US Highway 12, other state roads need upgrading

But funding billions of dollars in projects will be tricky. Regional as well as state funding should be considered.

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Have you driven in Seattle-area rush hour traffic lately?

It’s a trick question. The Puget Sound area — from Everett to Tacoma — no longer has a rush hour. The traffic is always backed up on Interstate 5 and nearly every roadway during daylight hours and, sometimes, late into the night.

Traffic is a mess over there.

Eastern Washington roads have some problems, too, although they tend to be more focused on safety than congestion.

Nevertheless, many of the two-lane highways in the eastern half of the state need to be upgraded to four-lanes, particularly the stretch of U.S. Highway 12 from Lowden to Wallula Junction.

If the Legislature approves a comprehensive plan to address the state transportation needs, Highway 12 construction could be funded in the next year or two.

In initial talks about a transportation plan in the Legislature last spring, $126 million of the proposal’s $10 billion was targeted for Highway 12.

But the transportation package, which was to be funded with a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax, fizzled as Senate Republicans and House Democrats locked horns in a protracted budget battle.

Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, isn’t giving up. He said in September he is considering calling lawmakers back to Olympia before the end of this year to approve a multibillion dollar transportation plan.

Last week at a Senate Transportation Committee hearing in Seattle — the ninth stop on a 10 stop statewide tour — a crowd of 450 strongly favored taking action.

This enthusiasm in Seattle should not be mistaken for blanket statewide support for a dime increase in the gasoline tax.

But it, combined with the support reported at other stops on the tour, should be incentive to move forward to come up with plans to address statewide concerns as well as local needs.

While we emphatically want to see the four-laning of Highway 12 project completed, we balked this spring at boosting the price of gasoline through a 10-cent-a-gallon tax because we feared it would delay the state’s recovery from the seemingly endless Great Recession.

Even now, that dime increase seems high. However, perhaps an extra nickel would not be too much.

And then to raise the requested funding, perhaps some of the cash raised through the gas-tax hike could be used as matching funds for regional projects. An added fee could also be put on hybrids and electric cars.

Fixing the road woes in the Puget Sound area are big-ticket items compared to Eastern Washington. Requiring regional contributions (as has been done before) could help generate the money needed, keep the state gas tax lower and perhaps make a package palatable across the state.

Nobody wants higher taxes, but Washington’s highway infrastructure needs improving — and the two-lane stretch of Highway 12 illustrates the point.

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