Friday, June 15, 2007

Details of the Deal

Submitted by Paul Ellis

A $7 billion roads package for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties is finally ready for the approval of the region’s voters. It will be combined with Sound Transit's $10.8 billion light rail, bus and commuter rail package in a single question on this November’s ballot.

The Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) chaired by Pierce County Councilmember Shawn Bunney approved the final roads package last week after some tense negotiations in which elected officials and environmentalists compromised over the controversial Cross-Base Highway near Fort Lewis. RAMP has been and remains a staunch advocate for this critical “missing link” in the regional highway network, linking Spanaway and Frederickson to Interstate 5. The approved package allocates $427 million on interchange and nearby road projects, including at least $10 million for environmental work; however, the crucial center of the project can't be started until after talks with a mediator in 2009--and after another $200 million is found to complete the project.

Sound Transit is proposing a 50-mile light-rail-expansion to the Tacoma Dome in the south, near Mill Creek in the north and Redmond to the east by 2027—building on the 19 miles currently underway. The package also includes 11,200 new parking stalls, 7 new/improved Sounder Commuter rail stations, and enhanced bus and commuter rail service.

The capital costs of the transit improvements is currently estimated at $10.8 billion. The transit part of the package would boost the sales tax by a nickel per $10 purchase, which officials estimate would run about $125 a year for a typical household.

The roads portion of the package would mainly pay for highway lanes that can't be funded through gas taxes alone. The adopted package retains SR-167 as the marquee investment in Pierce County and allocates funding for the Cross-Base Highway. Other Pierce County improvements to be funded through this package include improvements to SR-410/SR-162, enhanced access to Tacoma Mall, and non-motorized improvements.

The road improvements would be funded by a sales-tax increase of 1 cent per $10 purchase and an annual car-tab tax of $80 per $10,000 of vehicle value. The capital cost of the roads package is $7.0 billion in 2006 dollars.

The Gig Harbor Peninsula and areas of Pierce County beyond Orting are outside the Sound Transit and RTID districts and will be exempted from taxes and fees that will be levied if the combined package is approved by the region’s voters.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

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