Schoesler says new transportation budget strong on highway safety, rail improvements

Unique ‘Cougar Nation appropriation’ included in final 2017-19 plan

OLYMPIA… A unanimous vote by the Senate this evening completed the Legislature’s work on the state’s transportation budget for 2017-19. Sen. Mark Schoesler says the new budget has much to offer the 9th Legislative District in terms of highway-safety projects and work to improve the area’s rail infrastructure.

“The transportation budget approved by the Senate earlier this month was a strong one for our area, and I’m pleased the list of projects remained intact through the process of negotiating a final plan with the House of Representatives,” said Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “These will be good solid investments in safety and efficiency.”

Schoesler said those investments include:

  • a unique $400,000 appropriation for safety improvements in the State Route 26 and U.S. Highway 195 corridors – popular routes for traveling to and from Washington State University’s main campus – to be spent by the Washington State Department of Transportation in consultation with WSU stakeholders;
  • $15 million over the next four years to add acceleration and deceleration lanes, improve existing left-turn lanes, and construct safety improvements on U.S. Highway 395 between Pasco and the Franklin County line north of Connell;
  • $10.1 million to add passing lanes on U.S. 195 between Colfax and Spangle, which also will help with WSU-related traffic; and
  • more than $17 million for work to improve and ease congestion at the rail interchange in Connell, and vital maintenance for the Palouse/Coulee City Rail System lines, including the PV Hooper line in the Endicott-Winona area.

Schoesler said reaction from WSU students to the so-called “Cougar Nation appropriation” has been nothing but positive, including a phone call from a student Thursday morning inquiring about the funding.

“There is money still to come, in future years, for more safety improvements to SR 26 – but road conditions are only half the equation in collisions. The WSU community is very much on board with wanting to explore other ways, especially things focused on the driver side of the equation, to make the Cougar corridors safer.”

Schoesler also secured an appropriation to install signage along Interstate 90 directing motorists toward historic U.S. Highway 10, which went from Detroit to Seattle – passing through Ritzville and other 9th District communities along the way.

“There are bicyclists and motorcyclists and motorists who plan trips around historic highways, and the old U.S. 10 was part of the original numbered-highway system conceived in 1925. I think this could be a real draw for small towns that used to be on the beaten path and are waiting to be better appreciated,” he said.

As Senate majority leader, Schoesler was glad to see the final transportation budget – approved yesterday by the House – receive unanimous support from senators, just as the Senate version had.

“This is a reminder of how the Senate can unite across the aisle, and how we can work out differences with the House in a timely fashion when we begin negotiating from equal positions . I hope to get to that point with the new operating budget, so we can wrap up our work for the year,” he said.

The governor announced today that he will call lawmakers back next week to begin a special session, so they can finish work on an operating budget and other priorities.