News

Wait until next year to vote on transportation projects

By PAT JENKINS

The Mirror

Officials who are mothering local transportation projects, such as Federal Way’s infamous “Triangle,” are nervous about a state-imposed one-year delay of a public vote on project funding.

Putting off a decision by voters on a proposed tax plan for projects in a three-county area only prolongs the traffic headaches they’re intended to cure, officials said.

The Legislature, at the request of Governor Christine Gregoire, last week set November 2007 as the earliest that tax measures for regional transportation projects can go on the ballot. For Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID), that’s 12 months later than originally planned.

Legislative leaders reportedly don’t want a vote this year because there might not be enough financial support from the private sector for campaigns supporting the transportation tax measures.

Sound Transit planned to ask voters for about $6 billion to continue its projects in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, including the second phase of light rail. The latter could include a segment in Federal Way, although the transit agency’s board hadn’t decided if that would be part of the ballot measure.

RTID, a taxing district –– authorized by the Legislature in 2003 –– for the same counties, wants to raise $72 million for transportation projects in the three regions.

One such project, dubbed the Triangle, is a pending redesign of the convergence of Interstate 5 and State Routes 18 and 161 in Federal Way. The projected cost of improving the junction, where traffic gridlock and high risk of accidents is the norm, is about $200 million. Officials hope to piece together federal, state and local funds for the project.

Delaying the RTID vote raises concern over securing enough money, said Federal Way City Councilwoman Jeanne Burbidge.

The delay also means the project’s total cost will climb with another year of inflation, said Burbidge, member of the South County Area Transportation Board, which makes recommendations to RTID on transportation projects in the south King County area.

RTID project manager Kjris Lund said each year of delay results in cost increases of $216 million to $720 million for design, construction and property acquisition for the district’s combined projects.

“The longer we delay improving our highway system, the more the repairs cost,” said Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney, RTID Executive Board chairman.

In 2005, the state Department of Transportation put projects on hold pending the outcome of Initiative 912, which asked voters to repeal a statewide gas tax increase. It didn’t pass, but the delay cost the state $66 million in increased costs, RTID officials noted.

The delay to next year of the ballot measures isn’t all bad, according to Burbidge. “It makes sense for everyone to take a deep breath and make sure voters have the information they need to make a decision,” she said.

RTID proposes work on the State Route 520 Floating Bridge and Interstate 405 and building more HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes.

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