Countywide tax pitched to fix traffic

MARYSVILLE — Fed up with streets that turn to parking lots during every morning commute, city officials here are busy with a countywide push to raise millions of dollars to get traffic moving.

Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall wrote a letter to Snohomish County officials Tuesday that he hopes will spur this county into creating a special taxing district that would raise money to fix Snohomish County’s most congested roads, including several in Marysville.

The tax package would replace the failed Regional Transportation Investment District, the roads portion of a regional roads and transit tax package that voters overwhelmingly rejected in November.

Everett has already sent a similar letter, said Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts, who is also public works director for Marysville. The cities of Lynnwood, Mukilteo, Mill Creek and Mountlake Terrace are considering following suit, said Jeff Massie, assistant city engineer for Marysville.

If enough cities agree to take part, the county could lead a conversation over what tax revenue to tap, how much money could be collected and which projects to tackle and in what order, said Steve Thomsen, the county’s public works director.

“All this stuff is just kind of being discussed loosely around the table right now,” Thomsen said.

The new tax package would have to be smaller than the failed RTID proposal, which would have collected $2 billion in Snohomish County and proved to be too big for Snohomish County voters to swallow, Thomsen said.

If 60 percent of the municipalities sign up, and if they represent 75 percent of the county’s population, then county officials can create a countywide Transportation Benefit District, Thomsen said.

The county has until May 22 to create a sweeping roads package that includes the cities. State law says a benefit district could then raise vehicle license fees $20 per vehicle without a public vote, Massie said.

If voters are asked to give their approval, a taxing district could raise property or sales taxes or try to tap into more from vehicle license tab revenues.

A taxing district has the potential to raise more than $1 billion if all revenue options are pursued, Thomsen said. But voters, facing a recession, don’t appear ready to accept giant tax packages.

County Executive Aaron Reardon said he wants to wait to see what the cities say before he gets behind creating a new taxing district, spokesman Christopher Schwarzen said.

The list of potential projects is long.

Transportation planners likely would lean heavily on the RTID proposal because it identified which projects were most important and how much they would cost.

In north and central Snohomish County, projects that went down with the November vote include $281 million for ramp improvements to the U.S. 2 trestle; more than $35 million to widen 88th Street NE between State Avenue and 67th Avenue NE in Marysville; $55 million to widen 172nd Street NE between 43rd and 67th avenues in Arlington, and money to widen the interchange at 116th Street NE and I-5.

From Marysville’s perspective, the city would likely recommend that these be included in any new package, plus one: a planned I-5 overpass at 156th Street NE to relieve traffic in the Lakewood Crossing area east of I-5.

The price tag for the latter is $13.6 million, Massie said.

The 88th Avenue NE piece has been a particular pain in the neck for Marysville and helped prompt the city’s push for the new taxing authority.

Because that stretch of road is partly in the city and partly in the county, the city has asked the county to pitch in on improvements — without success. Because the road situation hasn’t been resolved, a pending addition of that unincorporated territory to Marysville has been on hold.

Other traffic sticking points are on the city’s wish list as well, but officials recognize they probably couldn’t pay for them all at once. These include improvements at Fourth Street and I-5 in downtown Marysville, pegged roughly at $30 million to $50 million, and widening of State Avenue between 100th and 116th streets, estimated at more than $10 million.

The new taxing district would be governed by a board of at least five members, including at least one elected official from each city and the county.

Forming a local district could be a necessary first step to getting help from the state, Massie said. Legislators have said they’re not in position to help everyone who comes to them looking for a handout, he said.

“They’re saying, ‘If you really want to make something happen, then make it a local decision,’” Massie said.

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com.

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