By Thomas P. Skeen, April 19, 2013, Walla Walla Union Bulletin
A glimmer of hope that funding for the continued four-laning of U.S. Highway 12 from Lowden west to Nine Mile Hill is tucked into a House Transportation Committee proposal that could come to full House vote next week.
The proposal would allocate $126 million for the task, which is ranked seventh on a draft list of 27 highway improvement projects statewide, Jim Kuntz, Port of Walla Walla executive director, said this morning.
Funding for the $8.4 billion statewide highway improvements bill in the Legislature, however, will depend on whether legislators approve an increased state tax on gasoline and new vehicle weight fees.
Topping the project list is $1.27 billion for the State Route 167/509 Puget Sound Gateway.
Kuntz said a committee is expected to vote on the highway projects list Saturday. If passed it would head for a House floor vote next week. It would then go to the Senate, where it likely will face compromises largely due to funding of a controversial proposal to build a new bridge crossing the Columbia River near Vancouver. Funding for that is pegged at $450 million, third on the projects list.
“The overall good news,” Kuntz said of the Highway 12 funding, “is that we’re actually in the package. That’s significant and I think it shows the state sees the value of what the U.S. Highway 12 Coalition has been working for since it was formed in 2001.”
The coalition is working toward making the main east-west highway to Walla Walla four lanes all the way to the Tri-Cities. If the current proposed project is funded, the remaining two-lane stretch would be from Nine Mill Hill to the Boise Inc. mill in Wallula.
Money and politics in tight financial times remain key to whether anything happens, however.
The Legislature is debating a 10-cent increase in the gasoline tax phased in over four years to fund highway projects, and whether to pass it in Olympia or put it to voters in a state referendum.
Legislators also are considering increasing some vehicle weight fees by $15 to $30.