Kids ride free, electric ferries part of $17 billion package

Kids will ride buses for free and the state’s ferry system will become electric once Gov. Jay Inslee signs the $17 billion “Move Ahead Washington” transportation package into law.

The legislation passed the state House and Senate on the final day of the session.

One of the package’s sponsors, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, says in a news release: “We’re investing in projects from rural to urban areas across our state, letting kids ride free on buses, ferries and trains, and so much more – and all without punting the cost to working families.”

The plan includes billions of funding to be used for transit programs, fish-barrier removal and the electrification of the state’s ferry fleet.

The largest highway construction project sets aside nearly $1 billion for replacing the century-old I-5 bridge at the Oregon border between Portland and Vancouver. The estimated $3.2 to $4.8 billion cost of construction would be split between from Washington, Oregon and the federal government.

“The I-5 bridge replacement funded by this package is the reason I came to Olympia ten years ago,” Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, says in a statement. “The ancient, inadequate I-5 bridge we rely on every day is decades overdue for replacement, and I know our community could not move forward until we have a bridge designed for today’s traffic, transit and climate need.”

The package draws funding from various sources including the federal government, higher fees from vehicle and driver licensing, and fee revenue from the state’s new cap-and-trade system established in the Climate Commitment Act.

Lawmakers scrapped the idea of instituting a 6-cent-per-gallon tax on exported fuel after receiving threats of potential lawsuits from neighboring states. To backfill the loss of the estimated $2 billion, legislators settled on annually pulling $57 million from the Public Works Assistance Account and $57 million from the operating budget.

“I made a promise to my constituents that we weren’t going to raise gas taxes in this difficult moment,” Liias said. “I’m proud that we’re delivering on that promise to invest in our infrastructure without asking struggling families to take on more of that cost.”

GOP opponents of the plan said even without the inclusion of a gas tax increase, Washingtonians would still bear the burden of the cost, seeing price increases in places other than the pump.

Fees for license renewals, car registrations and stolen vehicle checks would increase. For example, buying plates for a new car would rise from $10 to $50 depending on the type of license plate, and the Enhanced Driver’s License fee would go from $24 to $42.

“Unfortunately, the partisan transportation package from the majority will punish drivers throughout Washington with higher fees and taxes,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, in a joint statement with Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia. “It isn’t right to make our citizens pay more to own a car.

The minority party criticized the one-sided nature of the plan from the beginning, breaking the tradition of transportation being handled as a bipartisan issue.

“I’m extremely disappointed the process was partisan and does not reflect the true transportation needs of every corner of our state,” Barkis said. “Washingtonians deserve real solutions from their transportation leaders and tax dollars.”