House Dems road budget tackles I-405, Snohomish Co. gridlock

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
  • Monday, February 22, 2016 8:53pm
  • Local News

OLYMPIA — State House Democrats offered a supplemental transportation budget Monday that if approved would spend millions of dollars to improve travel on I-405 where express toll lanes opened five months ago.

It also would require the state Department of Transportation to provide lawmakers loads of new information on where traffic flows and slows along the 17-mile stretch between Bellevue and Lynnwood every day.

And it would ensure the state Transportation Commission moves swiftly to open the toll lanes to vehicles at no cost on evenings, weekends, and holidays. Commissioners started working on it last week.

“We are getting some changes on the ground that will make a difference,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, who as chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee chief author of the proposal.

The $8.6 billion supplemental budget would adjust spending on Washington’s transportation system through mid-2017. It is roughly $470 million larger than the two-year budget enacted last year.

Most of the anticipated new money is federal funding. Much of the additional spending would go toward highway and bridge maintenance, removal of fish passage barriers and paying down the cost of a new 144-vehicle ferry.

It also sets aside money to work on unclogging two major chokepoints in Snohomish County.

It contains $1.5 million to help the state address the Highway 2 trestle where the convergence of U.S. 2, Highway 204 and 20th Street creates gridlock daily for commuters.

And Clibborn said she directed money to the Department of Transportation for an analysis that will set the stage for widening Highway 522 between Paradise Lake Road and the Snohomish River. The goal is to widen that area from two lanes to four lanes.

Also in the budget is $16.3 million to boost pay of Washington State Patrol troopers, sergeants, lieutenants, and captains. As proposed, the new salary levels would be tied to the average pay for those of corresponding rank in the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department and five other law enforcement agencies.

But dealing with the toll lanes is a highlight of this year’s proposed supplemental budget.

Drivers and bus riders are saving a little time if they are traveling the entire 17 miles, according to the department.

Those making shorter trips, however, are encountering new areas of congestion points. That generated much frustration and spawned an online petition to get rid of the toll lanes. One of the worst areas is proving to be northbound I-405 in the Bothell area.

The budget contains $15 million to add a northbound auxiliary lane between Highway 520 and NE 70th Place in Kirkland and $30 million to convert the right shoulder traveling north into a general purpose lane between Highway 27 and I-5. Both projects would get under way in 2017.

House Democrats also want new data from the transportation department on travel times between several exits along the route. And they want regular reports on the actual number of vehicles using the express toll lanes and general purpose lanes each day, as well as the volumes per lane for each month since tolling began Sept. 27, 2015.

The information will feed a $250,000 study to identify and prioritize projects to reduce congestion and add capacity on I-405 between Highway 522 and I-5.

“The improvements to I-405 made in this budget will help bring relief to commuters, especially in the areas like the 1st District where congestion has worsened since the toll lanes launched,” Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Bothell, a vice chairman of the transportation committee, said in a statement.

But Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek, also a committee member, said there are cheaper and faster solutions.

“Removing the double white line striping could do it right away,” he said. “It feels like they are kicking the can down the road a little bit.”

The House Transportation Committee conducted a hearing on the budget Monday and could vote on it as early as Tuesday.

Senate Republicans are expected to release their supplemental budget proposal Tuesday.

The two chambers will seek to reconcile differences before the session ends March 10.

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

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