News

Federal Way dodges transportation tax cuts

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

Federal Way’s transportation plans appear to have emerged fairly intact following voters’ overwhelming refusal to accept new taxes, but city traffic congestion and some projects could be indirectly affected by a loss of funding in other jurisdictions.

Sound Transit officials are conducting legal and financial analyses to get a grasp on what Initiative 776’s impacts will be on light rail, Sounder commuter train service and capital projects, but it’s too soon to tell if a transit center proposed for downtown Federal Way is in jeopardy.

I-776 sets license tab fees at $30 for all cars and light-weight trucks and could cost Sound Transit almost $700 million in tax revenue.

While analysts crunch numbers and make projections, Sound Transit “will continue planning and building projects and providing services,” spokesman Lee Somerstein said.

There has been speculation that Initiative 776 will end up challenged in court, but Somerstein said Sound Transit currently doesn’t have plans to file suit. Still, with millions of dollars in the balance, an unfavorable court decision could cost Sound Transit some projects.

“If a legal challenge is upheld in court, the board will have to start making decisions,” Somerstein said, but he added the legal process will take time. “The Department of Licensing will continue collecting taxes until the court says not to,” he said.

The failure of Referendum 51, which would have increased the gas tax nine cents and brought in about $3 billion in revenue, among other tax revenue, is expected to cut short anticipated revenue for several state-funded projects.

None would impact Federal Way street projects directly, but some could affect congestion in the city, the ease with which traffic would move through the region and the city’s ability to start new projects. Because of that, several projects are going to be on standby for awhile.

“I wouldn’t say forget about them, but they’ll sit on a shelf,” city traffic engineer Rick Perez said.

With the loss of hoped-for revenue, south King County loses out on:

• $3 million to cover environmental and design work at the Triangle convergence of State Route 161, State Route 18 and Interstate 5.

• $5 million for an interchange at South 272nd Street.

• $69 million to extend the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 5 from South 320th Street to the Pierce County line. A portion of the project from Tukwila to South 320th Street was completed earlier this summer, but the rest of the project will be further delayed.

• $400 million to extend State Route 509 from Seatac to Interstate 5.

Though the projects aren’t specific to Federal Way, they might have an overflow effect on congestion in the city, Perez said.

“One of the repercussions of not expanding the freeway system is people will use city streets to avoid congestion on the freeway,” he said. “As it is, we already have some of it now.”

The on-going project to add high-occupancy vehicle lanes, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and lighting to Pacific Highway through Federal Way won’t be affected by the failure of Referendum 51 because the state grant source of that money wasn’t affected by the referendum, Perez said.

The only other city impact is a loss of funding for the state-mandated commute trip reduction program, which requires employers to provide for alternative modes of transportation for employees.

In anticipation of state budget cuts, city staff already discussed the possibility that funding would be eliminated and began thinking of ways to continue the program.

“We already were operating under a worst case scenario,” Perez said.

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