By Eric Pryne
Washington voters may get the opportunity to decide this fall
whether to open all high-occupancy-vehicle lanes to all traffic
during off-peak hours and weekends.
That provision is included in a sweeping transportation
initiative filed yesterday with the Office of the Secretary
of State by a group backed by Bellevue Square owner and freeway
booster Kemper Freeman Jr. It wasn't included in a draft of
the measure that began circulating around Olympia last month.
The initiative also would earmark 20 percent of the state's
28-cents-per-gallon gas tax, or 5.6 cents, to build more general-purpose
freeway and highway lanes. That's down from 10 cents in the
"Our transportation-planning system is broken, and
no significant road capacity has been built in more than a
decade," sponsor Dick Patten said.
The group that filed the initiative, Let's Get Washington
Moving of Kirkland, must collect 198,000 voter signatures
by July 2 to get the measure on the fall ballot.
Opening up the HOV lanes during off-peak hours "is
one of the easiest ways to increase capacity," said initiative
spokesman Brett Bader. "We all know it makes sense. Let's
just do it."
State Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald, who had called
the draft of the initiative "wacky," disagreed.
"Congestion would just get worse," he said yesterday.
"We don't believe there's going to be much of a nonpeak
for a while."
HOV lanes are limited to car pools, van pools and transit,
though last year the state Transportation Commission did vote
to open some suburban lanes to general traffic after 7 p.m.
Bader said the initiative's backers decided to trim the
share of the gas tax earmarked for new lanes from 10 cents
to 5.6 cents because "we just spent more time looking
at what was involved and the obligations the (Transportation)
Department has. ... We want to be reasonable and responsible."
But MacDonald said the initiative still would require either
big cuts in state highway maintenance, safety and rebuilding
programs, or an increase in the gas tax.
The initiative also would earmark portions of the existing
state sales tax on motor vehicles and weight fees paid by
trucks for new highway capacity. Altogether, Bader said, the
taxes would generate $8.56 billion over 10 years for projects
that would be required to meet congestion-relief criteria
spelled out in the measure.
While projects aren't specified, Freeman has in the past
urged construction of 27 projects in King, Snohomish and Pierce
counties, including two to four additional lanes on Interstate
5 from South Tacoma to Skagit County and a new freeway from
the Snoqualmie-North Bend area to south Snohomish County.
The initiative also would open HOV lanes to general traffic
at all hours if an analysis shows it would reduce peak-period
State campaign-finance disclosure documents show Freeman's
Kemper Development is the only donor to Let's Get Washington
Moving, contributing $40,000 last month. More than $14,000
of that went to Olympia lawyer Jim Johnson, who Bader said
was the initiative's chief drafter.
Johnson helped write tax rebel Tim Eyman's two most recent
statewide initiatives, which were approved by voters and later
upheld by the state Supreme Court.