Where McKenna & Inslee stand on $1.9 billion needed to replace 520 through Seattle

Image: WSDOT Flickr pool

Of our State’s many fiscal problems, the issue of raising the $1.9 billion* needed to replace 520 through Seattle is a question that continues to loom over Olympia. The next Governor will oversee this expenditure, amidst a competitive funding climate for other interests. So how does the next Governor plan to raise the money?

At last week’s Gubernatorial debate, both Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna stated their support for tolling the I-90 Bridge and each promised to include 520 funding in a comprehensive transportation package to be sent to voters. Since tolls are expected to raise around half of the $1.9 billion, the remainder will likely come as tax increases.

However, the candidates differ on how tolls should be collected on I-90. McKenna wants to study HOT tolling on the I-90 center express lanes. This would preserve toll-free general lanes while charging for the (theoretically less congested) center lanes based on real-time traffic demand — as is done on SR 167 through Kent.

I-90 Bridge with Sound Transit light rail. Image: mercerislandblogger.wordpress.com

McKenna, a long-time skeptic of running light rail over I-90, was also asked if he would obstruct Sound Transit’s East Link approved by voters in 2008. His answer: no, that’s a regional issue, not a state issue. But here McKenna enters into a catch-22: his HOT lane plan conflicts with light rail already set to use the I-90 center lanes. As Governor, McKenna will either obstruct light rail or have to find different way to raise money for 520.

While Inslee doesn’t dig himself into a hole, he also doesn’t offer specifics beyond tolling all of I-90 and putting a transportation package up for voter approval. His website statement on replacing 520:

The SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program is already creating hundreds of jobs6 – new pontoons to direct construction are being built in Aberdeen, Tacoma and Kenmore. Completion will ensure this corridor between two of Washington’s biggest economic centers remains open and safe. While the replacement of the east end of the floating bridge is financed and underway, we need to keep our commitment and momentum moving forward on the west side as well. Additionally, we should look to targeted investments in SR 520 interchanges on the east side of Lake Washington that could spur hundreds of millions of dollars in new economic investment. Companies like Microsoft and Group Health are poised to build campus expansions and mixed-use developments, equivalent to two downtown Spokanes, if we take the time to upgrade SR 520 interchanges at 124th and 148th Streets.

Watch this clip from the October 16th debate to hear more from the candidates about tolling I-90 to pay for 520. Discussion of other issues here.

* The 520 Replacement project is currently $2.2 billion short, but WSDOT expects to soon receive a federal loan worth up to $320 million. This will fund construction of half of the West Approach, connecting the new floating bridge to Montlake Blvd, and avoiding the nightmare scenario of building a floating bridge to nowhere.

UPDATE: Thursday 10/25 9:30pm

WSDOT revised its 520 Replacement budget downwards today. The unfunded need is now $1.4 billion. More details here.

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