The Legislature spent dizzying final days passing bills and budgets in order to get done by their midnight deadline on April 28, in which they did, by literal minutes.

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Overall, the transportation budget turned out okay for Counties. The operating and capital budgets are another story. You can read more about those here.

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Fish Passage Barrier Removal

The Legislature utilized both the transportation and capital budgets to fund fish passage barrier removal. They directed $26 million of capital funds to the Fish Barrier Removal Board (FBRB) where grants will be made eligible to local governments for culvert replacement. In addition, the Legislature directed $100 million of transportation funds to the Department of Transportation for statewide fish passage barrier removal projects.

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They also directed the WSDOT to coordinate with the FBRB on a “watershed approach to maximize habitat gain by replacing both state and local culverts.”

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This direction goes on to mandate WSDOT to “deliver high habitat value fish passage barrier corrections that it has identified, guided by the following factors: Opportunity to bundle projects, ability to leverage investments by others, presence of other barriers, project readiness, other transportation projects in the area, and transportation impacts.”

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While I was hoping that the Legislature fund the Fish Barrier Removal Board at its full request ($50 million), the $26 million is a step in the right direction. I am also very pleased the Legislature provided direction that the State coordinate with local governments in its replacement of culverts.

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Funding

The final 2019-2021 Transportation Budget proposal includes a total appropriation of around $10.0 billion for the two-year fiscal period, up almost $600 million from the level adopted for the 2017-19 biennium in the 2018 supplemental budget. Highlights of the budget include:

  • Full funding for the County Road Administrative Board (CRAB);
  • Full gas tax distributions;
  • Full funding for the Transportation Improvement Board (TIB);
  • Funding for the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board (FMSIB);
  • Language authorizing counties to utilize our fuel-tax study money for continued fish passage barrier/culvert inventories, coordination with WSDOT to update the Local Agency Guidelines Manual (LAG), and efforts to research potential new revenue streams for county road departments;
  • $150,000 for the Cooper Jones Active Transportation housed within the Transportation Safety Commission for identification of opportunities to improve safety in the transportation system.
  • $300,000 for WSDOT to pilot a multimedia public information campaign in Whatcom County, regarding the damage of studded tire use on state and local roadways, and to continue the existing public information campaign in Spokane County;
  • Up to $17.5M to revive a new toll bridge over Columbia River to replace the aging I-5 bridge between Portland and Clark County, WA;
  • $29 million for the safe routes to schools grant program;
  • $25 million for bicycle and pedestrian safety grants;
  • $14.3 M for a new capital grant program to aid transit authorities in funding cost-effective capital electrification projects;
  • $555,000 to support a Washington State University education program for public agencies on usage and procurement of alternative fuel vehicles.
  • $20.75 million I-90/Barker to Harvard – Improve Interchanges & Local Roads;
  • $36.5 million I-90 Snoqualmie Pass – Widen to Easton;
  • $11.2 million SR 26/Dusty to Colfax – Add Climbing Lanes;
  • $11 million SR 155/Omak Bridge Rehabilitation;
  • $188 million for a new 144-car hybrid electric vessel
  • $5 million for the WSDOT Aviation Program for the Aviation Airport Lean Revolving Account to implement the new general aviation airport loan program; and
  • Continued support for the Road Usage Charge study by the Transportation Commission.

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Joint Transportation Committee Studies

The Joint Transportation Committee was also given a number of studies that counties will have an interest in and may require county participation. These include:

  • $450,000 for the JTC to conduct a comprehensive assessment of statewide transportation needs and priorities, and existing and potential transportation funding mechanisms to address those needs and priorities. The assessment must include: recommendations on the critical state and local transportation projects, programs, and services needed to achieve an efficient, effective, statewide transportation system over the next ten years; a comprehensive menu of funding options for the legislature to consider to address the identified transportation system investments; and (c) an analysis of the economic impacts of a range of future transportation investments. The assessment must be submitted to the transportation committees of the legislature by June 30, 2020.
  • $450,000 for the JTC to conduct an analysis into the electrification of public fleets in WA, including counties. The JTC must inventory existing public fleets for the state, counties, a sampling of cities and transit, and must differentiate among battery and fuel cell electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, gasoline-powered vehicles, and any other functional categories.
  • $250,000 for the JTC to conduct a study of the feasibility of an east-west intercity passenger rail system.

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Surface Transportation Program federal fund swap

Disappointingly, the final transportation budget did not include a proviso we had requested that would have allowed WSDOT and counties to swap STP federal funds for state funds. If you recall, the House proposed budget did include language, but the Senate did not. In the end, lawmakers chose to include a program in their final compromise budget.

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The good news is WSACE did make strides with the issue session, with success in getting WSDOT to work with us on our efforts. As I look toward the interim and the 2020 legislative session I am already strategizing our approach and messaging moving forward.

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Legislation

The vast majority of the over 2100 bills introduced during the 2019 legislative session did not make it to the Governor’s desk. Of the dozens of bills I followed through session (you can view those here), several of particular interest to counties have made it to the Governor’s desk. As of today, he has yet to take action on these bills, but I anticipate they will be signed into law over the coming weeks.

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They include:

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SSB 5179Senator Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood), would raise the current $10,000 bid limit threshold for county electrical illumination equipment procurement and work to $40,000.  As a reminder, this is a WSACE priority bill and continues to move through the legislative process.

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The bill passed the Legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

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SB 5418Senator Dean Takko (D-Kelso), concerns local government procurement. This bill has a number of provisions in it relating to local government procurement, including, allowing counties to utilize unit-priced contracts, and increasing the small works bid process from $300,000 to $350,000 (the original bill raised the limit to $500,000).

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The bill passed the Legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

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SB 5505Senator Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), specifies that WSDOT stormwater fees to local government utilities must be used for facilities and best management practice implementation focused only on state highway runoff. It also requires local government utilities to provide an expenditure plan and annual progress report before receiving DOT stormwater fees. Counties have significant concerns with this bill.

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The bill passed the Legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

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SB 5883Senator Curtis King (R-Yakima) concerns vehicle weight loads carrying farm products. The bill was amended in the House Transportation Committee where it was stripped of the increased weight load provisions (a good thing!). The bill now modifies the penalties for a violation of the gross vehicle weight laws when the vehicle carrying farm products from the field where grown exceeds gross vehicle weight limits by 5 percent or less. The bill first requires that a written warning be issued, rather than an infraction, if the driver has not been issued a traffic infraction or has received no more than one written warning in the calendar year.

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The bill passed the Legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

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SB 5923: Senator Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), establishes a county road administration board emergency fund. This bill authorizes the County Road Administration Board (CRAB) to create an emergency revolving loan program for certain counties for road or bridge work that is necessary due to a natural or manmade event for which a disaster was declared. WSACE is supportive of this legislation.

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The bill passed the Legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

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HB 1325: Representative Shelly Kloba (D-Kirkland), Establishes a regulatory framework for the operation of personal delivery devices, which are automated devices intended to deliver property via sidewalks and crosswalks. At one point this legislation preempted local authority to be able to regulate these devices. However, the final bill allows counties to establish guidelines and regulations around their uses on our roads, including banning them altogether.

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The bill passed the Legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.