U.S. 2 gets an extra $5 million in roads budget

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers Monday got a bit more serious about fixing the “killer highway.”

House and Senate transportation leaders put out their 2008 roads budget with $14 million for improvements on U.S. 2, an increase of $5 million from earlier budgets.

“Wow, that is tremendous,” said Fred Walser, chairman of the U.S. 2 Safety Coalition. “This is incredible when we didn’t expect to get anything.”

Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, and Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, the chairwomen of the Legislature’s transportation committees, agreed to the increase during their budget negotiations Saturday.

“It’s a good beginning,” Clibborn said of the spending package the House of Representatives is expected to vote on tonight.

She said it’s not the long-term answer but should give east Snohomish County residents confidence that the Legislature is listening to their cries for help in curbing the death toll on the route.

Since 1999, 47 people have lost their lives on U.S. 2 between Stevens Pass and Everett.

Though the state estimates $2 billion in improvements are needed on U.S. 2, the $14 million is a larger chunk than area legislators and community leaders anticipated receiving this session.

“It’s quite a commitment,” said Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe. “Considering things did not look well when we started this session, we’re moving in a very good direction.”

Rep. Liz Loomis, D-Snohomish, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said, “It’s the start of something pretty great, but ultimately U.S. 2 needs to be widened to a four-lane highway.”

The transportation budget issued Monday also contains:

$26.9 million for replacing cable barriers with a concrete median on northbound I-5 in Marysville;

$85 million for three vessels to replace the Steel Electric-class ferries pulled from service in November;

$355,000 to add two ferry runs a day on the Keystone-Port Townsend route from May 19 to Sept. 8;

$100,000 to study the potential of commuter rail service between Snohomish and Redmond;

$18.5 million for higher fuel costs for state troopers, ferries and the Department of Transportation.

For U.S. 2, the state will provide $10 million for a project between Gold Bar and Monroe chosen by the Highway 2 Safety Coalition and the transportation department. The other $4 million is a mix of county, state and federal dollars already earmarked for grinding centerline rumble strips between Monroe and Sultan.

Walser said residents can offer project ideas at the coalition’s March 24 meeting.

He said the increased amount of money may mean plans for a passing lane west of Sultan will be dropped in favor of something at the intersection of Fern Bluff Road and U.S. 2, where several fatal accidents have occurred.

Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, has pointed to the section around Fern Bluff Road as a better location for the money because more accidents occur there than where the passing lane is proposed.

“My hope is they would go after a project in an area with a history of fatalities,” said Kristiansen, who serves on the House Transportation Committee.

The proposed budget also directs the Washington State Patrol to station six troopers on patrol on U.S. 2.

“Those troopers will be there by the end of the year. They will make a difference,” Haugen said.

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

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