Inslee visits Kent to push adoption of state transportation funding package

Gov. Jay Inslee spoke Friday at a business and political leaders luncheon in Kent about the importance of the Legislature adopting a transportation funding package. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Gov. Jay Inslee spoke Friday at a business and political leaders luncheon in Kent about the importance of the Legislature adopting a transportation funding package.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Gov. Jay Inslee made a quick stop Friday in Kent to pump up South Sound politicians and business leaders about the importance for the Legislature to pass a transportation funding package during the special session that started this week.

Inslee's pushing a plan that would include the Interstate 5 projects to extend State Route 509 from SeaTac to Kent and complete State Route 167 between Puyallup and the Port of Tacoma.

"We have a huge center of economic growth potential in the South Sound, if and when we take the next step forward with transportation," Inslee said to a luncheon gathering of the South Sound Chambers of Commerce Legislative Coalition at the Golden Steer Steak N Rib House.

The coalition includes representatives from Chamber of Commerces in Kent, Auburn, Renton, Federal Way, Covington, Tukwila, Puyallup and Fife. The attendees included Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis, Renton Mayor Denis Law and Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton. Councilmember Dana Ralph represented Kent.

Inslee received a standing ovation from the group after his 20-minute talk to improve roads. He shook hands with the attendees and then jumped in a Chevrolet Suburban with a lunch-to-go from the Golden Steer for a ride to his next appointment.

"We've got to generate hundreds of millions of dollars or our roads and bridges are going to start to go down fairly rapidly," said Inslee, who also supports funding a new I-5 bridge across the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon.

"We have highways and bridges to nowhere now," Inslee said. "We have 167 which is little bit of a highway to nowhere. We want to connect it to the rest of the community and 509 so we can have better freight mobility to the Port of Tacoma and we can start growing jobs in our community. I am committed to doing that.

"But it's not just 167 and 509," he said. "It's moving forward with the 405 corridor to connect with 520 and replacing the decrepit bridge over the Columbia River. Everything's got to be connected. All of us have to remember that whatever our local project is, someone else's local project is just as important. We have to have a transportation system."

Inslee supports a 10-cent increase per gallon in the state gas tax to help raise part of an estimated $10 billion needed to fund the transportation package.

"I'm excited to tell you that we are moving forward with a transportation package," he said. "We've got more and more people realizing we have to step up to the plate."

Inslee said the adoption of an operating budget that provides more money to schools remains the primary focus of the special session but he wants a transportation funding package passed as well.

"We need a good healthy operating budget that has a good healthy downpayment on financing our schools," he said. "The state Supreme Court has ordered that we need $3 billion to $4 billion more money for our schools. We need to get that done first."

State Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, attended the luncheon and came away impressed with Inslee's comments.

"I thought they were incredibly timely and exactly on point for this community," Keiser said. "We are at the point where it's going to tip one way or the other. We are either going to go forward or backward and we need to go forward."

Keiser expects the Legislature to pass a transportation funding package, although it could be a close call.

"I would say it's probably about 60-40 now," Keiser said about the odds to adopt a package. "I think we're going to do it. We have consensus by most of the leadership that this is necessary to invest in the future. The majority of the members of the Legislature thinks this works. We have a very vocal minority that are afraid to step up and vote for anything that includes a gas tax.

"I understand it's always hard to be brave and do what is the right thing. But this is the right thing. It's a lot easier to cut taxes than raise them. But we have congestion and incomplete transportation systems. We need to do the job we were elected to do and that's to show leadership and provide the resources we need to finish the 405 interchange and system, 167 and 509."

Keiser said the 509 project remains crucial for the Kent Valley as a distribution point for Port of Tacoma and Port of Seattle. Highway 509 would connect with I-5 near the Kent-Des Moines interchange. She said the projects would benefit commuters as well.

"Those are the key choke points for all of our citizens. They spend hours in traffic jams because of how poor our system currently is. They would win hours with their families if we could do the improvements we need to do."

Inslee said it's vital to get the transportation projects done.

"In the next few weeks we'll decide whether we take a step forward with our state or whether we have a slow erosion into mediocrity," Inslee said. "That's true in the operating budget of having a way to improve funding in our schools and moving forward on transportation."

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