Inslee: Projects rely on gas tax hike

LYNNWOOD — Gov. Jay Inslee came to Snohomish County Wednesday to make a pitch: Dig in your wallets now, he said, to help unclog area roads later.

What the governor is selling is an increase in the gas tax of perhaps six to 10 cents.

What it could buy in Snohomish County is just a tad shy of a billion dollars in roadway improvements. It’s a shopping list of 17 projects. They include a new interchange at Hardeson Road on the Boeing Freeway, improvement to the Snohomish River Bridge at Marsh Road and a new interchange at 156th Street on I-5 near Smokey Point.

Inslee delivered his spiel at the Lynnwood Transit Center. He was greeted by a group of city, county and state elected officials, who took a bus tour around the county Wednesday afternoon to each of the proposed construction sites.

The projects planned both in Snohomish County and throughout Washington are key to improving what Inslee characterized as a declining transportation system.

To underscore his point, he evoked the image of the May collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River. “I’ve seen what a bridge looks like in the bottom of the river,” he said. “We are not going to let that happen across the state of Washington.”

Without additional money spent on road and bridge improvements, there will be a 52 percent decrease in funds spent on maintenance in the next two years, he said.

Another 71 bridges will become structurally deficient and some will have to be closed for safety reasons, Inslee said.

Investment in transportation projects is key to the state’s economic development, the governor said. It will allow employees to get to work and to allow products, from Boeing parts to Eastern Washington crops, to move across the state.

“It’s important to move goods quickly and efficiently,” he said. The planned improvements could also be an incentive for Boeing to build its new 777X airplane in Washington, Inslee said.

Even though he enumerated a list of reasons why a transportation tax, and the improvements it would buy, is needed, the political reality is it faces a stiff uphill climb.

Inslee acknowledged that the issue was discussed both during the regular and special legislative sessions this year, but ultimately no action was taken.

The governor said he won’t call legislators to Olympia in a special session this fall unless he thinks there are votes to pass the transportation bill — and the tax needed to fund it. Senate Republicans are pushing for voter approval of any proposed tax increase.

Snohomish County Executive John Lovick, who introduced Inslee, said he supports the transportation improvements and believes the public would, too.

Darrell McLaughlin, who heads the politics committee of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 191, was also at the event.

He said he had mixed feelings about an increase in the gas tax. No one wants to pay more taxes, he said, but noted that the state isn’t getting the federal money it once did for road improvements

“If we want good roads, we have to pay for it,” he said.

State Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, said that during his tenure in Legislature the gas tax has been increased three times.

McCoy said he didn’t hear a lot of criticism from voters because they could see the improvements paid for with the tax. He said he hasn’t received one email or phone call from voters opposed to the proposed increase in the gas tax.

“I’m in the community all the time,” McCoy said. “No one has said a word to me. It’s kind of an un-eerie quiet.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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