Opinion

Senate needs to deal with transportation plan – or Eastside will pay

By Rep. Cyrus Habib

Sometimes, a “do nothing” approach in the face of a daunting challenge has unintended consequences: It actually makes things worse.

So it is with the transportation funding package now languishing in the state Senate.

For residents of King County — and particular for those on the Eastside and Mercer Island — failure to adopt a method for financing critical transportation projects likely leads to one of two outcomes, both bad: A State Route 520 “bridge to nowhere,” or tolls on the Interstate 90 bridge across Lake Washington and Mercer Island.

The state has already spent billions of dollars on a new span to replace the existing 520 bridge, a 50-year-old structure that is not safe in the event of an earthquake. But more than a billion more is needed to build the highway ramps and other connections on the Seattle end of the bridge — and without them, the bridge won’t “bridge” anything.

There’s been a lot of talk in Olympia about slapping tolls on I-90 to raise money to finish the 520 project, if no other source of financing is approved. That might be fine by the folks in Spokane and Walla Walla, but it’s a lousy solution for Eastsiders, Mercer Islanders and the Seattle area in general: It’s a direct hit on the pocketbooks of commuters, and it simply adds to the cost of transportation along a corridor crucial to the region’s economy. What’s more, it requires federal approval, which many believe is unlikely at best.

That’s why I have spent the past year arguing to leaders from both parties that we should not rely on I-90 tolling to complete the 520 project. Last year, my colleagues and I in the state House of Representatives approved a transportation package that would have made progress toward completing the 520 bridge without imposing tolls on I-90, using gasoline tax revenues collected from drivers across the state — just like with projects in Eastern Washington, Pierce County and elsewhere.

Now the ball is in the Senate’s court. They need to play — or we on the Eastside and Mercer Island will pay.

 

Rep. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, represents the 48th Legislative District, which includes part of Bellevue, Clyde Hill and the Points communities.

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