Eyman at center of roads debate

Coming off a raucous 2005, this was to be the year of talking, not fighting, about transportation.

Lawmakers wrestled to the final bell last year before pinning down a list of which roads to pave, bridges to fix, buses to buy and gridlock-easing projects to pursue through 2021.

Greater rancor broke out on how to pay for it all. What emerged was a package with two major pieces: a new fee based on a vehicle’s weight; and a hike in the gas tax of 9.5 cents in four annual increases. Saturday coincidentally marked the second installment of 3 cents.

As legislators packed to leave Olympia, those infuriated by the gas tax increase were hard at work trying to repeal it with Initiative 912.

They waged a raging campaign battle. Ultimately, defenders of the tax hike spent $3 million convincing voters to preserve the hike and reject the repeal.

With the arrival of 2006, a less cantankerous Legislature wanted simply to confront two nagging problems – what to do with the Alaskan Way Viaduct and whether to merge the many transit and road agencies operating in the Puget Sound region.

Lawmakers left Olympia this year after giving orders to two new panels to suggest answers to those questions by January.

With those conversations started and with projects getting launched with the 2005 dollars, all seemed right in the world of transportation.

But transportation politics rarely stay peachy very long.

More often than not, Eyman happens.

Tim did it again Thursday.

He filed signatures for his latest ballot venture, Initiative 917. This put Eyman once again in the thick of conversations about how traffic congestion is dealt with around the state and who pays for the desired roadway decongestion.

No surprise that those who repelled Initiative 912 are refueling for a run against this new measure. They’re not happy about it. They don’t want valuable resources of money and time spent defending the past again.

They say a couple of million dollars may be needed to defeat Eyman’s proposal, should it qualify.

It has inescapable effects, from eliminating weight fees to cutting the price of license plates to curbing taxing powers of Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District. Those will be on the minds of people dealing with transportation in cities, counties and the state.

Everett City Councilman Mark Olson actually welcomed a campaign.

Voters last year understood the nexus of the higher gas tax with new investments in highways and public transit, he said. A similar styled campaign would be conducted this time around, too.

“If Eyman keeps the focus on government and politicians, he wins,” Olson said. “If we keep it on transportation solutions for people in their neighborhoods, we win.”

As the talking continues, another fight is beginning.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield’s column on politics runs every Sunday. He can be heard at 7 a.m. Monday on the Morning Show on KSER 90.7 FM. He can be reached at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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