Council says gas tax should fund 520 budget shortfall

April 9, 2013

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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NEW — 4:25 p.m. April 9, 2013

The Newcastle City Council unanimously passed a resolution urging the state legislature to increase the gas tax in order to cover the $1.4 billion shortfall for the project to replace the state Route 520 floating bridge.

The resolution, which was passed at the April 2 council meeting, offered an alternative to the proposed tolling of Interstate 90 as a means to finance the rest of the 520 bridge replacement.

“My mind is, we tell Judy Clibborn and the state legislature to get on the stick and do what they should do and pass a 10-cent gas tax and pay off the $1.4 billion that way and forget the tolling on I-90,” Councilman Bill Erxleben said.

The state legislature is currently considering a proposal to increase the gas tax by 10 cents over five years to help fund maintenance and transportation projects across the state. The council’s resolution suggests increasing the tax further to help offset the $1.4 billion shortfall.

The council also urged the state to complete a full environmental impact statement of all potential tolling projects to ensure that the consequences and traffic diversion are fully considered, prior to the tolling of any highway in the Puget Sound region.

“All we are asking in this is to ask the state to really evaluate this,” Councilman John Dulcich said. “There’s a common sort of thought that the decision on this has sort of already been made…We’re just asking to say slow down and look at this holistically.”

The state Department of Transportation is currently conducting an environmental assessment to evaluate possible effects of tolling I-90, but an environmental impact statement would delve further into the potential impacts of tolling, including economic factors.

“I think this is the direction the state is going anyway,” Councilman Steve Buri said. “Well, let’s encourage them to do the EIS because it’s important and this is a big decision to be made.”

The environmental impact statement would also allow for additional public comment, something that is important as residents begin to realize the impact that tolls could have on their wallets, Buri said.

“If they really took on what this meant for their pocket book, the room would be full right now,” he said, referring to the attendance at the council meeting. “So let’s do an EIS, allow for some additional public input in the process, and let everyone talk about the alternatives.”

Concerned about the economic impact that tolling could have on residents, Council members Gordon Bisset and Carol Simpson also supported the resolution.

Initially, the resolution only encouraged the state to conduct the comprehensive study, but the part about the gas tax was added after Erxleben’s suggestion and Dulcich’s strong support.

“I just think if you want to address the problem, we should address the solution, which is where does the money come from,” Erxleben said.

Mayor Rich Crispo, who grew up on the East Coast where nearly every Northeastern state has toll roads, supported the resolution.

“I’m not a proponent of tolls necessarily, but I am a proponent of, if you need to do some work, you’ve got to raise the money somehow,” he said. “I don’t like saying no to something without giving an alternative. This is an alternative.”

The Department of Transportation is at work on a $4.1 billion project to replace the 49-year-old state Route 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington and overhaul the 12.8-mile corridor between Interstate 5 in Seattle and state Route 202 in Redmond. The floating bridge is scheduled to open for traffic by early 2015.

Though the project is estimated to cost $522 million less than the initial $4.65 billion estimate, transportation officials still need to raise $1.4 billion in funding for the bridge replacement effort. State lawmakers asked the Department of Transportation to study tolling along the I-90 corridor as a way to generate revenue for the project.

The City Council passed the resolution, 6-0, with Deputy Mayor Lisa Jensen excused.

 

On the web

View the City Council’s resolution online at bit.ly/Z6S4x2.

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