Eastside state representatives vote no on 520 tolling legislation

Reps. Eddy and Hunter say legislation does not address key issues related to funding, process or Eastside projects

For immediate release

April 17, 2009

OLYMPIA – The Legislature today narrowly approved HB 2211 which authorizes early tolls to finance the SR 520 floating bridge and gives the Washington State Department of Transportation authority to spend toll-backed bonds for the floating bridge portion of the project.

Eastside state representatives Deb Eddy (D-Kirkland) and Ross Hunter (D-Medina) both voted no on the legislation. While they are happy to see the legislation now go to the Senate for consideration, they say they’ll press for changes that address critical issues the current legislation ignores.

Continue reading “Eastside state representatives vote no on 520 tolling legislation”

Sad duty

NE 116th Street Bridge in Kirkland
NE 116th Street Bridge in Kirkland

This week all six legislators from the 45th and 48th districts sent a formal letter to the chair of the Transportation Commission asking that the NE 116th Street Bridge over Interstate 405 be renamed the “Kollin Nielson Memorial Bridge.”

Kollin Nielson was a Project Engineer with the Kiewit Pacific Construction Company when he tragically lost his life. While working on the I-405 Kirkland project he was hit and killed by a drunk driver.

We believe that this would be an important symbolic gesture to the family and co-workers that Kollin left behind, and an important reminder to the community about the dangers of drunk driving.

This is unrelated to the current legislative session, but is something that we’ve been trying to take care of for a while.

Tolling 520

One of the issues that must be resolved this year is a plan to generate enough money to pay for the SR 520 bridge replacement project. There is no way to do this without tolling the 520 bridge. I am unhappy about this, but it is a reality we must deal with. It’s a complex problem – we need to balance the interests of lots of parties and come up with a plan that can move forward. We get closer and closer every year, but I have to say that I have a lot of frustration at the glacial pace of decision-making. (This is a personal problem – I’m not sufficiently “Northwest” in loving process, despite having spent more than half my life here, and most of the adult portion of it.)

Rep. Clibborn, the chair of the transportation committee in the House introduced a bill (HB 2211) that allows tolling on 520, which is a key part of moving forward. I’m OK with this concept, but I would like to see the entire plan before I move forward. I will vote NO on the bill as it is currently written. To be fair, Rep. Clibborn has proposed a substitute bill to the first draft that is more balanced, but I’m still not there.

To get background on the tolling problem, including projections of how much revenue can be raised with different options you should read the final report of the tolling implementation committee. They have a website www.build520.org that has lots of information about the possible choices.

HB 2211 implements Option 6 in the final report. I do not believe this is the best option – I think we should implement option 9, one that tolls both 520 and I-90. It generates enough revenue to build the bridge, prevents horrendous diversion to the I-90 bridge that would turn it into a parking lot, and is a more balanced look at the entire regional East-West corridor. It’s supported by most of the Eastside cities. One of our biggest concerns is the traffic congestion that diversion would cause on 405, which is already congested at rush hour, and on Bellevue Way, which often backs up from I-90 to the Chevron station, and sometimes all the way to Bellevue High School.

Rep. Eddy and I will introduce a bill next week that implements option 9. We can’t just modify the existing bill because it has a title that restricts it to only tolling 520. Unlike the US Congress we cannot make random amendments to bills – they have to be related to the topic in the bill and described by the title of the bill. Crafting titles is somewhat of a legisaltive art.

WSDOT Awards SR 520 Widening Contract in Redmond!

Here’s a press release from WSDOT on the 520 project in Redmond. This is a great thing, as is the inclusion of the 36th street bridge over 520 in Redmond, adding another crossing and exit off the freeway, further reducing traffic congestion in Redmond.

REDMOND — Relief is in sight for commuters stuck in daily congestion on SR 520 in Redmond. WSDOT has awarded PCL Construction Services, Inc., a contract to widen SR 520 between SR 202 and West Lake Samamish Parkway.

During the next two years, this $37.7 million contract will employ approximately 370 workers.

Crews will add a merge lane and a carpool lane to SR 520, widening the highway from two lanes to four in each direction.

Traffic engineers estimate this will reduce peak morning commute times by 60 percent and reduce peak evening commute times by 75 percent. When this project is complete, carpools, vanpools and transit will enjoy a seamless HOV lane between the east end of the SR 520 floating bridge and SR 202.

This work is the final piece of the puzzle for improvements along the SR 202 / SR 520 corridor, which began in 2004.

WSDOT already has made major improvements in this area of King County. Last September, crews finished widening three miles of SR 202 from SR 520 to Sahalee Way in rural King County. Crews also completed a flyover ramp in February 2008 that eliminated the left turn for drivers going from SR 202 to SR 520.
Construction on the SR 520 widening is expected to begin in April and should be wrapped up in late 2011. For more information about this project, please visit: www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR520/WLakeSamPk_SR202/.

Urban Legends – Emissions based on engine displacement

In 2006 a senator introduced a bill (SB 6900) that would have charged a vehicle registration fee every year based on the size of your engine and not on the use of the vehicle. The bill did not receive a hearing, did not come up for a vote, and never passed. It does not even exist in this legislative session. Nevertheless I continue to get 20+ emails a week on the issue.

While providing incentives to people to purchase more fuel efficient vehicles may be reasonable policy, I’m not fond of this bill. There is a federal gas-guzzler tax that is much larger than this fee. If that doesn’t work our fee wouldn’t either. You also need to consider usage. I own a full-size Ford F-150 pickup with a V-8 engine. I drive it about 3000 miles a year hauling stuff places. The truck is 10 years old and I expect to pass it down to my kids with less than 100,000 miles on it a long time from now. My wife’s Prius generates more emmissions because she drives it a lot more.

I voted for aligning us with the California emmissions standards to try to keep us from filling the air with needless particulates, but I think this bill doesn’t work. I didn’t support it in 2006, and I wouldn’t support it now.

Please stop sending me email about this dead bill. Also, there are no alligators in the sewer system.

Viaduct Proposal – Deep Bored Tunnel

Governor Gregoire announced a proposed solution to the viaduct problem today, and I think she’s got the best of a bad bunch. Click here for her press release. She proposes building a “deep-bored” tunnel under Seattle. I’ve tried to stay out of Seattle’s design decisions because that keeps their members from messing around in Eastside design decisions. The viaduct decision affects us in a number of ways:

1. Consumption of money. There is only so much money available, and if more of it is consumed building a tunnel under Seattle then less is available for the SR-520 project or I-405. I am not fond of this approach unless it is funded with tolls in the tunnel, and most likely tolls on the viaduct during construction. I will vote to toll this project.

2. Diversion of traffic. I believe this proposal provides enough throughput that we won’t see significant diversion to I-5 and I-405. The street-level proposal is terrible – it would shift a lot of vehicles to the Eastside. This position is not held by everyone; some believe that the cars and trucks that travel north-south would largely vanish. I don’t believe this to be true in a large sense.

3. Screwing up Seattle. Many of the projects cause significant disruption in downtown Seattle. The business community there is concerned that large-scale construction on the waterfront would effectively shut down large portions of downtown Seattle for 4-5 years. They are probably right.

On balance, I like this proposal, as long as it’s tolled, and as long as we are guaranteed that the tunnel will be built, and we don’t just stop after doing the street level work. The plan, as I understand it today, is to leave the Viaduct up until the tunnel is done, which should work for us on the Eastside.

Seattle Times Article

Seattle PI Article

2009 Legislative Agenda

This year will be particularly difficult due to the national economic disaster. Unlike the federal government, Washington is required to have a balanced budget. Our budget situation is dire, and will require dramatic measures.

I try to be organized about how I approach a legislative session, particularly one as difficult as this is likely to be. It’s easy to lose track of where you are and what you want to get done. While there are lots of small items I’m working on, these five rise to the level of weekly review.

First, we have to deal with the budget problem. This is both a tactical problem of responding to the national economic disaster and a strategic opportunity to re-focus state government on what it’s good at and get it out of the business of things it’s not good at. This budget will be incredibly painful, and will hurt a lot of the people I came to Olympia to champion, but we will do what we have to do to have a sound financial footing for the state. We will come out with a leaner government focused very carefully on our priorities. We’ll prioritize the parts of the budget that are investments in the future like education, and we’ll try our best to preserve the safety net for the most vulnerable: seniors, at-risk kids, and those who are displaced by the crazy national economy through no fault of their own.

Second, we have to deal with one of the strategic priorities for the state: education funding. Our constitution is very clear that education is our paramount duty. I’ve been working with a bipartisan group of legislators for the last 18 months to pull together a plan that changes our current system from an opaque, confusing, overly complex and inadequate set of formulas to one that is much more transparent and simple — a system that clearly delineates what we need to fund and how we should do it. This will be my major policy effort this year.

Third, it’s not often that you get a chance to play an important role in one of the pivotal moments in American History. This year is one of those — America has the opportunity to shift our economy to be much less dependent on foreign oil and at the same time shift to an economy that doesn’t contribute to the global warming problem. States have a responsibility to be part of the solution. Washington will have an opportunity this year to be part of the Western Climate Initiative, a joint effort of the major states in the west and big chunks of Canada. Doing a “Cap and Trade” system right is an opportunity for major changes in energy use and climate change, but is also an opportunity for one of the biggest transfers of wealth from consumers to polluters in history if done wrong. Getting the details right on this is crucial, and I’ll be following it closely.

Fourth, we are in the middle of a set of transportation decisions that are crucial for our district: the 520 bridge plan, how tolling will work, the viaduct, and keeping the focus on 405 work. We have to make sure that decisions on the Seattle side don’t push up the costs (and thus the tolls) beyond what we can afford, and we need to get it done. Now that Sound Transit Phase 2 has been approved we need to make sure it makes sense for the Eastside. I’ll be pushing for them to start over here with the section from Bellevue to Redmond. This enables us to link up with the BNSF line north through Redmond, avoiding the difficult Kirkland route, and will help drive the redevelopment of the Bel-Red corridor. More on this in the next update.

Finally, there are a number of wonky tax policy efforts I’ve been working on for a few years that will come to fruition this year. It’s not an optimal time to make changes in the tax code, but we should do these anyway. As more and more of the products we buy become digital, the tax code needs to grow and change to reflect this and to maintain fairness across different means of distribution. I’ve spent 18 months leading a joint effort with the business community to change the tax policy here and expect to pass a relatively non-controversial bill this year, even though it’s a pretty big change.