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Competing transportation priorities in Olympia as legislative session nears end

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(The Center Square) – Over the weekend, lawmakers in the Washington State House of Representatives approved a $14.3 billion supplemental transportation budget, an increase of $821 million for the enacted biennial budget.

But priorities in the state Senate are much different and that chamber will take up its own supplemental transportation budget proposal on Tuesday.

Before the scheduled end of session on March 7, the House and Senate will have to find common ground.

One of the big challenges is the recent revelation from the state Department of Transportation that the cost of fixing additional fish passages under court order could run upwards of $4 billion.

Another major issue is how to replace the State Route 520 bridge across Portage Bay in Seattle, with costs rising and estimates it will be about $700 million more than initially projected.

The House wants to prioritize the north side bridge on SR 520 and push construction of the south bridge and the Roanoke lid out a few years.

The Senate disagrees with that approach.

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, and says delaying any part of the project would end up costing taxpayers more money down the road.

The Senate plan would pay for the additional costs on Portage Bay through higher tolls and deferred sales tax payments.

Commuters may not like the proposal to put off improvements on Interstate 405 and State Route 167.

The Senate budget delays projects on both corridors for between two to 10 years and uses recently approved toll rate increases for both freeways.

“The House and Senate transportation budgets are completely diametrically opposed, and it’s really driven by ideology,” Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, told The Center Square.

Barkis, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, went on to say, “When you have a situation where you’ve got all these major cost overruns, our principal was let’s work within our means.”

His leadership team went to WSDOT and said, “You’ve got X amount that we budgeted already, what can you do with that?”

He said they took that approach throughout because they didn’t want to take money from other projects.

“Unless the operating budget wants to drop in a couple billion dollars into Transportation, we can’t do it,” Barkis said, noting that the Senate budget does take things from other projects. “So that’s going to be the big sticking point.”

“We have to bring two budgets together and it’s going to be fun,” he said in jest.

The two budgets do have some things in common.

Both proposed budgets put millions into road preservation and much needed bridgework.

They both add funding for Washington State Patrol and recruitment efforts.