate delivered the fatal blow to the beleaguered [Columbia River Crossing (CRC)] project. Lawmakers turned back a last-ditch effort to push through a transportation revenue package that would have steered crucial funding to the CRC and other projects across the state."

Supporters called the CRC an essential fix for an aging bridge that’s an economic and safety liability. The twin spans of the I-5 bridge were built in 1917 and 1958. Both are considered “functionally obsolete” by state transportation officials.

Gov. Jay Inslee had called a special session on June 11 to pass the crucial transportation package that included the controversial 10.5-cent gas tax. The House passed the bill on June 29. Senate Republicans and two Democrats prevented the bill from being voted on before adjournment.

Gov. Jay Inslee will meet with Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and transportation officials to decide next steps... But the assumption all along was that the ($3.4 billion) project would fold if Washington lawmakers made no commitment this year, he said.

It wasn't just the bridge crossing, but transit funding that was at stake. Jordan Schrader of The News Tribune writes in Mass Transit that "Senate leaders declined to consider a House-passed package of fees, taxes and local taxing authority for agencies such as Metro Transit and Pierce Transit. The package was a top priority of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee..."

The bridge would have included an extension of Portland's light rail to Vancouver, which didn't go over well with Clark County, along with the variable (based on congestion) electronic toll that would apply to all motorists, an essential part of the financing package along with $450 million from both states.  Oregon had met their obligation.

Drew Mikkelsen of KING 5 News writes "(t)hat project was set to receive $850 million from the federal government. Inslee said that money may not be available to the state after September 1."

According to Brady Dale of Next City, the CRC would have replaced the inadequate, adjacent 4-ft bike/pedestrian path with a stand-alone, 20-ft wide facility under the span.

Despite the vastly improved bicycle/ped' component, Bike Portland celebrated the defeat of the transportation bill. "It took Washington Republicans who were suspicious of such a huge government expenditure — especially one that included light rail — to finally kill this thing", wrote Jonathan Maus, its publisher/editor.

Apparently, the collapse of another, functionally obsolete bridge, sixty miles north on I-5 on May 23, sending two vehicles barreling into the Skagit River did not provide the incentive to the Wash. state senate to pass a gas tax to replace the much larger, problem-plagued I-5 bridge over the Columbia River.

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Published on Saturday, June 29, 2013 in The Columbian
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