$5 million pledge adds urgency to project

The clock is ticking. Six years might seem like plenty of time, but when you’re dealing with the Legislature and government agencies, time — and a $5 million offer of transportation funding — can easily flit by.

Where the governor did not see fit to adequately invest in Snohomish County in his transportation budget, the state Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board has recognized the region’s importance in moving commercial traffic and commuters. The investment board, as reported Sunday by Herald Writer Chris Winters, has pledged $5 million to spur further funding for a major re-engineering of I-5’s interchange with south Marysville.

The current interchange drives traffic exiting from northbound I-5 into Marysville onto Fourth Street, a short distance from the crossing for the busy Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which frequently delays traffic and sometimes backs up vehicles onto I-5. The solution would redesign the interchange, adding an offramp from northbound I-5 to Highway 529, and an onramp from southbound 529 to I-5, diverting the traffic around the railroad crossing.

The $5 million pledge from the investment board represents a significant chunk of the project’s estimated cost of $40 million, and adds to the $3 million that Marysville has invested in planning, permitting and design, and another $500,000 pledged by Snohomish County and other local governments. But the $5 million, like a matching pledge during a public radio fund drive, comes with a deadline. The rest of the project’s funding must be secured before the investment board’s 2019-21 biennium, or it will offer the grant to another project.

Funding could come from at least two sources: a federal grant from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program and from the state Legislature, which is currently working on a transportation package that local officials are hopeful will include far more funding than the $81.8 million Gov. Jay Inslee outlined in his transportation budget. The Marysville interchange was not included among the projects in the governor’s budget but was outlined by Economic Alliance Snohomish County in a list of $1.067 billion in projects that it and others consider vital to supporting the county’s manufacturing and aerospace base.

Because of the way the program is structured, the funding from the TIGER program would come over several years, potentially limiting its value in meeting the deadline for the $5 million pledge. And time is limited in securing the funding through the Legislature. If it’s not included in the current package, it could have to wait another two years when the governor and Legislature would again take up transportation projects in the next capital budget for 2017-19, which begins to bump up against that 2019-21 biennium.

With much of the engineering and other preparation already complete, and with a fresh $5 million commitment from the freight mobility group, legislators ought to move to include it in the current transportation bill.

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