Transcript: Washington Gubernatorial Candidates Debate Tolling, Light Rail

Highway tolls and light rail were transportation issues discussed during the Washington State Gubernatorial debate. Image – WSDOT

The final debate in the Washington Governor’s debate was held Tuesday night. Here’s the transcript of an exchange about tolling and light rail. Also see the transcript of a question about reforming and funding the ferry system.

Moderator: The next Governor may be asking for tolls to help pay for the 520 bridge – tolls across I-90 – and there are also plans that the State Transportation Commission has been looking at in the long term to expand tolling to other parts of the state, including parts of I-5, I believe the I-405 express lanes and other areas maybe even Snoqualmie Pass. Do you support these tolling options as a way to pay for our transportation infrastructure?

McKenna: Well we know that we’re going to need to have tolls on the new Columbia River Bridge. We need to make sure they’re not so high that they disadvantage commuter from Clark County since a large number of them go across the bridge. And I agree with Clark County residents who say right now the plan is unfair to them, the tolls are too high. But there will be some role for tolls on facilities like that one because that’s how they were built to begin with. Number two, tolling on HOV lanes which is being used right now on SR 167 is a tool that can be used on other highways as well. It is being studied for I-405, it ought to be studied for I-90, the express lanes on I-90, so that we can get greater utilization of the I-90 center roadway.

So we’ll be working on a financing plan that will cover 520 and other projects. There’ll be a comprehensive transportation package that we’ll bring out to the voters of the state that will assure the financing for 520, will assure that Seattle taxpayers are not on the hook for viaduct cost overruns if there are any. We’ll provide preservation, safety and maintenance investments, we’ll include a transit component, and this will be rolled up into a package that we’ll work on a bipartisan basis with the legislature to produce taking to the voters for their consideration. Tolls will be in the mix, as they have been in past packages.

Inslee: There’s much of that I agree, and I want to mention a couple of things.  First is when we do the next transportation package we have to focus again on the fundamental challenge we have in the state. Again, if we’re gonna fund education we’ve got to create jobs and to create jobs we have to pay particular attention to freight mobility. That’s why in the package I will be assembling we’re gonna make sure we allow transportation so we don’t lose manufacturing plants because we can’t move our freight from one place to another. Particular I think because I’ve been in Eastern Washington, I think I understand the importance of that.

Now there’s also an important point in the next transportation package and it’s this. We have to look at all of our options to reduce congestion. And that includes light rail, that includes public transportation system that runs on rail. And when we make a decision where and how to do that, I don’t think we should be driven or inhibited by ideology. We should make good decisions. The voters here have made a decision to do light rail across Lake Washington. I fully support that. I disagree with my opponent who says that he’s still opposed to that after the voters have said they want to move forward on that. I think on the Columbia River Crossing we have to recognize reality, we’re gonna need to have rail to make sure that we get federal funding. It’s important to move forward with light rail in this state.

Moderator follow up: Mr. McKenna, on light rail you have been a critic in the past, would you be an obstacle to expansion in the future? What would you do?

McKenna: No I won’t be an obstacle because it’s now a regional decision it’s not a state decision. Congressman Inslee confuses the issue by making it sound like somehow the state will be deciding, the Governor will be deciding. That’s false. In fact, the decision has been made by the voters. I have concerns about the technical feasibility of running fixed rail and one ribbon of steel across a floating bridge with many pontoons, but that will be a problem for Sound Transit to work out. Meanwhile, we need to invest in bus rapid transit, in bus transit we know will work and we can get out there very quickly.

Inslee:  I think actually the state is still involved in many different ways in the light rail project across the lake. It needs to be coordinated with our highways. To say that our state is not involved in that, I find that a little surprising given the fact that we have to work in conjunction between state planners and the locals. And I have been clear in my position from day one that this is something that we need to move forward with. And the reason is that we’re a forward looking state. Look this is one of things I think is important in the Governor’s race. We move forward on transportation. We move forward on jobs creation. We move forward on health care reform. And I think that’s way we’re gonna get our economy going again. The status quo is not good enough.  We need to change it.