How to pay for US 2 trestle project is topic of $350K study

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers want a better idea of what it will cost to replace the westbound span of the U.S. 2 trestle and a few suggestions on how to pay for it.

They earmarked $350,000 in the proposed state transportation budget for an analysis of the estimated price tag for full replacement of the trestle where travelers endure one of the state’s most congested commutes every morning.

This study also would lay out potential costs for improvements to add capacity and maximize use of the structure in the years leading up to its replacement.

And, in what might be the most important component, the study would recommend options for raising the money to pay for the work. In the past, state officials pegged the amount needed to replace the trestle at somewhere between $750 million to $1 billion.

The Department of Transportation would get the funds in July and hire a consultant to do the work. Lawmakers want the findings and recommendations by Jan. 8, 2018. The process hinges on Gov. Jay Inslee signing the two-year transportation spending plan, which is expected sometime this month.

“The aim is to find out what are the potential strategies the department could consider for financing the replacement of the westbound trestle,” said Lorena Eng, the Department of Transportation northwest region administrator. “We’ll have to get outside experts who can look at different highways and give us their professional analysis of how they think it could be done.”

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, secured the money for the study and wanted it done by the start of the 2018 legislative session to give lawmakers time to act on recommendations.

“I want them to look at everything. If we have it early, we’ll have time to figure out if there are more steps we need to take,” said Hobbs, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee.

The budget proviso requires certain financing options be examined. One idea is a partnership between the state and a private entity and another involves a partnership of multiple public entities.

In drawing up the language, Hobbs also included the notion of establishing a transportation benefit district comprised of cities, such as Lake Stevens, plus Snohomish County and maybe even the Port of Everett, which has expressed some willingness to help fund any project.

While the proviso does not specifically mention “tolling” or “user fees” among the money-raising options, Eng acknowledged those will be a part of any analysis.

In 2010, the Puget Sound Regional Council included the suggestion of a toll to pay for improvements on U.S. 2 as part of a long-term plan for the region. Lawmakers that year said the state wasn’t ready for tolling on U.S. 2 but since then the transportation department has launched toll collections on I-405 and the Highway 520 bridge.

In the meantime, this new study will complement work already underway on what’s known as an interchange justification report.

That is a study, also overseen by the state transportation department, of ways to get drivers through the chokepoint where U.S. 2, Highway 204 and 20th Street SE come together on the east end of the trestle. Replacement of the trestle is one of the ideas to be examined in the report which is due to be finished by early 2018.

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

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