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County endorses R-51

Although the Kitsap County commissioners unanimously endorsed the approval of Referendum 51 on Monday, their individual reasons for doing so were as varied as the opinions offered by citizens who attended the public meeting.

The commissioners held a public hearing on the pros and cons of Referendum 51 on Monday before voting to endorse the measure, and several Kitsap residents had a chance to sound off on the measure.

R-51 is the $7.7 billion state transportation spending plan that is to appear statewide on the general election ballot in November.

It relies on a 9-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase and a 1 percent surcharge on the purchase of any new or used vehicle. Weight fee increases of 30 percent would also be phased in over two years for trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds.

In exchange for those tax dollars, R-51 supporters say state residents will receive much-needed road and highway improvements and safety improvements statewide and will buoy the state’s ferry system over the next 10 years.

But the plan has had its critics, too, and that point was not lost on the commissioners or the crowd Monday.

“Referendum 51 is not a panacea,” said County Commissioner Chris Endresen. “It won’t cover every improvement that needs to be made today, but we have to invest in our future. We have to invest in our infrastructure.

“But it’s clearly up to the voters,” she said. “We’ve heard from them in the last few years, and they want a chance to vote.”

County Commissioner Jan Angel, of South Kitsap, agreed the funding package doesn’t address all of today’s transportation woes.

“R-51 doesn’t solve everything,” Angel said. “I wished more would be going to roads and ferries under the plan, but this is about safety and economic development. I wish it were a stronger plan, but I support it.”

County Commissioner Tim Botkin said his support for the referendum is based in part on an analysis that shows Kitsap commuters would probably get more return for the tax dollars under the referendum than citizens in other jurisdictions.

“Overall, for Kitsap County, it’s a step,” Botkin said. “And in my book, it’s a good step, based on the analysis I’ve done.”

Mike Watkins, a South Kitsap resident, said he isn’t sure he can support the referendum and told the commissioners so at their meeting.

“I’d go for an even larger gas tax increase, if I’d feel it was effective,” said Watkins, who commutes via the freeway to his Seattle job. “Something different needs to happen before I could commit. I don’t want to pour good dollars after bad.”

Watkins said more efficiencies need to be put into place first at the state Department of Transportation, especially in terms of planning, permitting and studies.

George Warrington, a Kitsap resident for more than 60 years, said he generally supports the referendum, but needs to find more out about how the measure is to be funded.

“I don’t know how I will vote yet on R-51,” he said. “I am waiting to see what shakes out of this meeting.”

Sen. Bob Oke, a Republican from Port Orchard, attended the commissioners meeting as well. He wore a “Vote Yes on R-51” sticker.

“We’ve got to move forward on this,” Oke said. “I heard it said that this is the most important vote since statehood.”

Oke agreed with that assessment, adding that the Legislature should have approved the referendum during the last session in Olympia rather than putting it to a vote.

“We want this to be a better place and we’re going to have to pay for it,” he said.

Improvements to Kitsap County and the state ferry system as stated under R-51 are as follows:

• $5 million in state money to help develop an interchange ramp from State Route 3 to State Route 303, and the widening of Kitsap Mall Boulevard and Clear Creek Road.

• $11 million in state money to the widen State Route 304 from the Bremerton ferry terminal to State Route 3, and the addition of high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes.

• $14.4 million in state contributions to construct a lane in each direction of State Route 305 from the Poulsbo City limits to Bond Road for off-peak, general purpose use and peak-hour HOV use. Bike lanes and sidewalks would be added as well.

• $3.4 million in state money to widen State Route 16 to Long Lake Road.

• The state would contribute $276,000 for the design and right-of-way work on a fish passage project on State Route 305.

• Four new auto ferries would be constructed to replace pre-Depression-era vessels in the state ferry fleet. That cost is estimated at nearly $322 million.

• $99 million would expand passenger-only ferry service by opening two new routes; one between Kingston and downtown Seattle (service starting in September of 2003) and the other between Southworth and downtown Seattle (service starting in September 2007). Funding would be provided to acquire and preserve two used passenger ferries, construct a passenger terminal at Southworth, improve facilities at Kingston and Seattle and operate the service from fiscal years 2004 through 2013.

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