News

Now about that other $198 million

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

The Triangle highway project in Federal Way will get another $2 million from the federal government as part of U.S. Rep. Adam Smith’s request in a congressional transportation funding package.

The state Department of Transportation has preliminary designs to realign the ramps at the Triangle –– the convergence of Interstate 5 and State Routes 18 and 161 –– to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce the number of collisions among drivers who have to weave in front of each other to get on and off the ramps.

Smith identified the Triangle as one of his top priorities for transportation funding this year.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ transportation committee passed the Transportation Equity Act package last week. It will next be heard on the floor of the House.

Some policies in the package might be tweaked by Congress, but officials don’t anticipate the money amounts will be changed. After the House votes on the package, it would go to the Senate and ultimately to the president for his signature.

Federal Way officials have been lobbying state and local representatives for several years to get the funding to modify the Triangle’s dangerous cloverleaf intersections. “When it was built years ago, the design was safe,” City Councilwoman Jeanne Burbidge said. “It’s no longer safe.”

Burbidge represents the city on the South County Area Transportation Board, which prioritizes south King County transportation problems and recommends projects to the Regional Transportation Investment District. The district’s board is putting together a master list and a funding package to send to voters this November.

Smith’s Triangle announcement was good news for project planners here, despite the large balance still waiting to be funded.

“Initially, the amount was $200 million,” Burbidge said. “We still have a little bit of a ways to go. We have to continue to make the case.”

State DOT project engineer Bruce Nebbitt said the $2 million could be used to finish the preliminary engineering, continue with the design process and begin purchasing right-of-way.

“The money definitely would be welcomed, and we’d find a home for it,” he said.

As for other funding sources, the state budget proposals from Governor Chris Gregoire and the Legislature are expected to be released March 21 or 22.

The Regional Transportation Investment District is awaiting direction from the Legislature before getting to work on its transportation package, since Rep. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, submitted legislation this year to dissolve the district and replace it with a new regional transportation improvement authority.

“Until the Legislature decides what it’s going to do, we’re kind of in a holding pattern,” Burbidge said.

Murray’s legislation would allow counties to create multiple or single-county authorities to fund their transportation projects through a variety of revenue options, including:

• A vehicle license fee up to $100 a year.

• Up to .6 percent motor vehicle excise tax.

• A commercial parking tax.

• Up to .2 percent sales and use tax, with .1 percent limited to high-priority projects and .1 percent limited to high-priority projects and transit.

• A vehicle mileage tax.

• Tolls.

Other funding options include a local option gas tax up to 10 percent of the state tax rate, an employer excise tax up to $2 per employee per month, and a local option motor vehicle excise tax up to .3 percent for high-occupancy vehicle lanes as long as the maximum motor vehicle excise tax imposed by the new transportation investment authority not exceed .6 percent.

Murray also proposes more policymaking authority for the Puget Sound Regional Council, which currently serves as more of a pass-through agency for federal transportation funding, though it also responsible for creating a 20-year transportation plan for the metropolitan area.

Murray’s legislation is in the House Rules Committee and is expected to be voted on by the March 16 deadline for advancing legislation.

Meanwhile, a delegation of city officials –– council members Linda Kochmar and Mike Park and assistant city manager Derek Matheson –– is heading to Washington, D.C. later this month to lobby for additional transportation funding at the National League of Cities convention.

“We’re going to seek funding wherever it’s available,” Burbidge said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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