State Sen. Maureen Walsh was one of the senators who escorted Gov. Jay Inslee into the House chamber to deliver his State of the State earlier this month.
But the College Place Republican wasn’t solely focused on her ceremonial duty. Her mind was on taking advantage of the opportunity to persuade the governor to allow the project to widen U.S. Highway 12 to continue.
In the wake of approval of Initiative 976, which reduces car-license tabs to $30 and cuts transportation funding (and was approved by 61 percent of Walla Walla County voters), Inslee ordered the Department of Transportation to postpone road projections not underway. On the list of delayed projects is widening Highway 12 to four lanes on the 11-miles stretch from Frenchtown to Nine Mile Hill.
“I bent his ear a bit,” Walsh said by phone from her Senate office. “I told him it wasn’t prudent to not finish the project, pull the rug right out from under us at this point — three-quarters of the way done.”
More than $20 million has already been spent on Phase 7 of the Highway 12 project for design, land acquisition and environmental studies. Yet, at this point, the project remains in limbo.
Still, Walsh knows Inslee at least got the message that the folks in the Walla Walla Valley see the completion of this project as a critical step in making the two-lane roadway much safer.
When Inslee ordered the DOT to create the list of projects to postpone, he made it clear in a memo that safety was to be considered.
The local project, however, was not necessarily looked at as a safety matter. Instead, it was targeted for postponement because the bid process has not been concluded.
The projects that were chosen for postponement were selected using two main criteria, David B. Mosley, communications manager for DOT’s South Central Region, wrote in email to the U-B. The one that applied to Walla Walla was “construction projects that add capacity to the transportation system scheduled to go out for bids in the next six months. ... Nearly 70 projects across the state have been paused.”
Mike Faulk, a spokesman for the governor, said in an interview that the decision to put projects on hold, including Highway 12, was based on the need to slash $451 million in transportation spending that will not be collected if I-976 passes constitutional muster and ultimately becomes law.
Yet, the decision isn’t irrevocable. And that’s exactly why Walsh took her opportunity to explain the situation to Inslee.
“I will continue to appeal,” Walsh said. “... It makes no sense at all (to cut funding when the project is so close to completion). I will keep trying to drive that point home with the governor.”
Walsh and her 16th Legislative District colleagues — Reps. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, and Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser — as well as our local officials lobbying in Olympia this week, have a big task ahead but they have a strong argument.
The widening of Highway 12 should be allowed to be completed this year.