By Celina Kareiva, September 19, 2013, Bellevue Reporter
A large and vocal crowd sounded off on transportation issues Tuesday night as the state Senate kicked off a series of transportation forums, the first of which was held in Bellevue. Though speakers differed in their ideas on content, the resounding message urged the passage of a transportation package this fall in a special session.
Heavily represented were local governments and businesses. Representatives from Microsoft, PATH, Amazon and Wright Runstad all spoke to the condition of state transportation and the need to move forward if Washington wanted to remain a competitive market.
Congestion in the region has become infamous even on the East Coast, said Kathyrn Neal of Microsoft, noting the difficulties of recruiting with such a reputation. Hundreds crowded the gym at Stevenson Elementary School and about 70 spoke before time ran out.
Tuesday’s was the first of nine forums to be held throughout this month and next, hosted by the Senate Transportation Committee and King County legislators. Gov. Jay Inslee has considered calling a special session in November to address a stalled transportation plan.
“We must work together and we must act now,” said Dow Constantine, King County Executive, one of many who spoke during the more than two hours of public comment.
This summer the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus killed a package that included a 10.5 cent per gallon gas tax increase, despite its passage in the House.
“With all due respect,” said Katie Wilson of the Transit Riders Union, “it was irresponsible for you to not pass a transit option [earlier].”
Congestion, completion of current projects and fears about Metro Transit service cuts were reoccurring themes throughout. Several speakers also noted the importance of finding funding for Washington’s ferry system, which one resident urged the crowd to think of as its own freeway system – and its only connection to the rest of the state. On Metro cuts, many urged leaders to find a long-term stable funding source for bus services, which could face a 17 percent reduction in 2014.
“There is no area in King County that would be spared,” said Redmond Councilmember Kim Allen of the projected cuts.
Among those ideas supported in testimony was the ability for King County to levy its own fees to raise revenues for services like metro and roads. Gas taxes have been a more contentious topic and the majority coalition had taken a strict stance against them, but some speakers spoke specifically in support of the hiked taxes.
“If the Bellevue City Council can get together on light rail, the state can get together on a transportation [package],” said Councilmember John Stokes of Bellevue to laughter.