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Originally published Saturday, February 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Legislature 2008

Transportation budget advances

The Washington House on Friday approved a bare-bones state transportation budget that would plug some big spending gaps and pay for new...

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — The Washington House on Friday approved a bare-bones state transportation budget that would plug some big spending gaps and pay for new ferries, in addition to setting the stage for construction of a new floating bridge across Lake Washington.

The measure cleared the House on a largely party-line 66-25 vote after heated objections from minority Republicans. Critics said Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire and the Democratic-dominated Legislature are doing too little to fix the state's toughest transportation problems and break the "paralysis by analysis" of megaprojects in the Puget Sound region.

The Republicans mentioned the so-called Killer Highway, Highway 2 in Snohomish County; the protracted debates and delays over replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Highway 520 floating bridge; and a lack of clear commitment to the North-South Freeway in Spokane and a new crossing of the Columbia River in Vancouver.

Democrats, bristling at attacks from some of the Republicans who led the opposition to gas-tax packages in recent years, said their budget keeps all of the 400-plus planned highway and bridge projects moving forward.

House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, responding to the GOP accusation that Democrats aren't showing leadership, said the budget is keeping faith with projects promised to voters when they agreed to higher gas taxes.

The plan now goes to the Senate, where Democrats plan to roll out their own ideas on Monday. After the Senate version passes, negotiators will hash out the differences by March 13.

House sponsors said their budget backfills a projected $1.8 billion deficit in the 16-year construction plan. The bare-bones budget contains almost no net new spending, boosting the current two-year, $2.6 billion transportation operating budget by just $36 million. The current highway construction budget, $4.9 billion, is actually reduced, by $140 million.

But Clibborn said the budget does rearrange spending so that three new small ferries can be built and work can begin on three large boats. The budget maintains crucial safety and congestion-relief projects, she said.

Republicans, however, called the budget a product of status quo thinking. Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, the GOP transportation leader, said the state is reeling from transportation failures and Olympia can't seem to deliver.

"At a time when we need a new vision and when we need real change, this budget offers us business as usual in Olympia," Ericksen said.

Republicans highlighted three examples:

• Highway 2. The highway that crosses Stevens Pass was described by Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, as the deadliest highway in the state because of the 47 fatalities since 1999. He said it needs major widening and safety improvements. The latest proposal does have $5 million for a westbound passing lane between Sultan and Monroe and rumble strips and restriping to help avert head-on collisions. Efforts to finance improvements along a 15-mile stretch were defeated.

• New Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington. Republicans failed to force faster construction — by 2013 instead of 2018. The House also rejected their amendment to ban early tolling, as early as next year, on the old bridge to start financing the replacement project. And Republicans lost an effort to shift money from the Alaskan Way Viaduct project, and to require a bridge design that allows addition of more lanes in the future.

• Alaskan Way Viaduct. The major bayfront freeway in Seattle was damaged in the Nisqually Quake seven years ago and there is still no replacement design, Republicans noted. Democrats shot down a GOP amendment to require Gregoire to pick a design by May 1 or have $1.5 billion shifted to the 520 bridge project.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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