Gas tax money headed to Island County

A new bridge, highway safety improvements and another ferry in the state fleet are among the benefits Island County will see with the defeat of Initiative 912 in the November election.

The happiest person in the county when the voting results were known had to be Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, who as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee helped convinced the Legislature to pass a new gas tax last spring.

The gas tax was increased by 3 cents per gallon this year. It will be hiked another 3 cents in 2006, 2 cents in 2007 and 1.5 cents in 2008.

Initiative 912 was an effort to repeal those gas tax increases, and Haugen fought hard against the initiative.

The Republican Party supported the tax repeal effort. Locally, 10th District Reps. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and Chris Strow, R-Freeland, voted against the tax package in the Legislature.

“It’s a personal victory for me,” Haugen said Thursday. Not only did the initiative fail statewide, it also failed in tax-shy Island County, where 52 percent of the voters turned down the chance to save money at the gas pump.

As a result, billions of dollars will roll in to the state Department of Transportation in coming years. Most pre-election publicity went to two big-ticket items in the Seattle area, replacing the Alaskan Way viaduct and Highway 520 floating bridge, but a lot of the new money will be spread around the state, including Island County.

The transportation spending package includes money for a new bridge connecting Camano Island to the mainland, replacing the Mark Clark Bridge which Haugen said is past its lifespan. The bridge is built on fill across the tideflats.

Haugen said a new state ferry will be constructed with the gas tax money, which will benefit the fleet as a whole. Also included is a walkway at the Clinton ferry terminal, so people can walk directly onto the ferry passenger deck, rather than going through the car deck. That’s a few years away yet, Haugen said.

Haugen said island commuters will see a train station in Mukilteo in about two years for an easy rail commute to Seattle and other points south. She was hoping to provide a temporary station in the meantime, but she’s now doubtful that will happen due to Sound Transit opposition.

North Whidbey residents will see further safety improvements to Highway 20, all the way from Anacortes to the freeway in Burlington.

Gas tax money will be doled out to cities such as Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Langley, as well as Island County and Island Transit. “There’s a small cities program and a safe passage to schools program,” Haugen said. Jurisdictions will be able to apply for funding to make school route safety improvements.

When the campaign began, initiative supporters were thought to have the advantage. But Haugen said a lot of people, including some Republicans, fought against the initiative and in the end they prevailed. “It was a case of really informing the public,” she said. “We’ve done what the public asked, we told them how the money’s going to be spent.”

In other ballot measures, Island County results reflected the statewide results. I-900, calling for performance audits of state and local governments, passed here with 59 percent support. Island County voters were happy to banish smokers from all public buildings, as I-901 passed with 63 percent support.

In the ballot box battle of doctors versus lawyers, both lost statewide as well as in Island County. I-330, which would have limited lawsuit awards against doctors, received a 52 percent negative vote in Island County. The initiative favored by lawyers, I-336, went down with a 64 percent no vote. It would have made it easier to revoke the licenses of doctors who are frequently sued for malpractice, among other things.

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