Inslee Calls for Transportation Package by Apple Cup – Aims Challenge at Senate

At AWB Meeting, Governor Also Calls for Revival of Controversial Columbia River Crossing Project – Tom, Schoesler are Unimpressed

By Erik Smith
Washington State Wire

All smiles, despite the message from the podium: Gov. Inslee presents AWB's legislator-of-the-year awards to Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and Rodney Tom, D-Medina. With them on the right is AWB chairman Doug Bayne.

All smiles, despite the message from the podium: Gov. Inslee presents AWB’s legislator-of-the-year awards to Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and Rodney Tom, D-Medina. With them on the right is AWB chairman Doug Bayne.

SUNCADIA, Sept. 18.—Gov. Jay Inslee threw down the gauntlet Wednesday to the state Senate, saying he wants a transportation package by the Apple Cup – and which might embrace the controversial Columbia River Crossing project to boot.

Appearing at the annual meeting of the Association of Washington Business at the Suncadia resort near Cle Elum, Inslee said he wants lawmakers to pass a transportation tax package and road-construction financing plan sometime before the Nov. 29 football game between the University of Washington and Washington State University. You might call the two-month deadline a direct challenge to the state Senate – and in particular to Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, who happened to be sitting in the room.

“I think there is an increasing ability to find a bipartisan solution, and we’re going to be talking to a lot of people in the next several weeks about that,” the governor said. “Our goal is this – to get a transportation package before the Apple Cup.”

Without saying it directly, Inslee was calling for a special session to be held Nov. 21 and 22, when the entire Legislature is going to be in Olympia anyway for a series of committee meetings. Offering his challenge in a room filled with the state’s business leaders was a move fraught with symbolism, as a transportation package is favored by a broad swath of the state’s business community, and the stand might help the Democratic governor drive a wedge between business and its natural allies in the Senate. His target was obvious if unmentioned by name – the largely Republican Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate that refused to take a vote on a transportation plan on the final day of the session, and was unwilling to extend the Legislature’s already-interminable special session over the summer months to hash out a deal.

Senate leaders Tom and Schoesler said afterward they were unimpressed. The governor presents a challenge that may be impossible to meet. The Senate this week launched a “listening tour” of meetings statewide seeking public input on a transportation plan, but the coalition is laying out an ambitious set of goals that include greater efficiency and accountability in transportation projects. It is the sort of agenda that would prove difficult to pass even when lawmakers are at the Capitol to negotiate, and it also depends on the outcome of a state-sponsored study of transportation costs that will not be completed until the end of December. But Tom and Schoesler said the governor’s call for a renewed effort to build a Columbia River bridge at Vancouver is the corker. It could end any prospect of a quick deal, particularly if it includes light rail. “Light rail across the Columbia River was one of the things that derailed the package last spring, so it has to be off the table or there is no deal,” Schoesler said.

Tom and Schoesler scored a symbolic victory of their own. As a matter of custom, the governor presented AWB’s annual awards to influential lawmakers and lobbyists. And so Inslee found himself handing trophies to his two top political rivals, as AWB named them “legislators of the year.” All three smiled sweetly for the cameras.

Calls for Columbia River Crossing

Inslee throws down the gauntlet.

Inslee throws out his challenge before a most-interested crowd: Transportation package by Apple Cup.

Speaking at the luncheon meeting of the business organization’s annual Fall Policy Summit, Inslee delivered a wide-ranging 35-minute speech that dealt with specific concerns to the state’s business community — a sharp contrast with his appearance before the same group in January, when he delivered a warmed-over version of his campaign stump speech. Among other things, Inslee said he hopes to make a convincing case to Boeing to build the next-generation 777 airliner in Washington state, and that he hopes to find a way to impose new, stringent water-quality standards in a way that satisfies Boeing and industry as well as Indian tribes. But the main thrust of the governor’s speech was transportation – and it seems he is making the Columbia River Crossing a sticking point once again as he did last session.

Inclusion of the bridge in this year’s proposal for a 10.5-cent gas-tax increase was the dealbreaker, as Republican lawmakers in the Vancouver area balked at the tax burden that would be imposed on Clark County by Oregon’s insistence that the bridge carry tracks for the greater Portland area’s Tri-Met light rail system.

Though Inslee said two weeks ago at a Seattle news conference that he would be willing to sign a transportation bill that does not contain money for the Columbia River Crossing, he said Wednesday that he views completion of the new bridge as a vital economic development measure for southwest Washington. He stopped short of saying that the bridge must be included in the transportation package he expects lawmakers to pass in two months’ time, but the effect is the same. Key members of the Senate Majority Coalition say that if the bridge is back on the table, any transportation package has to lay the light rail issue to rest once and for all.

In his remarks, Inslee appeared to endorse a proposal from Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber for a go-it-alone Oregon-only plan to build the bridge.

“We have a 100-year-old bridge,” he said. “Its pilings were put in the river when Woodrow Wilson was president. We have got to replace that bridge, everybody knows that. We did not succeed in having a legislative solution to this, but I want to report that I think we have found a creative way to move forward and get that bridge done, by delaying some of the work that would have otherwise have been in the original project.

“Moving forward, the local community is really coming together. The business community is very excited about our ability to move forward and find a way to finance this. I think we may have found a way to do this without any showstoppers. So we are continuing to work across the river to find that solution and get that bridge built even though we don’t have a particular funding source in the transportation funding from the state of Washington.”

Calls Transportation Top Priority

Inslee said passage of a transportation package ought to be a top priority for business. It’s not just that a road-construction effort would be a shot in the arm for contractors and workers alike. “It is just as important to move quickly and efficiently as it is important to move apples and airplane parts,” the governor said. “This is also about businesses that need their employees to come to work on time and not get stuck in traffic.”

Inslee said he also believes the state Department of Transportation should be accountable – though he left unmentioned the multi-million-dollar DOT errors that have prompted the concerns from Republican lawmakers, and instead said the agency has been doing outstanding work of late. He cited the completion of a temporary replacement span for the Skagit River Bridge on Interstate 5, which splintered like matchsticks last May when it was struck by a semi. “Nobody thought [Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson] was going to be able to put up a bridge in 27 days across the Skagit River. She won a lot of bets with a lot of people across the country about how long it was going to take.”

And Inslee found a way to link that catastrophic accident – which arguably had nothing to do with road maintenance – with the need for a transportation package. “Here are a couple of factoids that I hope you will share with your colleagues in the next several weeks. Without a transportation package this year, the state will experience a 52 percent decrease in the maintenance budget for our bridges and roads in the next two years. Seventy-one additional bridges will become structurally deficient; some bridges may even have to be closed for safety reasons. Already the American Society of Civil Engineers has determined that 366 of our bridges are structurally deficient and 1,693 are functionally obsolete.

“I’ve seen what a bridge looks like in the bottom of the river in the Skagit River. I do not want to see that scene again. We have got to have action this year to prevent this from occurring.”

Color Them Skeptical

Though Inslee did not lash out directly at the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus as he did in his press conference two weeks ago, when he blamed the Senate for its “sins,” Tom and Schoesler were quick to recognize the implied political criticism in the governor’s remarks. Schoesler noted that the Senate caucus wasn’t the only body that had problems with this year’s proposal. The majority Democrats in the House demonstrated no great enthusiasm for the tax package themselves, as they did not pass the tax proposal until the 151st day of the 153-day session, even though there was plenty of time for them to have done so in this year’s largely-idle 48-day special session. That left the Senate little time. Schoesler said, “It depends on how willing all the parties are to put their differences aside. Not just one but many different factions have to come together.”

Tom said the Senate is determined to assemble a proposal that gives the state the biggest bang for the buck – not just revamping the management of the state’s transportation projects but also placing more emphasis on congestion relief, by repairing and expanding the state’s existing highway system. A renewed emphasis on the Columbia River Crossing is a good way to bog everything down, he said. “If we are going to get back into that muck, you’re going to be where we are at, and my understanding was that the CRC was off the table. Let’s focus on those things we can agree on, and let’s take those things that are nonstarters off the table.”

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  • Kevin

    The bridge can be repaired, and a new bridge built to the west for real congestion relief. This can be done cheaper Oregon’s CRC/light rail boondoggle.

  • ?

    Color me obtuse, but I don’t understand the phrase “Without a transportation package this year, the state will experience a 52 percent decrease in the maintenance budget for our bridges and roads in the next two years.” Why will this happen?

    • Kage McClued

      It won’t. There’s no lie these people won’t tell to rape our wallets.

  • Doug Ericksen

    There simply is not enough money in to build the projects that we need if we continue the way we build projects today. We need structural reform and then we can determine if we need to ask the people for more money. Linked is an op-ed my good friends at the Seattle Times declined to run.

    Sen. Ericksen

    • 4theisland

      We know what your “structural reform” is, Doug. It’s “bust the unions.” Meanwhile Census data, not any “propaganda from a left-wing think tank,” shows that economic recovery is occurring more slowly in Clark County than in most other areas of the state.

      And still you, and Benton, and Rivers, and the rest of your caucus are preventing a bridge to Portland from including light rail, when light rail could relieve the burden on working poor in Clark County who have jobs in Oregon. The CRC, including light rail, would be a shot in the arm to the economy of Clark County at a time that Clark County needs it the most.

      Too bad your anti-tax religion, preached by mullahs like Lew Waters, gets in the way of doing something worthwhile for your state.

      • lewwaters

        And yet, your cabal blocks every effort to let the people voice their opinion by a vote on light rail.

        You even refuse to ever explain just how funneling revenues from Clark County to Portland, even more than already is funneled there, it such a “shot in the arm,” you just spew empty rhetoric.

        • 4theisland

          I-5 is an Interstate highway, and a vital link for West Coast transportation of goods and services. That includes moving people, pal. You can’t demonstrate, with any credibility whatever, that all the revenues would go to Portland, and that it wouldn’t be a two-way street.

          • lewwaters

            And just how does Portland’s financially ailing light rail, along with its $1.6 Billion in unfunded liabilities contribute to any of what you claim?

            People manage to move themselves just fine, pal, without being strapped with generations of debt to service less than 5% of the population, pal.

            Don’t want to pay for it? I don’t want it at all, pal.

            And again, you fail to explain just how it is any “shot in the arm,” just regurgitate the same, tired empty rhetoric, pal.

          • Kage McClued

            Clearly you know as much about the CRC as you do brain surgery.

            It’s easy to “demonstrate” that the revenue would “go to Portland.”

            Google Oregon CRC ‘go it alone’ plan and see where Washington State has to give up its sovereignty in tolls for this project to happen.

            Further, TriMet, already hundreds of billions in debt would run the loot rail scam..,. sucking cash out of Clark County into their economic black hole.

            Spending billions on a loot rail project that the people don’t want ot need… replacingt a functional, safe bridge with another one to save 60 seconds off the commute…. that is sheer, unadulterated union genius.

            Yoking 65,000 commuters with tolls for the next 45 years… costing them $2000 a year EAC H for that time period isn’t an economic “shot in the arm,” it is, instead, an “economic shot in the head.”

            It’s not just that CRC Scammers lie… it’s that they do it so badly.

          • Kage McClued

            billions in debt should read “millions”

          • normally_sane

            Downtown Vancouver would suffer immense damage being cut off from I-5 and SR 14 for five years, some shot in the arm that would be. The iron workers union and Carpenters union members who would benefit from the construction mainly live in Portland, and the other operations and manufactures would also occur either in Portland or out of state.

            For example, TMF has an agreement that supposedly awards them the contract for building the component parts of the CRC Light Rail Bridge span, however the very process that awarded it may not have had the legal authority to make that award. Especially in leiu of a competitive bid. The conflict of interests is such that adding more Bar-B-Que or Chile Sauce cannot disguise the rotten meat used in the sleaze.

            Some shots! But they are not medicinal, and they are not injected by care givers. It is more like buck shot blasted at the general direction of our heads, and hearts from a double barrel shotgun.

        • Kage McClued

          And if it takes “busting the unions” that’s fine by me, and an increasing number of Americans.

          • 4theisland

            Yeah, whatever. But time is not on your side of the argument. This is a major transportation choke point on a major trade route in the most trade-dependent state in the union, and sooner or later, the sheer weight of economic necessity will overwhelm your anti-tax religion. You can have the last word on this blog. I’ll laugh last in the bigger picture.

          • Kage McClued

            Is showing ignorance your forte’?

            I’m not “anti-tax.” I AM, however, “anti-STUPID tax.” And 45 yeasrs of tolls for THIS nonsense is asinine in every level.

            What you and the rest of the CRC Scammers won’t admit is that as it is now, people up to, on and over the bridge frequently sit in traffic.

            Under YOUR plan, people up to, on and over the bridge will frequently sit in traffic, and get to pay $8 plus in tolls every day for the privilege… Two THOUSAND dollars a year that many will not be able to afford.

            For what?

            The governor of Oregon let the cat out of the bag when he demanded light rail, saying “no light rail? No bridge.”

            In doing so, even HE admitted that this isn’t about “choke points” or “safety, or freight mobility or congestion.”

            If it were, then he’d yank loot rail, raise the bridge height to avoid mitigation and get this damned thing built.

            You’ll pass out “in the bigger picture.” This bridge has always been about nothing BUT light rail from the beginning, according to the Oregon Supreme Court.

            So, go ahead and read this if you need a few laughs, funny boy:


            So in that regard?

            I’ve got all the time in the world.

          • normally_sane

            What a pathetic statement. This is not a statement from someone with the best interests of the region in mind, much less the people of SW Washington. That Last laugh is the sentiment of a tyrant who’s religion does not address the generation of dollars only the borrowing of same.
            Pitiful example too, a waste of time to argue with. I do hope you can laugh after the “Big Bridge” Fails. Laughter may be all you have left.

          • Kevin

            The Choke Point is still there even with the boondoggle bridge.
            Portland had no plans to widen I-5, it goes against their anti-auto religion. So as soon as you would have passed over your new bridge, you’d be choked again.

      • normally_sane

        There is no evidence that sanity would recognize that the refusal to fund the “big” projects is an attempt at union busting. Quite the contrary. If the projects we know can be built that will actually relieve congestion, are coupled with the maintenance and repairs that are required on roads already in use, there will be more jobs for union wage earners in one year than the entire CRC would provide over the course of ten years.
        There is no evidence and no proof that Light rail will do anything but relieve Clark County residents of much needed dollars and decrease revenues.
        I can do stuff with statistics too, but I only will say that the lack of investment in Clark County that would bring much needed jobs and relief is due to this unending attempt to ram a too costly and impotent Light Rail Bridge over the Columbia. The thought ever occur to you that the prospect of dong business without the CRC/Orgon Suicide pact and without the burden of Maxx on Clark County is actually appealing to investors. But they are probably not the investors you prefer.

  • lewwaters

    The fallacy of a hundred year old bridge needs to end. Yes, it was initially built then, but when the Southbound span was opened in 1958, the Northbound span was closed and rebuilt to meet the same standard as the newer span.

    All of the cries of unsafe, ease congestion, improve freight mobility or create jobs fell apart when they cry became, “no light rail, no bridge.”

    This whole project from day one has been nothing more than Oregon hoping to tap into Clark County revenues to help make up the difference in their $.16 Billion in unfunded liabilities.

    Jay Inslee is nothing more than a tool of Oregon and the socialist Democrats ready to pick your pocket for special interests.

    • normally_sane

      I only wish they would say that about the George Washington Bridge, nearly as old, arguably the busiest bridge in the world, with a clearance at mid span of 212 ft. It even has pedestrian and bike paths. But man I guess they will have to replace it in a couple of years as it is nearly 100 years old!!!!!!!!

  • Kage McClued

    Will Inslee set himself on fire when he doesn’t get one?

    • Jack Buckmeir


  • normally_sane

    “Let’s focus on those things we can agree on, and let’s take those things that are nonstarters off the table.” Senator Tom!
    This is how compromise is achieved.

  • Robert Dean

    The $2.8 billion (with a B) light rail bridge across the Columbia is to be 63% funded by tolls on mostly Washington state residents. The toll rates and duration are to be set by Oregon and all revenues will go to Oregon. Every dollar sent by Washington residents to Salem is a dollar that doesn’t go to Olympia.

  • Robert Dean

    The Mayor of Vancouver, @Timothy D Leavitt, works for a private engineering firm that holds an open ended $half million on-call services contract with Portland’s TriMet. The Mayor, and his private employer, really, really, really want TriMet to be able to extend their financially troubled Max light rail system into Vancouver.