'Bare bones' transportation budget plan relased by senators

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - A bipartisan group of Washington state senators released a transportation budget proposal Wednesday that both sides call "bare bones."

The $8.7 billion, two-year plan puts $4.1 billion into maintaining and improving roads, banks $200 million in projected toll revenue toward the Alaskan Way Viaduct project and puts $1.2 billion toward servicing existing and planned bond debt.

The plan includes $81.8 million going toward the Columbia River Crossing - less than required to trigger federal matching funds - and doesn't fund other large projects, including the connection of state Route 167 and state Route 509 to Interstate 5 and the North Spokane Corridor project connecting U.S. Route 395 to Interstate 90.

"This is a bare-bones budget," said Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, who is co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. "There is nothing new."

Also left out of the proposal are options for local governments to raise funds of their own for transit and roads. Seattle-area officials have said that King County Metro faces an annual $75 million shortfall and that without state-level action up to 65 transit routes are at risk of being cancelled, with another 86 facing service reductions.

"This budget does not address that," said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, adding that a final transportation budget and possible revenue package could do so.

Seattle City Councilman Mike O'Brien was among a group of officials from cities including Vancouver and Bainbridge Island visiting Olympia to ask lawmakers to allow for local revenue-raising options. O'Brien said he was encouraged after discussing the issue with King.

"I walked out of that meeting feeling there is room for us to come to some solution that can accommodate his caucus and still meet the needs of businesses and transit riders in Seattle," O'Brien said.

The proposal includes enough funding to avoid any cuts to existing ferry service and sets aside money for completion of a second 144-car ferry. It assumes a 2.5 percent ferry fare increase.

"Washington State has one of the safest and largest ferry systems in the country and I'm pleased to see the legislature's renewed commitment to it in this budget," said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, in a statement.

Also included in the plan is $60.5 million to preserve concrete on I-5 in King County.

The budget would also fund a study on merging the ferry tolling system into the state's Good to Go tolling program. A report on such a merger would be due in November.

The House Transportation Committee is expected to unveil its transportation budget on Thursday.

With House Democrats having earlier this session proposed a relatively robust transportation spending package -which is separate from the transportation budget - King and Eide agreed that more money could be put into transportation this year, though King said any new taxes should have the support of voters.