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Wildlife wins with Gov

Dec 22, 2012

The outgoing Governor Gregoire's vision for moving forward with transportation in our state details several wins for wildlife, and raises a few questions as the legislative session begins.

Wildlife wins with Gov

Deer in the road, WSDOT

Earlier this week, outgoing Governor Chris Gregoire released two final documents on her vision for moving forward with transportation in our state. The documents detail several wins for wildlife and raises a few questions as the legislative session begins.

The budget continues support for Washington's first I-90 wildlife overpass and includes no specific funding through 2023 for the controversial and destructive Cross-Base Highway.

First, the Governor released her final transportation budget proposal. This budget upholds the commitment made last legislative session that allows the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project to keep savings from the first phase of construction and apply those savings to a second phase that includes Washington's first wildlife overpass. The budget ensures design for a second phase of the project occurs in this biennium (2013-2015), and construction begins in 2015. That's good for wildlife that use this busy corridor for movement north and south.

The proposed budget also includes no specific funding through 2023 for the controversial and destructive Cross-Base Highway (SR 704). "This budget proposal would move forward that widely supported I-90 project that addresses our states most vital east-west transportation corridor, which bisects an important north-south wildlife corridor," said Conservation Northwest's Jen Watkins. "It also wisely does not spend our state's limited dollars on building a brand new highway through some of our last remaining oak woodland prairies."

"We are very relieved to see that the Cross-Base Highway is not funded in this budget through 2023, "said Watkins. The highway if built would harm native prairie wildlife like the streaked horned lark and Mazama pocket gopher.

Second, the Governor released a document detailing the vital role that our state’s transportation system plays in our economy and lives. Recognizing the lack of consensus from transportation stakeholders towards a plan to fund additional investments, the Governor instead provided a five-page document to help legislators, the new Governor, interest groups, and the public understand the urgency of the issues.

More about the transportation vision

  • The document dedicates a section to listing projects that will “complete essential investments” by our state, and the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project is the first on the list.  The document states, “On an average day, 27,000 vehicles travel over Snoqualmie Pass. Nearly $80 billion in cargo traverses this corridor every year. Additional investments are necessary to keep the only direct route for products flowing from Eastern Washington farms to Puget Sound ports open despite heavy traffic and frequent avalanches. The unfunded amount of this project is $390 million.”  
  • Following the recognition of the high priority I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project, the document also proposes $820 million in investments in the Joint Base Lewis McChord/I-5 corridor in Pierce County. We understand that there is a tremendous need to improve traffic flow throughout this corridor, but we have questions about what projects are included within this investment.  Earlier this year, the Puget Sound Regional Council (a body that makes transportation investment recommendations in the Puget Sound region), included the Thorne Lane Interchange in a package of JBLM/I-5 corridor improvements. The Thorne Lane Interchange as it is currently designed is the western terminus of the Cross-Base Highway, and is only necessary as it is currently designed if you assume that you will build this brand new highway. This interchange must be excluded or redesigned to separate it from the Cross-Base Highway before being funded so as not to trigger our Stay Agreement with the Washington Department of Transportation. 

As we look ahead to the coming legislative session, we strongly appreciate the recognition of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project in both the transportation budget and list of essential projects to complete. We also applaud the lack of funding provided to the Cross-Base Highway project, and will work with the legislature to ensure that the improvements sought to improve traffic flow along I-5 in Pierce County exclude components of this controversial project.

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