Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The Columbian. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
Legislative plans to commit $450 million in state money to a revamped Interstate 5 Bridge are a long way from fruition. But they make for good headlines and generate discussion, which can be viewed as an encouraging step.
Last week, the Senate Transportation Committee — which includes Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver — passed a $15 billion transportation package that includes money for a new I-5 Bridge across the Columbia River. Revenue would come from $5 billion in bonds, an increase of 6 cents per gallon to the state gas tax, and a fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon pollution on the sale or use of fossil fuels in the state.
In other words, it is an ambitious proposal. The package of bills now goes to the Senate Rules Committee and then would have to be passed by the full Senate. It then would have to be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
There is much for Southwest Washington residents to like about the proposal. But before we get to that, we should point out that it faces tough sledding in the Legislature.
For one, lawmakers have been reluctant to impose a carbon tax, despite annual exhortations from Inslee. Voters also have rejected two carbon-tax measures on the ballot in recent years. But as committee chair Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, points out, the revenue would be targeted for specific infrastructure improvements rather than unspecified projects, a fact that could draw support.
For another, the public likely will be averse to another jump in the gas tax following sharp increases in recent years. Washington already has the nation’s third-highest gas tax at 49.4 cents per gallon (plus 18.4 cents in federal tax). In response, however, we point out that Washington has no state income tax and no capital gains tax; money for infrastructure needs to come from somewhere.
While reasons for opposing the proposal are easily enumerated, there also are benefits. One is the obvious need to replace the outdated I-5 Bridge. Notably, committee leaders from the Seattle area spoke of the need to replace the bridge; local lawmakers should continue to impress upon their colleagues the statewide importance of the bridge.
Equally important is the tactic of securing money before the laborious process of figuring out the details of the bridge. In 2013, after about a decade of negotiations finalized plans for the Columbia River Crossing, lawmakers scuttled those plans when it came time to dedicate money for the project. If funds are secured in advance, it will embolden bridge planners and provide assurance to Oregon representatives that our state is serious about the project this time around.
And there are signs that sincere progress is in the works. Inslee has requested $17.5 million for an office dedicated to the bridge-replacement project, and Washington and Oregon representatives in December had a meeting to kick-start discussions. It was the first meeting since 2013.
Following last week’s vote, Cleveland said in a statement: “This is another concrete step toward getting this project moving while we work with Oregon to design a planning process and determine the details of a new bridge. This is only a down payment on what a new bridge will cost, of course, but we anticipate funding from other avenues, including our federal and Oregon state partners once we agree on a mutual vision for the new bridge.”
We hope that legislators can see the benefits of such an approach.