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Voters will get final say on transportation plan

The Legislature agreed on a $7.7 billion state transportation package that will benefit Kitsap County ferry commuters minutes before midnight Thursday, March 14.

But voters will get the final say on the plan, which will include a 9 cent per gallon gas tax and $90 million over 10 years to expand passenger-only ferry service.

The House approved the state plan 75-23 vote and the Senate passed it 30-17. The plan does not require the governor’s signature because it takes the form of a referendum.

The package would add passenger-only ferry service on new Kingston- and Southworth-Seattle routes.

Earlier Senate transportation budgets included no funds for the new passenger-only routes.

Steady lobbying by Kitsap lawmakers was credited with saving the foot ferry funds.

“Persistency is the key,” said Sen. Betti Sheldon, D-Bremerton. “It helps that there are nine (legislative representatives) from Kitsap. That makes a difference.”

Sheldon said it also helped that U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, monitored ferry negotiations in Olympia.

Sheldon added that informal talks in Olympia indicate the Chinook and Snohomish, the two passenger-only ferries currently operating out of Bremerton, could be moved to Kingston and Southworth.

In turn, a new “used” boat, built to travel quickly without causing wake damage in Rich Passage, could be purchased for the Bremerton-Seattle run.

“Rumors are a dime a dozen,” Sheldon said. “But that’s one of the things we’ll be looking at after the session concludes.”

The compromise plan would implement a 9-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, which would cost the average Washington driver about $6 per month. The gas tax would be phased in over two years.

The plan also relies on a 1 percent sales tax increase on new and used vehicles and a 30 percent increase on truck weight fees.

The Washington State Ferries would get $322 million for four replacement vessels and $273.5 million for terminal and vessel improvements and preservation over the next decade.

The Legislature also expected to approve a regional transportation package, which was negotiated in conjunction with the state transportation plan. The regional bill would allow King, Snohomish and Pierce counties to approve local-option tax increases to fund regional highway projects that the state can’t afford to take on itself. Tax options include sales taxes and car-licensing fees.

“I think it’s an overall compromise,” said Rep. Beverly Woods, R-Poulsbo. “I think we’re getting there and I am extremely pleased the Senate has moved toward the house plan on the passenger-only ferry front.”

The 60-day legislative session was scheduled to conclude on Thursday, March 14.

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