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Regional transportation plans worry city leaders
"As legislators inch forward in creating a plan that would help the state's most congested regions fix some of their own traffic messes, suburban cities like Federal Way are lobbying hard to bring their concerns to the fore. Lawmakers are trying to produce a regional plan, believing that many of the big-ticket projects, such as Interstate 405 in King and Snohomish counties, are beyond state government's ability to finance. The regional approach, first proposed by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation, is a central part of this year's transportation debate. The concept is simple: New regional taxes would help pay for regional projects. But fleshing out the details is proving difficult for lawmakers. Cities like Federal Way are jumping into the mix, lobbing for a set-up that would ensure locally-raised transportation dollars are spent equitably. We don't want the entire region taxed to do a project on the Eastside like Interstate 405, said city spokesman Derek Matheson, who last week met with other representatives from suburban cities in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. There are many ways to ensure equity, Matheson said. Federal Way's first choice would be having representatives from suburban areas on regional boards that create project lists and funding packages, not just county executives as some proposals advocate. Other options include setting up a project committee with broad representation that would make recommendations to a smaller board, having citizen representatives from local legislative districts on the boards, or creating a process in which suburban cities ratify project lists, he said. Suburban cities would rather have a positive role in creating project lists than a negative role such as veto power under a ratification process, he added. One plan approved by the Senate last week, Senate Bill 6172, sponsored by Sen. Julia Patterson, D-SeaTac, worries the suburban cities due to the lack of representation from the cities, he said. SB 6172 would allow county executives of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties and the Kitsap County commission chairman, plus an appointee from the governor, to form a district. A three-member board, appointed by the governor, would oversee both road and transit projects. The revenue package would allow a regional sales tax, vehicle fees, a commuter tax and property tax levies. The more popular proposal, SB 6140, a bipartisan plan drafted by Sens. Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue, and Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, would allow 20 legislative districts in central Puget Sound to form a congestion-relief region. A board appointed by lawmakers from the area would decide on the most pressing projects and submit the plan, along with taxes, to the voters in the region. The plan could raise $8 billion or more, and would allow the board to submit a sales tax surcharge of up to a half-cent, a gas tax hike of up to six cents a gallon, a passenger vehicle fee of up to $75 a year and a commercial vehicle fee of up to $150. While this plan has broader representation, by design it's a roads-only proposal. McDonald said the region already has a $4 billion Sound Transit program for rail and buses. However, the suburban cities want any package that's approved by legislators to address transit needs, Matheson said. We can't build our way out of congestion. We need to ...have a mix of options for people, he said. The suburban cities last week identified several other key lobbying points. They include: * Any regional plan should focus on highways of local significance, like Pacific Highway South, and should require the state to be responsible for highways of statewide significance, like Interstate 5 or Highway 18. * Funding options should be flexible, not one size fits all types of plans, with regions having many options for funding to choose from. The suburban concerns reflect the key sticking points to the regional plan in both houses: whether to make the plans just for roads or to include transit, and the question of who would make those regional decisions. Democrats said if Republicans aren't willing to include mass transit in the legislation, the bills will die. We're high-centered, with no agreement on the main elements, said House Transportation Co-Chairwoman Maryann Mitchell, R-Federal Way. She said eight negotiators, representing the two parties in the two houses, will try to find common ground. That might be tough. House Republicans object to many elements of the plan introduced this month by House Democrats. Mitchell said the problem with the Democrat plan is that it requires one-third of expenditures to be dedicated to multimodal systems like buses, trains and ferries. For rural counties that don't have a transit district, it isn't a realistic solution, she said. Beginning the process by setting arbitrary statewide conditions and mandates makes no sense, she said. What they're really saying here is, 'We'll let you raise your own revenues, but you have to spend them our way.' It's like offering someone a key to their handcuffs while you fit them with leg irons. Should a regional plan make it through the Legislature, it could find favor with Gov. Gary Locke. He advocated such an approach during an April 4 visit to the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon. Regional empowerment is crucial, Locke said, because at more than $7 billion for I-405 alone, we are kidding ourselves to think the state - people in Walla Walla, people on the Olympic Peninsula - and federal sources can - or should - shoulder the entire burden. He also said a regional plan should meet the Blue Ribbon Commission's test that 85 percent of all new revenues raised within a region stay within that region. "