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Washington Legislature Adjourns After Approving $508M To Unclog Traffic

File photo of the Washington State Capitol in Olympia
File photo of the Washington State Capitol in Olympia

The Washington Legislature finally adjourned its 2015 session Friday. The last piece of business was for the state House to approve $508 million in new spending on roads, ferries and transit.

The new spending to unclog traffic is made possible by a 12 cent increase in the Washington state gas tax. The tax hike happens in two steps beginning this August. State Representative Judy Clibborn called the transportation package it funds "monumental."

"Some of our most congested communities will finally have hope,” she said. “They have been stuck in gridlock and this is the answer for them."

"It hasn't been easy, but nothing worth doing is easy," Clibborn added.

Approval of the highway project list and bond financing came on the final day of a historically long session in Olympia. The Republican-controlled state Senate and Democratically-controlled state House went into triple overtime to reach compromises on taxes, spending, schools and environmental matters.

State representatives broke into song -- “If I Had a Hammer” -- moments before the simultaneous rap of the Senate President's and House Speaker's gavels to signal final adjournment. A cry of "Hallelujah" could be heard in the wings of the House chamber.

The 2015 session was scheduled to last 105 days, but actually stretched to 178 days, chiefly due to a protracted standoff over the state's $38 billion operating budget.

Earlier in July, a bipartisan majority of Washington legislators gave final approval to raise the state's gas tax by seven cents on August 1 and then an additional 4.9 cents on July 1, 2016. The current state gas tax is 37.5 cents per gallon.

That sets into motion what is intended to be a 16-year transportation investment plan. In the transportation spending blueprint sent to the governor Friday, the Legislature allocated the first two years of new revenue. Big ticket items include widening of Interstate 405 on the east side of Seattle, further work on a north-south freeway in Spokane, completion of the new SR 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, and construction of a new 144-car state ferry.

Lawmakers also directed the Washington State Department of Transportation to evaluate the feasibility of inviting wealthy foreigners to provide low-interest financing for another new state ferry. This strategy would utilize a federal immigration program -- called the EB-5 visa -- that allows overseas investors to qualify for a green card by sinking at least $500,000 into a job-creating venture in the United States.

Copyright 2015 Northwest News Network

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.