Lawmakers at hearing told to pass transportation plan
Pass a transportation plan, people at a hearing in Seattle told state lawmakers Monday night.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Read their lips: Pass new taxes.
A spectrum of transit riders, construction workers, business owners, pedestrians, bicyclists, freight carriers and government officials on Monday night urged state lawmakers to pass a multibillion-dollar transportation package.
The hearing, at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Seattle, drew 450 people, including yellow-shirted transit activists and orange-shirted construction laborers.
This was the ninth of 10 stops on a statewide “listening tour” led by Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Lawmakers this year failed to unite on a 10-year transportation plan that featured highway expansions, funded mainly by bond debt and a 10.5-cent gas-tax increase.
They also left King County without the option to ask its voters for a car-tab tax increase, to split between Metro Transit and local roads. “Save Our Metro,” many chanted.
Katie Wilson, co-founder of the Seattle Transit Riders Union, called the tour “a sham and a farce.”
“A transportation package with money for transit should have been passed months ago,” she said.
Wanda Saunders, of Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood, mentioned several bus routes that were scrapped or shortened, so only three come near her. A trip to Bellevue took two hours, she said.
“I’m just asking right now, that if you don’t come up with a good funding plan, our area is going to be drastically affected,” she said.
Josh Kavanagh, transportation director for the University of Washington, explained how 64,000 daily commuters arrive at the campus: 13,000 solo drivers, 15,000 on foot, 5,000 bicyclists, 4,000 carpoolers and 27,000 by public transit.
“We need a balanced package that gives local jurisdictions the authority they need to make local decisions,” he said.
King County’s roads division has been slashed by one-third, while Metro Transit faces a potential loss of 600,000 hours, or 17 percent. A $20 yearly car-tab fee and state transit aid related to Highway 99 construction both expire in mid-2014, and the county depleted its reserve funds.
Of course, hearing testimony doesn’t represent a full cross-section of citizens, especially those who are unorganized, working late shifts or worrying about higher taxes.
In opening remarks, committee co-chair Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, emphasized freight. Proposals feature expansions of two shipping routes — Highway 167 in north Pierce County and Highway 509 near SeaTac. Competition is looming from British Columbia’s port modernizations, and a wider Panama Canal soon will lure vessels to go east, she said.
“We need to ensure our economy is strong. We need a great infrastructure,” Eide said.
John Theisen, president of Orion Industries in Federal Way, implored the 11 lawmakers onstage to deal with traffic congestion: “We are one of the top aerospace suppliers. We will ship 1¼ million parts. ... Delivery schedules that once could be accomplished in four days now take five. The Everett-to-Auburn route that used to take a half-day now takes a full day.”
Also on the topic of jobs, Joel Martinez, of Covington, said he transitioned from Marine Corps service into a carpentry apprenticeship. He hopes a transportation plan will employ more veterans through the Helmets to Hardhats program.
Republican lawmakers called the statewide tour largely to take feedback about cost-cutting ideas.
These include canceling sales tax on materials and equipment for road projects, saving an estimated $400 million in 10 years; reduced environmental permitting requirements; reducing wage scales for construction contracts; and loosening “build in Washington” requirements to build ferries.
One speaker ripped the list in half. A couple of others called for taxing the rich — and pointed out that Washington state has the nation’s heaviest tax burden on low-wage workers, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
There’s long been resistance in Olympia to cancel sales tax on megaprojects because that means less money flowing into the general fund for education, social services and criminal justice.
Gov. Jay Inslee hopes to call a special session late this year for transportation. He is considering some of the Senate group’s ideas, such as a faster permit system, and forming public-private partnerships, said spokeswoman Jaime Smith.
The final session is 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Port of Bellingham Cruise Terminal.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @mikelindblom