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Gas tax, Highway 20 funding go up

Highway 20 will see some improvements thanks to a transportation bill approved by the Legislature, acting over the weekend in the final hours of the 2003 regular session.

All three 10th District legislators voted for the bill, which increases the gas tax by 5 cents per gallon. Presently 23 cents, the tax will rise to 28 cents July 1. The bill also raised other taxes, adding a .03 percent sales tax on motor vehicles and a 15 percent hike in weight fees for commercial trucks. The taxes will produce an estimated $4.2 billion over 10 years.

Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, described the bill as “a well-balanced package that funds many different transportation improvements besides roads.” Also voting yes were State Reps. Barry Sehlin and Barbara Bailey, Oak Harbor Republicans.

A number of safety improvements are set for Highway 20, a dangerous roadway which connects Whidbey Island to I-5 in Mount Vernon. “Highway 20 is a major thoroughfare for Skagit County, but it’s also important to Island County because it’s the only road off Whidbey Island,” Haugen said, predicting that improvements will save lives.

Here are the Highway 20 highlights:

l $86 million over 10 years for additional lanes, guardrails and lighting.

l $77 million to expand the 2-lane highway to 4-lanes from Fredonia to I- 5 near Burlington, and to redesign the I-5 intersection.

l $2.1 million to add turn lanes in each direction from Ducken Road to Rosario Road, plus guardrails and lighting.

l $7 million toward eliminating the intersection at Deception Road and the western intersection with Miller Road, and add turn lanes from Quiet Cove Road to the Highway 20 spur.

The transportation bill also includes an influx of funds for Washington State Ferries, including $120 million to make the Mukilteo terminal more accessible to passenger rail lines and buses; $67 million for renovations to the Anacortes terminal; $36 million for catch-up work to the system’s 29 vessels; and $67 million for one new auto ferry in addition to 3 planned with current revenue.

For area rail fans, $21 million will be spent on the tracks between Seattle and Bellingham to improve Amtrak’s popular service to Vancouver, B.C.

The governor has said he will sign the transportation package. The Legislature will reconvene May 12 for a special session to act on a variety of issues, including the 2003-2005 budget.

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