Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gas tax rise could aid bistate road/rail bridge

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Washington State legislative Democrats still hope to advance a transportation tax package that would fund up to $8.4 billion of projects statewide, including the contentious Columbia River Crossing (CRC) that would carry road and passenger rail traffic across the namesake river, linking Vancouver, Wash., with Portland, Ore.

The current plan retains a proposal to raise the state's gasoline tax by 10 cents per gallon, phased in over a four-year period. Washington's current gas tax stands at 37.5 cents a gallon, roughly the ninth highest state tax in the U.S., according to data from the American Petroleum Institute. Such revenue would help provide $450 million as the state's share for the new CRC, which state Republicans have resisted, citing concerns about clearance for riverbound cargo.

Closer to the bridge site itself, several local Republican officials have made little secret of seeking a bridge without provisions for light rail transit (LRT) to link Vancouver with Portland's TriMet system. One, state Sen. Sen. Don Benton, who represents Vancover, has linked insufficient bridge clearance issues with light rail's inclusion.

Officials from Portland and Oregon, however, have made it clear LRT must be part of any overall bistate bridge development, estimated at $3.1 billion.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently warned Washington state officials that failure to supply state matching funds to the Columbia River Crossing would jeopardize the $1.2 billion federal commitment to the project.

Washington Gov. Jay Imslee (D), responding to that admonition, said earlier this month, "It is now or never for building a bridge across the Columbia River ... We either take action this year or there will not be action for more than a decade across the Columbia River."