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Originally published September 12, 2009 at 12:16 AM | Page modified September 13, 2009 at 12:04 AM

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City and county compete for same stimulus transportation funds

Seattle and King County are both competing for federal transportation money, so some felt three City Councilmembers were rooting for the wrong team this week when they wrote a letter supporting the county's project.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle and King County are both competing for federal transportation money, so some felt three City Councilmembers were rooting for the wrong team this week when they wrote a letter supporting the county's project.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is preparing to give out $1.5 billion in transportation stimulus money. No state can be awarded more than $300 million.

Seattle wants $50 million for its project to rebuild Mercer Street as a two-way boulevard between Dexter Avenue North and Interstate 5. The city already has been snubbed once for that money in the first stimulus round in February.

King County wants $100 million to replace the South Park Bridge, a crumbling path over the Duwamish River that may have to be shut down next year if it's not rebuilt.

On Friday, Seattle City Councilmembers Nick Licata, Sally Clark and Richard Conlin signed a letter supporting the county bridge project. The letter, intended to be part of the county's application for the federal money, has created a bit of a rift, especially since eight City Councilmembers — all but Licata — already signed a similar letter supporting their own project.

Councilmember Richard McIver didn't sign the bridge letter because he worried the project would compete with Mercer.

"The county owns the bridge," he said.

He isn't alone. Six members of the council declined to sign the letter.

"I think there are concerns about it being competitive with Mercer," said Conlin, the council president. "I didn't happen to feel that that was an issue that bothered me."

Licata, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the Mercer project, said he still thinks the plan is too expensive, and he is rooting for the bridge.

"Mercer's going to suck up every possible dollar it can get, which is going to starve other projects in the city," he said.

Conlin and Clark say they hope both the city and county's projects get the money.

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Alex Fryer, a spokesman for Mayor Greg Nickels, said the mayor's office is pushing for the Mercer project.

"We are focused on the projects in the city of Seattle because we understand how competitive this process is," he said.

The state is also seeking some of the stimulus funds. It applied for the full amount — $300 million — for the Highway 520 bridge replacement, $35 million for a piece of the North Spokane corridor project, and $175 million for a new Columbia River crossing near Vancouver.

Gov. Chris Gregoire will write a letter supporting the Mercer project, said transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. They consider the Mercer project an important connection to the planned Highway 99 tunnel.

"We're all trying to have just that right application that will catch the U.S. Department of Transportation's eye," Hammond said.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

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