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Published on Monday, December 12, 2016

What do legislators and staff see as big issues to tackle in the transportation world in 2017?

The Washington Highway Users Federation (WHUF) held their interim briefing on December 6 to update stakeholders on the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package and what to expect on the transportation front in 2017.

Governor Inslee Policy Advisor Charles Knuston, OFM Budget Assistant Jay Balasbas, Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima), Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) and Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) were all on hand to provide their perspectives on what to expect during the coming session.

On the executive side, Balasbas reported to anticipate Governor Inslee to focus on continued rollout of the Connecting Washington package, with little changes to its current form. Compensation will also take center-stage, specifically, for personnel in the Washington State Patrol, Department of Transportation engineers and ferry workers. Washington has also just issued an RFP on a new tolling customer service provider, a process that will take 2-2 ½ years to complete.

Finally, the REAL ID Act will be a major focus. REAL ID was passed by Congress in 2005 after the 9/11 Commission recommended the federal government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.” Washington State is not in compliance with the federal standards, and after failing to receive a compliance extension earlier this year, Washington will need to tackle this issue or risk its residents not having appropriate identification to do things like board airplanes and access federal buildings.

Following Balasbas and Knutson’s presentations, Sens. Hobbs and King, and Rep. Orcutt shared their views of what they see on the horizon for 2017. All three agreed REAL ID will be a major focus in the Legislature. In addition, of note:

  • Sen. King spoke to the backlog of projects in the queue and lack of funds to pay for them. He announced “new revenue” must be a consideration to pay for these projects. These projects include, but are not limited to, the Snohomish County trestle project, Columbia River Crossing, outstanding issues on Highways 12 and 18 and the Bridge of the Gods in Hood River.
  • Sen. King and Rep. Orcutt touched on the freeway congestion issues the Seattle area is facing, and the rapid growth it is experiencing, and will experience, over the next decade. They both questioned how the transportation system will deal with this growth, citing the lack of capacity that exists.
  • Sen. Hobbs spoke to the need for ferry maintenance and the lack of dry dock space available in Washington.
  • Sen. Hobbs and Sen. King spoke about the Road Usage Charge (RUC) study and the ongoing conversations that need to occur in 2017.
  • Rep. Orcutt talked about the Alaskan Way Viaduct project and the cost overruns it has experienced. He maintained that the state would not pay for those overruns, and pointed to Seattle as the responsible party to pony up the bill.

While some have argued 2017 will be a relatively quiet year in the transportation world, the list above is indicates that might not be the case. AWC will continue to monitor and weigh in when necessary on these, and other transportation-related topics.

Categories: Transportation