Money for U.S. 2 study clears key hurdle in Olympia

  • By Jerry Cornfield and Yoshiaki Nohara / Herald Writers
  • Tuesday, February 14, 2006 9:00pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

OLYMPIA – A state transportation budget proposal due out today will call for spending $700,000 on a safety study for U.S. 2 in Snohomish County, and making no changes in projects planned on Highway 522.

News of the funding cheered east county leaders, who have lobbied lawmakers hard the past six weeks.

“People are starting to realize (U.S. 2) is a problem,” said Donnetta Walser, Monroe’s mayor and a member of a coalition that has traveled to Olympia often to press the issue.

“We are very, very pleased to hear that they are recommending this,” said Fred Walser, Sultan’s police chief and the mayor’s husband.

The Walsers and Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers pitched the study’s pivotal role as a prelude to future projects when they met recently with state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

“I put in the money for Highway 2 because they made a very legitimate case,” said Haugen, who wrote the supplemental budget proposal. A hearing on it is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today.

The study will identify specific problems and needed highway improvements. The state Department of Transportation has begun work on the study and plans to finish it in December 2007.

Not all the money to pay for the study is in hand. The coalition has secured about $540,000 from the federal government and the Puget Sound Regional Council. State dollars will cover the remaining amount.

Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, was pleased with Haugen’s decision.

“This will give us the answers as to what’s needed to increase safety on the road,” he said.

On Monday, he asked Rep. Ed Murray, leader of the House Transportation Committee, to consider including the funds in the proposed budget he is expected to release next week.

Murray said he would consider the request. “I know that road well,” he said. “I take it all the time.”

The debate on Highway 522 focuses less on money and more on how state dollars are spent. Several years ago, the state widened the road from Woodinville to Paradise Lake Road, one of three segments targeted for improvements.

In 2003, the Legislature approved a nickel-a-gallon gasoline tax increase and a list of projects on which the tax money would be spent. Lawmakers pledged $110 million for improving traffic flow on the third segment of Highway 522 from the Snohomish River Bridge to Monroe, including replacing the bridge.

But Transportation Department officials want legislators to redirect many of those dollars to the middle segment, the stretch from Paradise Lake Road to the bridge. They say that is the most dangerous and congested portion of the highway. Design work done by Transportation Department engineers for improving that stretch would be wasted if the shift is not done.

Haugen turned down the request, saying it could incite other lawmakers to seek revisions in how the 2003 tax package dollars are spent.

However, the issue is far from dead. Murray said Tuesday he hadn’t decided whether to recommend a shift in highway projects.

Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, and Kristiansen said they hope he doesn’t.

“I do not want to move the money,” Pearson said. “If we don’t build that bridge, we’ll never get it done.”

Kristiansen said he raised the issue with Murray in a meeting Monday night.

“We’ve got an opportunity to get the most expensive part done,” Kristiansen said. Further funding may not be available for years, he said.

Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, who sits on the transportation panel, said he will ask Murray to consider the shift, as requested.

“The Department of Transportation proposal makes a lot of sense,” he said.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360- 352-8623 or jcornfield@

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