In response to the passage of Initiative 976, Gov. Jay Inslee has announced that city transportation projects not yet underway will be postponed. For Lynnwood, this could mean uncertainty for the city’s plans to widen 196th Street Southwest.
Since the majority of state voters in November approved the “$30 car tab” measure sponsored by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman, government agencies have worried about the impact on local transportation budgets.
In a statement earlier this week, Inslee directed the Washington State Department of Transportation to delay more than 60 projects across the state for at least six months. According to the statement, the loss to the state’s transportation accounts during the 2019-21 biennium is estimated to be $451 million out of a $6.7 billion biennial budget, assuming I-976 is implemented in December.
Among the projects on Inslee’s list is the widening of 196th Street Southwest — a $40 million project that includes turning the five lanes into seven lanes, and adding a landscaped median and 12-foot-wide sidewalks. The 0.7-mile stretch of road is located in Lynnwood’s City Center district, which is the epicenter of the city’s designated regional growth center. The area is being planned as a downtown hub and will include apartment and office buildings. The project is anticipating $10 million in state funding that is now on hold while elected officials scramble to figure out how to address the budget cuts.
According to Lynnwood spokesperson Julie Moore, the city will be working with legislative representatives to reiterate the safety and maintenance elements of the project in addition to increasing capacity. The project is currently in the design and right-of-way acquisition phase and Moore said city staff will continue with that work.
“There is still a lot of be determined, but we will continue to advocate for this project and its importance to Lynnwood and the entire South County region,” she said.
Since its approval, I-976 has been met with resistance by local governments and transit agencies. The Lynnwood City Council has not discussed how it will address the impact of the initiative, but it did pass a resolution in October opposing the measure. The initiative received approval from 58.5% of Lynnwood voters in November.
The measure repeals the current law giving Washington state cities the authority to establish transportation benefit districts (TBDs) to impose a car tab fee, with the money designated for transportation improvements. Lynnwood assesses $4o per car tab, which brings in approximately $1.1 million annually to help fund street paving, sidewalk improvements and other transportation needs, said City of Lynnwood Public Works Director Bill Frantz.
On Nov. 20, the city’s Transportation Benefit District Board – which is comprised of Lynnwood City Councilmembers – is scheduled to review the city’s plan for a 2020 balanced budget that includes already-planned cuts to the city’s paving program for next year.
Since Lynnwood City Council meeting agendas are set for the rest of the year, there will be no time to discuss the measure until 2020. Moore said this time will allow the council to form a plan for how the city will address the revenue lost because I-976 prohibits the city from collecting
The city’s Transportation District Benefit board — which is comprised of Lynnwood City Councilmembers — voted at its Nov. 20 meeting to adopt an ordinance amending its 2020 budget to remove the revenue for the $40 car tab fees starting in December.
“So, if something happens and the car tab fees continue to be collected, the city wouldn’t technically have authorization to spend that money and it would just collect in a fund to be addressed at a later date,” Moore said.
This week, a judge issued a ruling putting I-976 on hold, our online news partner The Seattle Times reported. That means vehicle owners across Washington will be expected to pay existing higher fees for now. State tax collectors, meanwhile, will set aside some of those fees in case they later have to issue refunds, The Times said.
During the Association of Washington Cities’ (AWC) annual City Action Days conference in January, Mayor Nicola Smith and her staff will travel to Olympia to discuss I-976 further with legislators. The AWC joined the City of Seattle, King County and other transit agencies in a lawsuit alleging the measure violates various aspects of the state Constitution.
–Story by Cody Sexton