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Eastside cities send message to state Legislature to pass new transportation package now
In Bellevue last Wednesday — the intersection of growth and change in King County — commuters and planners, along with politicians, came to talk over the issues facing the region if the state Legislature does not pass a transportation budget in the second special session now underway in Olympia.
The meeting began with an open house with various agencies showing information about transit and road projects in the region.
In attendance were Islander and 41st District state Rep. Judy Clibborn and 48th District Rep. Cyrus Habib.
Earlier on Monday, the 35-member Sound Cities Association, which includes the cities of Bellevue, Seattle, Redmond, Auburn, Issaquah and Mercer Island, had sent a letter to the Legislature warning of dire cuts that will impact transit services and the ability to maintain roads and highways that will result.
Bellevue Deputy Mayor Jennifer Robertson said that the group came together to “send a strong message to the Legislature that they must pass the transportation package now.”
The agencies warn that cost-cutting measures have already been taken and that there is no more to cut.
Officials from King County Metro warned that more bus service is needed. A funding shortage might force cutting 65 existing bus routes. WSDOT officials point to the failure of the Skagit River Bridge and a fragile 100-year old bridge in Kent as proof that the region’s transportation system needs repair. Information distributed at the event pointed out that it is not just state highways or urban bus routes that are at stake, but city and smaller county roads and bridges are vulnerable.
Adding to the issue is that local and state tax revenues have fallen.
“County funding from local property tax, the gas tax and grants has declined by one-third since 2009,” a WSDOT press release said.
WSDOT planners estimate that between $250 to $260 million will be needed to repair and maintain roads alone in 2015. Expected revenues generated from gas and property tax revenues that year are only expected to reach $85 million.
Insisting that local governments are simply unable to pick up the tab, local city officials came together to demand that the Legislature pass the transportation package by the end of the second special session now underway.
City officials from Kenmore to Auburn made the point that a safe and efficient transportation network is needed to ensure that commuters can get to work and that goods can be shipped to markets.
Speakers and panelists who came to speak and take questions included Auburn mayor Pete Lewis, Kenmore mayor Dave Baker, Kirkland mayor Joan McBride, Mercer Island mayor Bruce Bassett, Sammamish City Councilmember Don Gerend, County Councilmembers Jane Hague and Rod Dembowski as well as Deputy King County Executive Fred Jarrett.
Bassett said that while the prospect of tolling on I-90 is the top worry for Islanders regarding transportation, he said that the Island’s bus routes will all either be cut or eliminated.
Lewis said that his community, Auburn, is the home of the largest warehouse district in the state. Employers and shippers need to be able to move their goods, he said. Otherwise, jobs will suffer. Kenmore mayor Dave Baker said that congestion in Kenmore lasts “all day long” in his town from overflow from SR-520. In addition, he said, “bus services are to be cut, and lower-income families will be hurt.”
Robertson noted that growing delays on I-405 hurt the Eastside economy. “We have more jobs here than residents,” she said.
Repairing and expanding I-405 makes good sense, she explained. “Every dollar spent on 405 brings $5 of benefits.”
The City of Bellevue, she noted, has already spent millions on roads in recognition of the benefits that it brings.
The City of Sammamish has a different type of problem, said Councilmember Don Gerend. “We are a bedroom community. We do not have enough people to support bus service. We have heavy vanpool and carpooler use. So our concern is roads and transit.”
The passage of the state transportation package will help most everyone in the region. Deputy King County Executive and Islander Fred Jarrett said that the county has not spent enough on transportation needs. “We spend 25 percent of what we should on roads. Due to budget cuts, the county has cut its road maintenance department in half. We are facing a real crisis in roads.
“It is imperative that we send a message that the transportation measure must be passed now,” Jarrett said repeating others plea. “We are already closing one bridge a year.”
Luckily, he added, we do have our champions in Olympia, Rep. Clibborn and Rep. Jessyn Farrell, among others.
“We have done enough through efficiencies and reform,” Jarrett added. “We cannot just wait for the economy to get better.”
County Councilmember Debrowsky said that he believes that people, if asked, would vote for more money for roads.
“We are behind already — before we get to the growth management act, you have to have the infrastructure in place,” said Gerend.
Above, WSDOT workers take out the median on eastbound I-90 to make room for a new HOV lane in 2012. Changing lane configurations to make way for light rail is just one of the projects underway on the regional transportation system.
This colorful transcription of the meeting was placed on the wall of the Bellevue City Council Chambers. Artists and scribes Jess and King have their own firm, thedoodlebiz.com.