By Rep. Derek Kilmer, Special to KP News
I voted against the transportation budget that would invest over $9 billion in transportation projects and wanted to tell you why.
I share the concerns of many of you about our high gas prices. I cannot stomach any gas tax increase unless the proposal provides a fair deal for the area I represent (which includes Gig Harbor, the Key Peninsula, and South Kitsap).
Unfortunately, despite improvements in the final budget, both Pierce and Kitsap counties will pay substantially more in new gas taxes than they get back in the form of new transportation investments.
The starkest example of inequity, though, is that our area has the only “mega-project” in the state – the Narrows Bridge – that will be funded almost entirely by tolls. It’s just not right that we will pay for the Narrows Bridge and will also be asked to pay additional taxes to pay for megaprojects in other areas.
Many Peninsula residents think we should get more state funds to reduce the need for tolls on the bridge. I agree 100 percent, and have been working closely with Rep. Pat Lantz, Sen. Bob Oke, and others in support of this goal.
I offered an amendment requiring state funding for the bridge – demanding equity. When that amendment didn’t pass, I couldn’t support the budget.
The battle for equitable funding is difficult. An independent commission has identified over $50 billion in unfunded transportation projects across the state. Because most Narrows Bridge construction bonds have been sold and the bridge is more than half constructed, most folks in the Legislature perceive the project as already funded. I am working hard to change this perception, and I will continue to fight for equitable funding; however, it is a steep hill to climb.
I am also advocating for the equitable use of tolls.
At nearly every transportation hearing, I asked that tolls be used on other projects — not just on SR 16. I offered an amendment to require the use of tolls on the 520 Bridge, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and I- 405. I’m pleased the final budget assumed tolls on these projects as well as a study of tolling equity.
I don’t begrudge the need to fix the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the 520 bridge. Both are an earthquake away from collapse. Should either structure fail, there would be dramatic repercussions for the economy of our entire state.
However, while the Narrows Bridge is almost entirely toll-funded, tolls will likely cover less than one-third of the cost of the 520 Bridge and even less of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. I couldn’t support that.
While Rep. Lantz and I opposed the proposal, we succeeded in getting funding for some local priorities. The budget includes funding for improvements on Highway 16 as well as design dollars for a new corridor off Highway 302 to promote safer transportation on the Key Peninsula.
Additionally, I’ve been working to pass a bill to exempt the Narrows Bridge project from the sales tax on construction, saving future bridge users nearly $50 million in tolls. The bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support. Hopefully next year, the Senate will pass it, too.
These are steps in the right direction but are only a small piece of the larger pie I believe our region deserves. It’s not right for folks who will already be paying tolls to have to pay increased gas taxes to pay for other people’s projects.
Derek Kilmer (D) is the state representative for the 26th Legislative District.