Washington state panel to focus on transportation funding

| Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A select group of officials in Washington state will spend the next three months crafting a 10-year plan to fund the state’s transportation system. Voters would get the final say on any proposal.

The “Connecting Washington Task Force” is charged with coming up with a plan to generate billions of dollars for roads, transit and ferries through 2022. The group will review statewide transportation needs, recommend the most promising projects for investment and identify potential revenue sources.

Appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, the 27 participants represent such sectors as state government, business, construction and transit. The governor will serve as chair of the group and lead its meetings.

To accommodate the state’s growing population and the resulting increase of demands on transit, roads and ferries, Gregoire said in a statement that “major transportation projects must be built, our ferry system must be preserved for future generations, and the current transportation system must be maintained.”

“Connecting Washington will give the Legislature options to improve and maintain our transportation system and help keep our communities and businesses moving,” Gregoire stated.

Transportation packages in the state were approved twice in the past decade. Deals approved in 2003 and 2005 relied on increases in the fuel tax and other fees to pay for 421 projects around the state. However, the ongoing tax collections from the previous deals will soon cover solely debt payments on the projects.

As a result, the state must come up with new funding methods to get transportation work done. Projects expected to get priority are replacing the state Route 520 bridge, linking Seattle and Bellevue, and the Interstate 5 Columbia River Crossing.

The task force is working to identify new ways to raise needed revenue. Among the funding methods expected to be discussed are new taxes, fees and tolls.

The group’s recommendations will be submitted to the Legislature next year to work out the details to take to voters in November 2012.

Washington state residents interested in providing input to the task force can submit suggestions and feedback online.

To view other activities of interest for Washington, click here.

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