Roads paved by compromise

It still faces committee hearings and votes in the state Senate and House, but a transportation package announced Thursday by a bipartisan group of senators appears to be a model of comprise and, just as importantly, outlines about $570 million in transportation projects for Snohomish County, far greater than the $82 million included in the governor’s budget.

Included in the Senate plan is $145 million for a new Highway 9 bridge over the Snohomish River, $70.8 million for a new freeway interchange at south Marysville that will help traffic avoid the Fourth Street railroad crossing and $17 million for safety improvements to U.S. 2.

It’s not the full $1.076 billion in transportation projects — supported by Economic Alliance Snohomish County and others — that recognizes the county’s stature as the state’s leading manufacturing region, but it’s more than half-way there and a definite improvement over the governor’s proposal.

Democrats and Republicans will each have to give some ground in voting for the package.

The proposal includes a nearly 12-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax over the next three years and some new licensing fees, concessions by Republicans. Democrats will have to agree to some reforms on the use of sales tax revenue from transportation projects and employment of union apprentices on road projects. Republicans are, in exchange for funding of public transportation projects and green-lighting a vote on Sound Transit 3’s extension of light rail into Everett, requiring that the governor and the Department of Ecology not move forward on a proposed rule that would have established a lower-carbon fuel standard in the state, similar to what California has established. If the new fuel standard goes forward, the funding for public transportation goes to road projects.

Disagreement over much of this remains. Funneling the sales tax back to transportation projects will divert revenue from the general fund. And reducing carbon emissions by reformulating fuel remains a valid technology for curbing greenhouse gases.

Sen. Curtis King, chairman of the Senate transportation committee, regarding the fuel standard, said asking people to pay for a gas tax increase and the increased cost of lower-carbon fuel wasn’t a reasonable request. King also defends the environmental improvements in some of the projects themselves, including culvert and stormwater work that will improve habitat for salmon and other wildlife.

This is the essence of compromise, making concessions to get concessions.

It’s an example that the rest of the Legislature might pay attention to, particularly as it takes up education funding later in the session.

“Nothing would make we feel better than if we were to set the standard on how to work together,” King said. “There are solutions, and if we can keep the politics out of it, we can get all of our work done, including transportation and the operating budget and the capital budget within the time constraints we have.”

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