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Road funds in jeopardy

"With budget-writers returning to square one following the mounting earthquake damage bill, transportation projects to bring congestion relief to Federal Way could take a back seat, a local lawmaker says. The Legislature, already facing a $10 billion challenge to ease congestion, must divert its focus to the emergency, said Rep. Maryann Mitchell, R-Federal Way. That means cities can't count on funding for projects that was virtually in the bank - like HOV lanes along Pacific Highway South and a stop light at South 288th Street and Pacific Highway, said Mitchell, co-chair for the House Transportation Committee. The state Transportation Improvement Board was recommending the Legislature approve $7.5 million for those Federal Way projects. But Mitchell said that board might rearrange its priority list to fix quake-damaged roads that weren't previously on anybody's list, such as the road between Fall City and Snoqualmie that came down. All of the projects will have to go back into the mix, she said. City Spokesman Derek Matheson said the city still is hopeful, but is in a wait-and-see mode on funding for the Federal Way projects. We're optimistic they would be rolled into a package that would make it through, he said, ...Obviously we would like to build (the HOV lanes) sooner than later. The state Department of Transportation is working on a revamped project list that could be available as early as Friday, Mitchell said. Until then, the fate of all transportation projects is up in the air. It would just be a wild guess at this point, she said. Especially since it's still unclear how much of the tab Uncle Sam will pick up for damage caused by the 6.8-magnitude quake and how much the state must pay, she said. Delores Shull, president and CEO for the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, said she realizes the Legislature has significant budgetary challenges following the earthquake. However, The Federal Way Chamber hopes significant attention will be given to the transportation crisis, Shull said. The chamber recently joined the King County Transportation Coalition to lobby for projects it deems crucial to the economic vitality of Federal Way and South King County, Shull said. The chamber especially is pushing for: * Completion of the state Route 161 - Interstate 5 intersection, * Extending HOV lanes on southbound I-5 from the Kent Des Moines Road to South 320th Street, * The HOV lanes for Pacific Highway South, * Completion of the Interstate 405 - state Route 167 intersection, * And a truck climbing lane on Highway 18 from state Route 167 to Weyerhaeuser Way. Those are all choke points that contribute to other choke points, Shull said. Mitchell, who also is an advocate for several of those projects, isn't making any promises or predictions this week. We hope to start getting answers throughout the week, she said, adding that Friday should bring at least some preliminary answers. No matter what those answers are, lawmakers - and possibly voters - will need to pass some sort of funding package for the state to begin unclogging roads this year, Mitchell said. Before the quake, Gov. Gary Locke advocated a $10 billion, six-year program, financed by taxes that would go to the voters this fall. Other lawmakers like Mitchell still favor a combination - the Legislature would adopt some increases and place a package on the ballot as well. The Legislature, already facing a $10 billion challenge to ease congestion, must divert its focus to the emergency, said Rep. Maryann Mitchell, R-Federal Way. "

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