House offers transportation fix

A 10-year, $6 billion state transportation plan House Democrats say would expand foot ferry service and relieve traffic congestion statewide squeaked through the House on Friday by a 54-44 vote.

“This plan offers a variety of improvements that address our complex transportation needs,” Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, said. “And it’s especially good news for Kitsap communities.”

Under the plan, $693 million is allocated to auto ferry preservation and to provide four new vessels to replace other boats built in 1927 and major terminal improvements.

Annother $98 million is earmarked for passenger-only ferry service expansion to the runs proposed for Kingston and Southworth to downtown Seattle.

After the close vote, the House Demo-crat-backed state funding package was then fast tracked to the Senate for consideration.

By the following day, Senate Transpor-tation Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, unveiled a different fix totaling $8.2 billion that expands passenger-only ferry service to Kingston but not Southworth.

Now the question is, which version or which parts of both plans will survive the session, scheduled to conclude March 14.

One hot topic high on the agenda is whether to send a transportation revenue package to a vote of the people.

Haugen says Senate Democrats would prefer to pass a state transportation plan in Olympia rather than put it on the ballot.

“The voters sent us here to make tough choices. If we spend precious time and money on a ballot measure, yet another construction season will slip away, and we simply can’t wait any longer,” Haugen said. “The business and labor communities are both telling us to do something about transportation here and now.”

Meanwhile, House lawmakers are pushing for a ballot measure by May or June. The House transportation plan approved this last week provides for a ballot measure.

“This is a plan that makes sense,” Rockefeller said. “Its projected use of nearly $700 million will rebuild and expand ferry services including passenger-only ferries from Kingston and Southworth to Seattle.”

The entire Kitsap Democratic delegation, including Rep. Brock Jackley, D-Manchester; Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor; Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton; Rep. Bill Eickmeyer, D-Belfair; and Rockefeller voted in favor of the House plan on Friday.

However, Republican Rep. Beverly Woods, of Poulsbo, voted against the plan, saying it includes no public assurances tax money will be spent efficiently.

“The people I represent need and deserve better ferry service, and I’ve been working toward that my entire time in the Legislature,” Woods said. “But many of them have lost faith in government’s ability to act in their best interests.”

The House package approved Friday dedicates $4.8 billion for congestion relief and road safety projects on state highways and $1.2 billion for alternative transportation projects such as buses, rail and foot-ferries.

Specific projects listed under the House plan other than ferries include one

in Central Kitsap.

State Route 3 would get a new interchange ramp at Silverdale-Waaga Way and Kitsap Mall Boulevard and Clear Creek Road would be widened to improve traffic flow.

The plan also allocates $100 million to reduce the amount of bond financing on a second Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

The project list in the House version relies on an 8-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase to be phased in over the next two years, a 1 percent increase in sales taxes on new and used vehicles starting this October and a 20 percent increase in truck weight fees to be phased in over the next two years.

Meanwhile, the Senate Democrat version is a proposed 10-year, $8.2 billion transportation fix that targets mega highway construction projects in the Puget Sound region while funding ferries, rail, buses and other transportation alternatives, its supporters say.

The level of commitment toward passenger-only ferry services in Kitsap is less certain, however.

Under the Senate plan, Kingston could receive $9.6 million to purchase a used boat for a passenger-only route and another $21 million over 10 years to maintain that route.

Southworth, on the other hand, wouldn’t receive any funds for passenger-only ferry expansion.

It hinges on a 9-cent-per gallon gas tax increase to be phased in over three years, a 40 percent increase in the gross weight fee for commercial trucks and recreational vehicles, a 1 percent slaes tax on new and used vehicles and a 3-cent surcharge on diesel fuel.

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