By Andy Porter, May 20, 2015, Walla Walla Union Bulletin
A pending transportation package with funds for the next phase to widen U.S. Highway 12 has an “80 percent” chance of passing soon, a local legislator said.
Speaking Tuesday to a meeting of the U.S. Highway 12 Coalition, state Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said the transportation budget, which has passed the state Senate, includes money for Highway 12 widening.
But according to a briefing he received that morning, the controversy “is the House still wants the governor’s policy of (carbon emissions taxes) back in that transportation budget.”
Hewitt said the Senate’s transportation bill has a “poison pill” in it, “in that, if we pass this package and the governor (enacts carbon emission taxes) by executive order, that money disappears. That’s been very hard for the other body to swallow and I’m not pointing fingers, I’m just giving you the reality of what’s going on.”
Negotiations were ongoing, Hewitt said, and as of Tuesday the carbon emissions tax “was still up in the air as to whether or not this package is going to move forward.”
“So we’ll know more next week. If I had to take a guess, I would say there’s probably an 80 percent chance that’s it’s going to pass. It’s a matter of getting over some of the policies the governor wants which are, quite frankly, not very popular in this state,” he said.
If approved, the transportation package would provide an estimated $126 million to widen U.S. Highway 12 from where the current four-lane section ends near Lowden to Nine Mile Hill. The proposed funding would also include about $42.8 million to advance work on the next, and final, phase of the project, which would go from Nine Mile Hill to the vicinity of the Boise paper plant near Wallula.
Coalition members also heard from Highway 12 lobbyist Dave Mastin, State Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson and Troy Suing, Washington state Department of Transportation assistant regional planner.
Mastin, employed by the Port of Walla Walla, College Place and Walla Walla, said another key element to advancing work on Highway 12 will be to have the project placed as high on WSDOT’s priority list as possible.
“In both the House and the Senate, they have recognized the importance of Highway 12,” Mastin said. “In the proposals last year, the timing of the project was late. It was delayed for several years. So one of the big topics this year has been (to say) ‘Hey look, we need Highway 12, we don’t want to wait 12 years before we start on the next (phase).’”
Mastin said local officials are working with WSDOT officials and state legislators “to make sure that they understand the importance of when this package passes, that when we put together the project list, as far as implementation occurs, that we need Highway 12 toward the front of that list rather than at the back end.”