State budget may benefit transit in county

OLYMPIA — Efforts to expand commuter bus service between Everett and Seattle sped through the state Senate on Wednesday but stalled in the House.

Sound Transit would get $5 million to buy express buses and Community Transit would receive $2.5 million for its growing bus rapid transit program in the transportation budget approved by the Senate.

That plan covers nearly $8 billion in spending on roads, rail, buses and ferries in the two-year period beginning July 1. It also pays the operations of the Department of Transportation and the Washington State Patrol.

The bulk of it, $4.3 billion, goes into roughly 400 projects to be undertaken in the next 28 months.

There is money for widening Highway 522 to four lanes between the Snohomish River and Monroe, and for making additional safety improvements on U.S. 2.

Two Island Home-class ferries would be built for the route between Port Townsend and Keystone on Whidbey Island to restore service to levels not enjoyed since the state pulled its aging Steel Electric-class boats off the run because of safety concerns in 2007.

Transit service emerged Wednesday as a sticking point between the Senate and the House.

Senators approved $40 million in grants to transit agencies; this is the source of money for Sound Transit and Community Transit commuter bus expansion efforts.

In its transportation budget, the House funds the highway widening, ferry construction and U.S. 2 safety improvements. It distributes $15 million for transit agency grants.

Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, who is vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said with fewer dollars going out in grants it was decided to spread them around to smaller districts.

Sound Transit had three projects in the top 10 and “would have sucked up” most of the money, he said.

The House is likely to pass its budget Friday. Then differences will be reconciled by the transportation committee leaders in each chamber: Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, and Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island.

“I’m going in there to fight for transit,” Haugen said.

Another disagreement to be settled involves an environmental study for a new bridge on Highway 9 over the Snohomish River. The Senate provides $1.5 million for the work while the House does not.

“It will be part of the negotiating process,” said Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who secured the funds in the Senate plan. “If we don’t do something about that bridge you are just going to be stuck with a giant bottleneck.”

The Senate passed the budget on a 41-6 vote. Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, was the lone Snohomish County lawmaker to oppose the bill.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623,

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