Archive for transportation

Senate passes transportation package following decision on two-thirds rule

By | March 2, 2015 | 0 Comments

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen ruled Monday that the state Senate’s rule requiring a two-thirds supermajority vote to raise taxes is unconstitutional.

Owen made the ruling following a challenge from Democrats on Friday over a proposal to increase the state’s gas tax by 11.5 cents to pay for a transportation package that would fund projects around the state.

The ruling paved the way for the Senate to continue debating the transportation revenue package, which had been put on hold over the weekend while Owen made his decision.

The $15 billion dollar transportion package pays for six megaprojects, including the North Spokane Corridor in Spokane and the State Route 520 Bridge, as well as dozens of regional projects and traffic congestion relief.

Sen. Mark Mullet urged members to pass the bill as he described the “parking lot” he sees each day on the state’s freeways during his commute from Issaquah to Olympia. “The reality is this thing is not going to fix itself, and it’s up to the people in this room,” he said.

Other supporters say it is a fair to tax those who use the roads the most. “If you drive 10,000 miles a year, you pay a lot less in gas taxes than if you drive a lot of miles,” said Sen. Tim Sheldon.

But Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, said it will hurt drivers in rural districts. “It might not seem like a lot, but an extra 12 cents a gallon adds up quite a bit for folks who have to drive greater distances and fill up their rigs more often,” he said.

Several Democrats spoke in against the overall transportation package because it comes with conditions they oppose. “There are some factors in this underlying legislation which are uncomfortable. Rolling back environmental permitting. That’s tied to this legislation,” said Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson.

But Republicans say those conditions are necessary to gain public trust and expedite projects. Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Whatcom County, said the permitting change “is not just about expanding [Interstate] 405, it’s not just about [State Route] 167…it’s also about being able to have a permitting system in place that allows us to build light rail more efficiently and effectively.”

Sen. Annette Cleveland of Vancouver said she was voting against the bill because the transportation package does not include money for the Columbia River Crossing bridge between Portland, Oregon and Washington. “Vancouver was told repeatedly throughout the course of the last decade, ‘Wait your turn there are other megaprojects in the state that take priority.’ Vancouver waited our turn, and I submit to you that our turn has now come,” she said.

The chamber passed Senate Bill 5987 with a vote of 27 to 22. It now heads to the House for its consideration.

House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan released a statement saying the “bad greatly outweighs the good” in the transportation package. “We in the House will do our best to fix the transportation package sent over by Senate Republicans, but before that we will need to see substantial movement on their part to address our paramount duty of educating our children and fairly balancing our operating budget,” he said.

Watch the debate below:

Categories: transportation

Democrats challenge Senate transportation proposal over two-thirds supermajority rule

By | February 27, 2015 | 0 Comments

Those who were hoping to see a transportation package passed off the floor on Friday were left with a cliffhanger. Senators will return to the debate on Monday following a surprise challenge from Democrats.

The state Senate on Friday began debate on a $15 billion dollar transportation package, which would pay for major road projects around the state by raising the gas tax by 11.5 cents per gallon. The package also includes conditions that many Democrats oppose — including what they call a “poison pill” that would shift money away from transit, bike and pedestrian paths if the governor institutes a clean fuel standard.

Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson urged members on the floor to adopt a “clean package” without the conditions. She said her version still provides tax money to fund transportation projects, but is “not linked to any other legislation which may be based on ideology from either party.”

That proposal failed along caucus lines. As the Senate prepared to debate the final transportation package that included the conditions, Democratic Sen. Annette Cleveland asked Lt. Gov. Brad Owen if the proposal to raise the gas tax requires approval of two-thirds of members based upon a rule change made on the first day of session.

The rule change, which was passed off the floor by the mostly Republican Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, includes a clause that would require bills with a new tax to get a two-thirds supermajority approval of the Senate before advancing to third reading.

Republican Sen. Curtis King responded to Cleveland’s question by saying he believes the gas taxes in the package are “existing taxes and therefore would not fall under that guideline.”

Following a break, Sen. Joe Fain told members the Senate will hold off on the transportation package until Monday to give Owen time to make his decision.

Before the challenge, the Senate debated several other bills related to the transportation package. One of the most contentious proposals, Senate Bill 5990, would shift sales tax money collected from building road projects away from the general fund, and use it for transportation.

Several Democrats spoke in opposition to the proposal, saying it will rob the general fund of education money.

“The fact is that taking a billion dollars, when we have no agreement around where those dollars are going to come from, means that we are saying, ‘We are going to fund concrete instead of our kids,'” said Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle.

Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane urged support, saying the transportation package will add money to the general fund for education in the long-term. “What those roads are going to do is allow our economy to grow and generate a tremendous amount of economic growth,” he said.

The bill passed along caucus lines with a vote of 26 to 23.

You can watch the full Senate floor debate in TVW archives. We’ll also have the highlights on Friday’s edition of “Legislative Review” at 6:30 and 11 p.m. (unless a committee is live).

Categories: transportation, WA Senate

Thursday recap on ‘Legislative Review’

By | February 20, 2015 | 0 Comments

Here’s our 15-minute recap of Thursday’s legislative activities on “Legislative Review.” On the show, we cover the passage of bills off the House floor, including one that would change state law to allow for a group of people to be awarded the Medal of Valor. It’s intended for those who risked their lives to help others during the Oso landslide. Plus, a committee hears Secretary of State Kim Wyman‘s proposal to change presidential primary elections and we have details from the public hearing on the Senate’s transportation proposal.

“Legislative Review” airs nightly at 6:30 and 11 p.m.

Categories: transportation, TVW

Senate transportation leaders propose $15 billion package, new gas tax

By | February 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

After three years of gridlock on transportation, Senate transportation leaders announced the proposal of a $15 billion transportation package along with an incremental 11.7 cent gas tax increase over three years.

The package include six megaprojects in different areas of the state, including the North Spokane Corridor (known locally as the north-south freeway) and the Seattle end of the State Route 520 Bridge.

The package includes 58 regional projects, and some of the reforms that Republican Senate leaders had called for, said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima.

King made the announcement on Thursday, along with fellow Republican Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn and Democrats Sen. Marko Liias of Lynnwood and Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens.

The lawmakers described the package as a compromise, which is ready for public discussion and dissection.

“There are many elements of it that continue to cause me heartburn and continue to cause heartburn on both sides of aisle, but I know that we’re going to work diligently together,” Liias said.

“To sit back and have conversations that don’t involve the public at this point wouldn’t be appropriate,” Fain said.

The package includes 11 bills total, including eight reform bills, a bond bill, a revenue bill and a spending bill. There would be gas rate hikes over the three years totaling 11.7 cents a gallon: 5 cents, 4.2 cents and 2.5 cents a gallon. The increases would start this summer, under the current proposal.

Among the expenditures are:

  • $1.4 billion in preservation, maintenance and facilities
  • $8.1 billion in improvements
  • $375 million to cities and counties
  • $578 million for ferries
  • $486 million for transit grants
  • $240 million for the Washington State Patrol

The budget and revenue proposals are available on the state’s LEAP website.

Among the policy changes are:
  • Changes to environmental permitting
  • Decreasing requirements on apprenticeship
  • Requiring the sales taxes on transportation construction be transferred to road projects, starting in 2019

The package includes a contingency that calls for directing revenue not tied to bonds to the Motor Vehicle Fund if the legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee adopt a low-carbon fuel standard.

Hobbs and Liias said that the Democratic caucus disagrees with that contingency, but will continue to negotiate.

“That’s one little issue we’ll have to work out,” Hobbs said. (more…)

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Bill would create statewide regulations for ride-share companies

By | January 22, 2015 | 0 Comments

State lawmakers have launched a push to regulate app-based transportation companies, including UberX and Lyft, operating in Washington.

Senate Bill 5550 would require the companies to provide liability, uninsured motorist and personal injury insurance for drivers, conduct background checks and inspect vehicles. It would reverse city regulations and put in place a statewide standard.

The move comes after extensive negotiations between Seattle leaders, taxi companies and ride-share services.

Taxi drivers last year told the Seattle City Council that UberX and Lyft were hurting business. When council members agreed and voted to cap the number of ride-share services, a citizen’s group suspended the ordinance after collecting enough signatures to send the measure to the ballot.

It took an intervention from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and months of negotiations for stakeholders to come up with a compromise plan. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Cyrus Habib, would undo that ordinance and set up framework for the state.

The Kirkland Democrat says it’s important to set up a unified system as ride-share companies launch around the state. City and county regulations have weighed down the taxi industry, he said.

“The taxi system ultimately has become so dysfunctional because of a myriad of contradictory regulations,” Habib told TVW. “We have a chance to get this right on day one, so let’s not let this become dysfunctional.”

Colorado was the first state to pass a law regulating ride-share services. Washington’s bill is modeled after the law.

Seattle’s law requires drivers to get insurance, but Habib says cities lack the authority to require insurers to pay out in an accident. That’s a function of the state, he says. Stakeholders who took part in city negotiations were “deeply involved” in drafting this bill, Habib says, including drivers unions, ride-share services and Seattle Uber general manager Brooke Steger.

Habib is blind and says he’s relied often on the services to get around. “We need to make sure we are supportive of their ability to operate,” he said. “But we need to write a law that protects the consumer and provides safe options.”

Categories: transportation

Live from the Capitol: TVW’s opening day show starts 10 a.m. Monday

By | January 9, 2015 | 0 Comments

The Washington State Legislature’s 2015 session begins Monday, Jan. 12. Opening ceremonies start at noon, but tune in to TVW early to catch exclusive interviews with lawmakers, who will discuss key issues for the coming months.

Starting at 10 a.m., The Impact’s Anita Kissee will host the live show from the Capitol rotunda. Gov. Jay Inslee will stop by to talk about his budget proposal and more.

Guests include House and Senate leadership from both sides of the aisle, including Senators Sharon Nelson, Mark Schoesler, Andy Billig, Linda Evans Parlette and Representatives Dan Kristiansen, Pat Sullivan, Joel Kretz and Eric Pettigrew.

Hear about key issues including education, transportation and mental health from Senators Jeannie Darneille, Doug Ericksen, Curtis King, Steve Litzow, Rosemary McAuliffe, John McCoy and Steve O’Ban, plus Representatives Judy Clibborn, Hans Dunshee, Richard DeBolt, Cary Condotta and Sharon Wylie.

We’ll also get insight about the session from Capitol reporters Jim Camden of The Spokesman-Review and Jordan Schrader from The News Tribune.

TVW will carry gavel-to-gavel coverage of opening ceremonies beginning at noon.

Stay tuned to TVW throughout the session for coverage of the state Legislature. Starting opening day of session, Legislative Review will air nightly at 6:30 and 11 p.m. “The Impact” airs Wednesdays at 7 and 10 p.m. and Inside Olympia with Austin Jenkins is Thursdays at 7 and 10 p.m.

WSDOT update on fish passage barriers

By | June 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Washington State Department of Transportation is spending $36 million on replacing fish passage barriers during the current two-year budget cycle that ends in 2015, the most it has ever devoted to the project.

But it still falls short of the estimated $310 million needed each budget cycle to meet the U.S. District Court injunction requiring the state to fix hundreds of fish-blocking culverts by 2030.

WSDOT Director of Environmental Services Megan White said Wednesday the department is working in “good faith” to meet the deadline, but an estimated $2.4 billion dollars of work remains to be done.

“Replacing culverts isn’t easy,” White said.

The average cost of replacing a culvert is $3 million, she said, although some cost upwards of $20 million. The culverts must be built to last and able to handle a significant amount of traffic, White said.

Watch an interview about the issue on “The Impact” on Wednesday, June 4 at 7 & 10 p.m. More information about the project can be found here, including WSDOT’s response to last year’s court injunction requiring the state to increase its efforts in fixing the culverts.

Update: Watch “The Impact” below:

Party buses targeted by Washington regulators

By | May 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

Alcohol-fueled parties that take place on buses outfitted with smoke machines, music, flat-screen TVs and brass poles are coming under the scrutiny of a Washington regulatory agency.

Inside of a party bus

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission completed a report in April looking at incidents on so-called “party buses.”

It found 21 deaths and 48 injuries related to party buses operating in the U.S. and Canada since 2009. No incidents have occurred in Washington state.

“What we learned gave us reason for concern,” said commission chair David Danner, speaking at a meeting Wednesday of the Joint Transportation Committee.

The report found the most common reason for death was because a passenger fell out of the moving bus. Others died after hitting their head on an overpass while on the top deck of a bus. In two cases, underage passengers died after drinking an excessive amount of alcohol.

Danner said party buses are a “new and growing phenomenon.”

In Washington state, 33 companies operate party buses, but only 14 hold a UTC charter party certificate. Those companies without certification may not have proper insurance, safe vehicles or drivers that have been drug tested, Danner said.

Danner encouraged lawmakers at the meeting to consider a bill that would clarify the law on party buses.

He pointed to a recently enacted California law, which requires party buses carrying minors to have a chaperone to ensure there is no underage drinking. The chaperone is held liable if any incidents occur.

TVW taped the meeting, and the archive video will be available here.

Categories: transportation

Lawmakers, Inslee say transportation package unlikely in regular session

By | March 12, 2014 | 0 Comments

Lawmakers said Wednesday a transportation package looks unlikely to happen before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Thursday.

Republican leaders discussed the issue at a press conference Wednesday. Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, the co-chair of the Senate transportation committee, said the Majority Coalition Caucus made compromises on spending more than they initially proposed for buses and other modes of transportation, and had lowered their proposed amount of transportation sales and use tax to be dedicated to road projects.

“We made major concessions, we made major moves,” King said Wednesday. “It was obvious from the response we got that they weren’t interested in truly negotiating.”

Construction near the State Route 520 Bridge

Construction crews work on the West Connection Bridge, which is a portion of the new State Route 520 bridge. Photo by Washington State Department of Transportation.

A spokesman for Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, the Democratic co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, disputed King’s characterization that Democrats were not interested in negotiation. Her office released three letters she sent to King that asked for hearings on transportation revenue bills in exchange for hearings on King’s reform bills.

Gov. Jay Inlsee, who has said that road maintenance throughout the state will take a large hit without a transportation tax package this year, called the stalled discussions a “disappointment.”

He said he doesn’t want to see another disaster like the Skagit River bridge collapse. “I have seen a bridge at the bottom of a river, and I have told them that I don’t want any of them to see that,” he told reporters.

A transportation agreement before the end of session is unlikely, Inslee and King both said.

“We will continue to work on this, but it won’t happen this week,” Inslee said.

Categories: transportation

WSDOT secretary: Reforms will need funds

By | January 20, 2014 | 0 Comments

Reforms to the Washington State Department of Transportation would require supplemental funding requests, said department secretary Lynn Peterson  in a “State of the State of Transportation” presentation before the House Transportation Committee Monday afternoon.

Lawmakers have said that reforms are key in convincing Legislators and voters to approve a proposed gas tax this year that would pay for maintaining the state’s roads. WSDOT proposed 10 reforms November to improve its accountability and efficiency.

Of the 10 proposed WSDOT reforms, Peterson said she plans to request funding in this year’s state supplemental budget for these three:

1) Increasing the flexibility of project designs.

2) Hiring a Quality Assurance manager that could work across the agency, which would require a new staff person.

3) Increased oversight on making sure that disadvantaged businesses enterprises are hired for jobs. According to Peterson, the Federal Highway Administration found that Washington state is not in compliance with federal standards.

She said that the department will make the requests at a future meeting.

The full list of the 10 reforms proposed by WSDOT is posted on the department’s website.

Peterson also highlighted progress and accomplishments in the department in the past year, including the replacement of the Skagit River Bridge, which collapsed after being struck by a truck, the completion of a safety project on Snoqualmie Pass and the near-completion of an express toll lane on Interstate 405/State Route 167.

The presentation came as state lawmakers consider a transportation tax that would add more than 10 cents a gallon to the price of gasoline to fund projects. That request would come after several high-profile problems with WSDOT megaprojects — poorly designed pontoons for the new State Route 520 bridge, and the stoppage of tunnel boring machine Bertha after 1,000 feet of digging the new Highway 99 tunnel.

Peterson also said that information on why Bertha stopped should be available in the next few days. She said that the 8-inch pipe is not the only reason that the tunnel boring machine stopped.

TVW aired the House Transportation Committee meeting. Video of the hearing will be available on the website.