Transportation package huge win for Eastern Washington, Baumgartner says

Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

OLYMPIA… A $16 billion transportation package approved by Washington lawmakers Monday night offers a huge win for Eastern Washington, delivering some $1 billion to Spokane County alone and finally finishing the North-South Freeway, said Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

At the same time, it makes big reforms in the way the state spends and manages its transportation dollars. It blocks costly low-carbon fuel standards that have been advocated by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. And it draws the line on Seattle’s troubled tunnel project — when current state funding is exhausted, that’s it.

“For too long, our transportation spending has reflected Seattle priorities and Western Washington goals,” said Baumgartner, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee. “Previous transportation packages have given Eastern Washington pennies on the dollar. This time we have a program that gives Eastern Washington its due.

“We said that if we were going to pass a transportation package, we had to finish the North-South Freeway – a project 60 years in the making that will stimulate the economy of our region. We got it – all the way to Interstate 90.

“We said we had to spend our transportation dollars more efficiently and effectively, and eliminate waste and bloat. And we do.

With this package we build Eastern Washington projects and we reflect Eastern Washington principles. A billion dollars for Spokane and the big reforms we have won make this the best package ever for Eastern Washington.”

The final agreement completes other major road projects statewide that, like the Spokane freeway, have been delayed for years. It provides money for maintenance and preservation of existing highways, which was not funded by the last transportation package in 2005. Reforms take aim at the big cost-drivers in transportation spending – among them, ferry-construction procedures and permit requirements. The package eliminates a sales tax on construction materials that siphons gas-tax money into the general fund.

Baumgartner noted that some $2 billion in road construction will be funded in Eastern Washington. For every dollar Spokane County sends to Olympia, it will get $1.35 back. And by completing the North-South Freeway from Wandermere to I-90, he said Spokane realizes a longtime dream. “Just imagine,” he said. “A few years from now, you’ll be able to drive from the Little Spokane River to I-90 in just under 12 minutes.”