It was Sept. 11, 2007, when Gov. Chris Gregoire came to Snohomish County to see firsthand the problems on U.S. Highway 2 that contributed to more than 45 deaths within seven years between Snohomish and Stevens Pass. That day, the governor toured the highway from Everett to Sultan. Then she declared it “a significant safety issue” that needed major improvements.
U.S. 2 didn’t get money from the state’s gas tax spending plans in 2003 and 2005, while roads such as Interstate 5 landed millions of dollars. Some blamed partisan politics, but Gregoire said it’s time to stop playing politics and to start saving lives. I remember asking her, “Governor, we need your help to get this done.”
Now fast forward to Jan. 10, 2012, when Gov. Gregoire delivered her final State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature: “Today, I propose a $3.6 billion, 10-year package to create about 5,500 jobs a year to maintain our transportation infrastructure across the state.” And then the governor listed projects she said, “demand serious attention: the Columbia River Crossing, Spokane’s North-South Corridor, Snoqualmie Pass, Route 167 between Tacoma and Puyallup, the 40-mile I-405 corridor, a new 144-car ferry, and Interstate 5 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.”
I thought, “Will she mention U.S. 2?” I waited as she continued. Then she added: “Snoqualmie Pass is the only direct route for products flowing from Eastern Washington farms to our Puget Sound ports.”
Oh really? What about U.S. 2 over Stevens Pass?
Disappointingly, she said nothing about the state’s deadliest highway.
Later that week, Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond presented the governor’s project list to the House Transportation Committee. It included $155 million for lane expansion of State Route 522 between Paradise Lake Road and the Snohomish River south of Monroe. Yet it would maintain what I call the “hourglass effect” of four lanes to two lanes to four lanes—an incompletion of a four-lane project on State Route 522 to Monroe that Snohomish County was supposed to help fund when Regional Transportation Improvement Districts were created several years ago. That’s yet another disappointment!
I carefully studied the governor’s list. Guess what? No money for U.S. 2!
How would she pay for her other projects? Here’s her proposal:
• $1.50 per barrel tax/fee on oil produced in Washington;
• $100 fee on electric vehicles;
• $5 per studded tire fee;
• 15 percent increase in combined licensing fees;
• $15 passenger weight fee increase;
• Fee increase to $40 for Transportation Benefit Districts or a one percent motor vehicle excise option.
Unfortunately, this money would not be protected the same way gas taxes are in the state’s constitution. The constitution’s 18th amendment requires motor vehicle license fees and revenue from state gas taxes “to be used exclusively for highway purposes.” However, revenue from the governor’s proposed fee increases could be swept by the Legislature into the general fund for uses other than transportation. It’s a real possibility that if these transportation tax and fee increases are approved, and voters reject the governor’s half-cent state sales tax increase proposal for education, the Legislature could easily sweep this money into the general fund.
On issues like these, I encourage you to pay close attention, get involved, ask questions, and seek out what Paul Harvey would say is “the rest of the story.”
In this case, the Legislature may soon be considering a flawed plan that would do little to eliminate the “hourglass effect” of local highways. Revenue from the governor’s proposed fees could be swept from transportation and into the general fund. And finally, we need to ask: “Governor, where is the funding for U.S. 2 in your transportation proposal?”