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Q&A: Sen. Curtis King on transportation

Sen. Curtis King (R-14th LD) is a ranking member of the Senate Transportation Committee. He served as Chair of the Committee from 2015 to 2017 and was the primary sponsor of the first transportation revenue package in more than a decade. 

The Wire circled back with Sen. King to talk about transportation infrastructure in Washington State. In the 2019 Infrastructure Report Card, Washington State received a C rating. Several transportation funding packages were introduced last session, including one from Sen. King, but none managed to pass the Legislature. 

Aaron Kunkler: What are you thinking about regarding transportation?

Sen. Curtis King: We can be here for a long time. There’s two or three or four people that have been working on a new transportation revenue package … I know that one of them is still very interested in possibly having a special session in regards to transportation and putting in a package for us to try and keep our transportation up to date. I think that’s going to be a challenge, but it’s still a possibility. The challenge we have, in my opinion, is we have those on the west side of the state that all of our money needs to go to bike paths and walking paths and and transit or light rail. Because they have all of the conditions and their desire to do that. And of course, they have more members in the Legislature than the east side does. 

So we have a hard time getting our message across that maybe transit is a big deal over on the west side, but it’s hard for us on this side to get around and do all of the things that that we do here. Particularly in the agricultural area, it’s hard for farmworkers. They get in that bus and go to a particular farm and work and you never know for certain how long you’re going to work. And so transit does not work quite as well as it does on the west side, but they tend to ignore that. 

…The [Department of Transportation] was telling us that they are starting to just let roads deteriorate if it’s the state highway and the speed limit is 45 miles an hour or less, they’re saying they’re not going to repair it. They’re just going to let the potholes become bigger and the decks on the bridges fall apart because there just isn’t the money to maintain them. So we have those challenges, and obviously somehow we have to address them. Now, normally you would say, ‘Well, you address that by increasing the gas tax.’ And that’s a possibility, but in regards to that, the Legislature and I would say the Democrats, passed two bills, one called Cap and Trade and the other one, the low carbon fuel standards, and most of those are going to have a very negative impact upon the price of gas. I can envision that by doing most of those we’re going to be at $5 a gallon or more. 

AK: What transportation policies would you like to see?

CK: Well, I think one, we have to maintain our roads much better than we are, and again, that takes money. But I will point out that part of our challenge has been this. The environmentalists are upset because the gas tax is protected by the 18th amendment, that says it can only be used for roads, bridges and highways. They don’t like that. So I would say that there are those within DOT that don’t like it. They’ve gotten around that. The best example I can give you is the new 520 bridge across Lake Washington. So that was built, and there’s a 14-foot wide lane that is strictly for bikes, and people all the way across the bridge. That’s one only for bikes, only for people that walk, and there is a major transit facility on each side of the lake … So when 520 was built, it was built mainly because it’s a highway, it’s a bridge. So you know who paid for the 14 foot lane that is for bikes and pedestrians? Gas money paid for that. 

…My point is, if we’re going to build a new highway, if we’re going to do anything and there’s a  there’s a sidewalk, or there’s some kind of a transit turn-out or something with transit, or if there’s a walking path, all that should come out of multimodal [funding]. The gas tax should only pay for the road or the bridge.

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