Governor requests $27 million to replace I-5 cable barriers

OLYMPIA — Concrete barriers need to be placed on a 10-mile stretch on I-5 near Marysville that is plagued by fatal crossover accidents, Gov. Chris Gregoire decided months ago.

Now, she’s ready to pay the bill.

The governor included $27 million for the work in her supplemental budget proposal issued Tuesday — a bit of a surprise, given that she said weeks ago the state didn’t have the money.

“We looked for alternatives that would provide the same level of safety and that were less expensive, and there weren’t any,” Gregoire said. “We need to do it right.”

There was other big news for Snohomish County residents in the budget that lawmakers will debate starting next month.

The governor is requesting $1.1 million to teach up to 60 students in nursing and teacher education classes at a new University of Washington campus in the county. Funding is contingent on lawmakers picking a permanent site for the college.

“I am pleased that the governor stepped up,” said Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, the vice chairman of the House Higher Education Committee.

Other highlights include:

  • $13.4 million of $100 million needed for building three new car ferries for the Keystone-Port Townsend route. The remaining $86.6 million would be made available in the next transportation budget.
  • $5 million to police and sheriff’s departments for officers to verify in person where convicted sex offenders are living.
  • $291,000 to help soldiers obtain needed services upon their return from duty.

    Overall, Gregoire is seeking $144 million in new spending from the state’s general fund in 2008, which is the second half of the current biennium budget.

    She said even after those increases, there will be a surplus of $774 million in unrestricted money plus $430 million in the voter-approved rainy day fund approved by voters in November.

    “Today is about a supplemental budget to address immediate concerns that cannot wait until the next biennium,” she said.

    Republicans sharply criticized Gregoire for proposing new spending when her budget office forecasts a potential budget deficit in four years.

    “We all know the direction this budget takes us,” said Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

    “Washington taxpayers deserve and expect the Legislature to act responsibly,” she said. “The governor’s budget fails this test.”

    Gregoire also released her proposed capital budget Tuesday.

    It includes $50 million more for state housing programs that aid families with low incomes. A portion of the new money is earmarked to help those whose homes were damaged in the recent storms.

    She is requesting $15.3 million to begin replacement of culverts on state highways that are impediments to streams populated by salmon.

    Transportation is not getting any new money. However, in situations where projects are not ready to proceed and funding for them is in hand, some of those dollars are getting re-allocated now.

    Putting concrete barriers in Marysville is one example.

    In June, a national traffic safety expert recommended concrete barriers replace cable barriers on a 10-mile section of I-5 where eight people had died in cross-median crashes since 2000.

    The switch would occur on the northbound side; the cable in place on the southbound lane would remain.

    Gregoire embraced the recommendation when it came out but in September seemed resigned to funding a less expensive option.

    “The idea of doing $27 million for the cable barrier project north of Everett is the perfect,” she said then. “While I’d love to do perfect right now, I really don’t have the money to do perfect.”

    She asked transportation officials to come up with less costly options for consideration and then decided none would work.

    The governor is requesting $6 million this year for design, engineering and possibly buying right-of-way. The other $20.9 million would be made available in the 2009-11 transportation budget. Of the total, $10 million will come from federal funds.

    State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, who heads the Senate Transportation Committee, said she was delighted the governor funded the full project. She said she didn’t have to press the governor on this point.

    “The lobbying was done with the last accident that occurred,” she said, referring to a fatal crossover accident in February.

    Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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