OLYMPIA — A plan for raising billions of dollars to build new bridges, widen old highways and open up fish passages will get its first public review this week.
And, depending on the response, it could be its last.
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, has drawn up a 10-year, $16.3 billion package of transportation improvements financed largely with a 6-cent hike in the gas tax and new fees on carbon emissions and development.
Hobbs, who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, calculates that much money is needed to cover the cost of removing state-owned culverts to improve fish passages, rebuilding the U.S. 2 trestle, and building five electric-powered ferries. It also would pay Washington’s share of a new I-5 bridge across the Columbia River, widen Highway 522 between Maltby and the Snohomish River, and fulfill items on wish lists of lawmakers across the state.
On Thursday, he will devote the transportation committee’s entire two-hour meeting to accepting public comments. The meeting will begin at 3:30 p.m.
“There are a lot of needs out there. These things cost money,” he said Monday. “This is a chance to see if there is an appetite to do anything.”
If reactions are generally positive, he said he’s prepared to draft a bill and hold a hearing on it this session. If there is a lot of negativity, then he said it’s likely he’ll be done with it for now.
“There is no question we’ve got to do more in transportation infrastructure. I’m not thinking this is the year to do because there’s tax fatigue,” said Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, who serves on the transportation committee. “These packages take years to put together. If this is a starting point for a conversation about the next generation of transportation investments, there is something to be said for it.”
Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, another member of the committee agreed that “it looks difficult at this point because we’re in the second week of the session.”
He credited Hobbs for coming up with an innovative approach
“Everybody feels the impact of traffic every day and solutions are needed,” he said.
In 2015, lawmakers passed a $16 billion transportation package known as Connecting Washington. It took several years of sometimes bitter negotiations to complete. Not long after finishing, some legislators starting talking about how to come up with money to do all the projects that didn’t make it in that deal.
Hobbs is taking a first crack at an answer.
His plan raises roughly $10 billion from two sources — a fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon emissions and a 6-cent increase in the gas tax.
Other components include increasing the electric vehicle fee by $200; boosting the sales tax levied on auto parts, bicycles and rental cars; imposing a new 50-cent per trip fee on for-hire vehicles and levying a new statewide transportation impact fee on homes, commercial buildings and manufacturing sites. He’s also penciled in higher weight fees on vehicles and boosting the ferries capital surcharge from 25 cents to 50 cents.
In the plan, $3.1 billion of carbon fee receipts are earmarked for removing state-owned culverts as required by a U.S. Supreme Court directive. The carbon fee is also used to build new electric-powered state ferries, and to convert existing ferries to run on electricity. And there’s $500 million for improvements to curb pollution from stormwater run-off.
“No other proposal takes on the environmental challenges facing this state as comprehensively as this one,” Hobbs wrote in his proposal.
Receipts from the increase in gas tax and other fees are mostly steered toward 50 small and large projects around the state and investments in transit, bike, freight and pedestrian programs.
There’s $1.49 billion to rebuild the westbound trestle of U.S. 2 and to redo the interchange of Highway 204 and 20th Street SE. His plan assumes $260 million of the total will come from tolls.
And there’s $450 million to cover Washington’s share of building a replacement bridge on I-5 across the Columbia River. He assumes Oregon will chip in an equal amount and there will be $1 billion from tolls and $1.25 billion in federal funds for the project.
He also has $160 million to widen a three-mile stretch of Highway 522 between Monroe and Maltby and construct a new grade-separated interchange at Paradise Lake Road. There is money to widen a three-mile stretch of Highway 9 between 176th Street SE and Highway 96 and to use $470 million in toll receipts to have two toll lanes on I-405 between highways 522 and 527.
Initially, any pushback could be on the financing mechanisms and some proposed policies.
One example is the carbon fee.
Voters in November rejected an initiative to set a $15 fee that would rise over time. The money raised would have been spent on energy-saving, climate-assisting endeavors as determined by a public board.
Hobbs’ plan is different. It locks in the fee at $15, an approach preferred by business owners but not environmentalists. And he steers the money into the state transportation budget to be spent on removing culverts and electrifying ferries.
And one of the most controversial provisions could be one that maintains a ban on the state imposing a low carbon fuel standard. The ban was an element of the 2015 package.
This year, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and many of Hobbs’ Democratic colleagues are backing legislation to get rid of the ban and adopt a low carbon fuel standard as part of a broad effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Here are major projects proposed for funding in the transportation package.
$1.36 billion — Construct a new three-lane westbound trestle on U.S. 2 and rebuild the Highway 204/20th Street SE interchange*
$90 million — Widen Highway 522 to four lanes between Maltby and Snohomish River
$70 million — Construct a new grade-separate interchange on Highway 522 at Paradise Lake Road
$58.2 million — Widen Highway 9 between 176th Street SE and Highway 96
$56 million — Carry out first phase of U.S. 2 and Monroe bypass
$12.1 million — Construct a left-turn lane on Highway 530 at Chief Brown Lane in the vicinity of the Sauk-Suiattle Reservation.
$3.1 billion — Removal of fish passage barriers
$1.67 billion —Construction of new state ferries, terminal improvements and electrification of existing ferries
$470 million — Widen I-405 between highways 522 and 527
$450 million — Replace I-5 bridge over the Columbia River**
$182 million —Widen Highway 12 between Wallula and Walla Walla
*Includes $260 million in new toll revenue
**Estimated total cost of $3.175 billion assumes federal funding, Oregon share and toll revenues