What does R-51 promise for Bainbridge?

When Washington voters cast their general-election ballots in November, they will pick up where lawmakers left off at the close of the 2002 legislative session.

In Referendum 51, voters across Washington will ratify or reject the $7.7 billion state transportation improvement package that the legislature sent them last spring.

Supporters say the plan would relieve the state’s worst traffic choke points, provide safety improvements and rejuvenate the state’s aging ferry fleet over a 10-year period.

Locally, it would mean foot-ferry service from Kingston to downtown Seattle, which could mean fewer cars from northern portions of Kitsap County driving across Bainbridge to the Winslow ferry terminal.

But the plan has drawn sharp criticism from those who say it stops short of providing adequate funding for public transit and other commuting alternatives.

Island residents will get a chance to weigh in on the plan tonight, when the Bainbridge Island City Council holds a hearing on a proposed resolution to endorse the measure.

While noting that a hearing is legally required before the council can take a position, Councilwoman Lois Curtis has no doubt about her stand on the measure.

“This puts some money into many transportation projects,” Curtis said. “It’s well devised to spread projects around the state.”

The most immediate benefit to Bainbridge Island, she said, would be the institution of foot-ferry service from Kingston.

“That will take some of the pressure off the Bainbridge ferry terminal,” Curtis said.

Improvements to Kitsap County and the state ferry system under R-51 would include:

l Some $99 million would expand passenger-only ferry service by opening two new routes – one between Kingston and downtown Seattle (starting in September 2003), the other between Southworth and downtown Seattle (starting in September 2007). Funding would be provided to acquire and preserve two used passenger ferries, construct a passenger terminal at Southworth, improve facilities at Kingston and Seattle, and operate the service from fiscal years 2004 through 2013.

l Four new auto ferries would be constructed to replace pre-Depression-era vessels in the state fleet. That cost is estimated at nearly $322 million.

l The state would contribute about $14.4 million to widen State Route 305 through Poulsbo. An additional lane would be built in each direction from the city limits to Bond Road for off-peak, general purpose use and peak-hour HOV use. Bike lanes and sidewalks would be added as well.

l Some $5 million in state money would be allocated to help with a Kitsap County project to develop an interchange ramp from SR-3 to SR-303, and to widen Kitsap Mall Boulevard and Clear Creek Road. That project is expected to reduce congestion.

l The state would contribute $11 million to the widening of SR 304 from the Bremerton ferry terminal to SR-3, and the addition of HOV lanes.

l About $3.4 million would go toward the widening of SR-16 to Long Lake Road.

l The state would contribute $276,000 for the design and right-of-way work on a fish passage project on SR-305.

The measure would also help Kitsap Transit expand its network of park ‘n’ ride lots, which again could reduce auto traffic across the island.

“And there’s a general local benefit from mobility improvements in Seattle, especially the Alaska Way Viaduct,” Curtis said.

Gas tax key

The $7.7 billion transportation package hinges on a 9-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase, to be phased in over a two-year period.

Supporters say the hike – the first in more than a decade – would cost the average driver about $45 annually if they drive 12,000 miles a year and their vehicle gets 24 miles to the gallon.

Money would also come from a 1 percent surcharge on the purchase of any new or used vehicle, and from weight-fee increases of 30 percent for commercial vehicles.

But no sooner had the issue been referred, than at least two organized opponents surfaced.

The Transportation Choices Coalition and 1000 Friends of Washington, both pro-mass transit organizations, have voiced opposition to the referendum.

“The money would be used to build the state’s way out of congestion,” said Peter Hurley, executive director of Transportation Choices. “There is a better alternative. The priorities are all wrong.”

Hurley says the R-51 plan ignores highway safety and maintenance concerns, and worries it would cause construction delays over the next decade – ultimately being to no one’s benefit.

“Things wouldn’t get worse if this was voted down,” Hurley said. “The reality is traffic will be the thing to get worse during construction of 80 projects over 10 years – and, evidence shows that adding general purpose lanes only worsens traffic in the end.”

Hurley says the plan should incorporate more creative options for commuters such as opening up car-zpool lanes, bolstering transit and even installing tow trucks along highways to clear away accidents and keep traffic flowing.

But Curtis said those concerns are misplaced.

“Many of these roads have to be fixed no matter what is driving on them – cars or buses,” she said.

Supporters of R-51, led by Gov. Gary Locke and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, recently launched a web site,

“It is important for the public to know what (it) is all about,” said Lilly Eng, a spokeswoman. “The issue has been percolating since the legislature decided to submit the package to voters.”

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