Governor Jay Inslee signs SB 5974 into law during a bill signing Friday outside the ferry terminal in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Governor Jay Inslee signs SB 5974 into law during a bill signing Friday outside the ferry terminal in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Governor signs $17B spending package for state transportation system

Gov. Jay Inslee and Democrat lawmakers call it transformative at an event at the Mukilteo ferry terminal.

By Rachel La Corte / Associated Press

MUKILTEO — A nearly $17 billion, 16-year transportation spending package that will pay for a variety of projects across the state, including building four new hybrid electric ferries, was signed Friday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Inslee split his signing ceremonies between two cities, starting the morning at the Mukilteo ferry terminal to sign the revenue portion of the package. Later in the afternoon, he was to head to Tacoma to sign the bill containing project it will pay for.

“There is no way to tackle climate change without tackling transportation and that’s what these bills do,” Inslee said. “In this package we’re entwining the ability to get better, more efficient transportation with the way to save our climate.”

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and an architect of the spending blueprint, said it changes “the framework for how we approach transportation forever in this state.”

“No longer will it be how much concrete we can pour,” he said. “The answer will be how many people and how much freight can we move on these corridors.”

Democrats crafted this package without Republican input and passed it without their votes. What Inslee signed Friday covers spending through June 30, 2023. Exactly where money will go after that will be decided next year, Liias has said.

Under the plan, money will be spent on highway preservation, bridge maintenance, road projects, transit expansion, fulfilling the state’s court-ordered obligation to remove fish passage barriers, and expanding bike, bus and pedestrian programs. There’s money to build four electric state ferries and to allow anyone under the age of 18 to ride free on buses, the state ferries and Amtrak.

There is $1 billion to cover the state’s share for a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River connecting Washington and Oregon. And there is $150 million to continue the state’s pursuit of high speed rail from Portland to Vancouver, B.C.

Around $600 million will be poured into Snohomish County projects such as the Grove Street railroad overpass in Marysville, widening the Bothell-Everett Highway and adding a third express toll lane to I-405 through Bothell.

The largest single investment in Snohomish County is $210 million for design and engineering of a westbound trestle replacement.

Several sources of revenue are counted on to pay for it.

The biggest chunk, $5.4 billion, is expected to come from a carbon pricing program signed into law last year that requires the state’s largest emitters, like refineries, to purchase credits for allowed emissions if they exceed a cap set by regulators.

There are federal funds dialed into the plan. There’s also $2.8 billion from the general fund — $2 billion this year and the rest arriving through transfers in each of the last 14 years.

There’s no gas tax increase as in past transportation packages. But Democrats penciled in $2.3 billion from boosting several vehicle-related fees.

The cost for a new enhanced license or ID, which people will ultimately need to fly domestically under the REAL ID Act if they don’t have a passport or other qualifying identification, will increase from the current $78 for a six-year license to $96. And the cost for a license plate for a new car will increase from $10 to $50.

And the fee new residents pay when first registering their car in Washington to check that it isn’t stolen will increase from $15 to $50 on July 1 and then to $75 in 2026.

Republicans, who are the minority party in both chambers, continued to express frustration that they weren’t part of what has normally been a bipartisan process, and said that the new fees will affect residents already dealing with high inflation and rising gas prices. And while the gas tax isn’t changing, fuel prices will climb higher once the cap-and-trade system kicks in, they say.

Rep. Andrew Barkis, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, said that his proposal to use and redirect existing revenues in a way that would have avoided fee increases were not considered.

“We do need to address our transportation system,” he said. “This process cut out the entirety of the Republican delegation. We were not considered in the policy.”

Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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