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Transportation bill passes House

By Ruth Longoria

A bill that would change the way the Department of Transportation looks at future transportation improvements across the state cleared the state House of Representatives last week.

House Bill 2157 would provide the central Puget Sound region -- King, Pierce and Snohomish counties -- with the ability to invest voter approved funds in local transportation projects based on congestion relief and need, instead of making designated projects wait for that particular area's turn to be fixed.

``We don't care about sub-area equity,'' said Rep. Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island. ``We care that corridors, such as 405 and I-90, work.''

The bill, which passed 77-19 in the House and now moves on to the Senate for revision and vote, was spearheaded by Jarrett and Rep. Beverly Woods, R-Kingston, lead Republican on the House Transportation Committee.

If passed, a Regional Transportation Investment Authority (RTIA), made up of county councils and the mayors of major cites within the region, would decide which plans to take to the voters, based on which corridors and projects needed improvement.

The RTIA would study problems and ways to fix them, then be responsible to create plans to finance specific projects through options such as vehicle fees, tolls, gas or motor vehicle excise taxes.

Jarrett believes voters would be more apt to agree to those taxes because funds raised would be tied to performance and necessary projects wouldn't be wait-listed. Projects would be completed and results measured on what he calls a ``pay-as-you-go'' basis.

``To be effective, performance must be measured before, during and after every transportation project,'' Jarrett said. ``If we manage the system better, we can hold DOT accountable.''

The bill is specific to the central Puget Sound region. However, wording of the bill makes it important for all of the state, Woods said.

``We need to be able to move freight and goods from Eastern Washington to our ports. House Bill 2157 would help us expand our roads and also make sure transit is working efficiently to move people,'' she said.

Although the bill would allow for smaller needs to be met as they are funded, projects such as repair or reconstruction of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the SR-520 bridge would still have to be completed, Jarrett said.

``A lot of people use Alaskan Way and we need the 520 to stay afloat,'' he said.

``I cannot conceive of any plan that would go to pass in the 41st District that did not include fixing those. When you see a problem you need to fix it,'' Jarrett said. ``That's what my dad taught me: You take care of what you have to and fix what you need to fix.''

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