The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to help pay for the extension of Veterans Drive and a new State Route 516 interchange as part of the state’s plan to connect State Route 509 between SeaTac and Kent with Interstate 5.
When the Legislature in 2015 approved the $16 billion statewide transportation project, it included a directive in the $1.8 billion Puget Sound Gateway package that local contributions need to pay $130 million of the cost for the extensions of SR 509 and SR 167 in Pierce County in an effort to improve connections between freight corridors as well as urban centers.
The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma are paying a total of $60 million toward the $130 million. Federal and state grants are expected to cover $50 million, leaving $20 million for local agencies to provide for matching funds – $10 million to the SR 509 work and $10 million to SR 167 construction.
“If we are not participating in this, we lose our ability to make requests about how that connection is made,” Mayor Dana Ralph said at the council meeting. “I am not pleased about this. It could have gone much worse. The original presentation included plans to get money from private industry. There is not a single business that stepped up and said here is $10 million.
“We have some issues with federal grants, there are pieces missing here. I feel this MOU protects us should those pieces not come into play. But at this point I do not see any alternative other than for us to participate with our surrounding cities.”
Crews are expected to begin the first phase of work on the 6-mile extension of SR 509 in 2020 and complete it in 2025. The second phase would wrap up in 2030. But DOT officials are lining up the local contributions of $130 million for the project. The MOUs eventually will lead to interlocal agreements between the DOT and local jurisdictions.
The 11.9 percent per gallon jump in the state gas tax approved by the 2015 Legislature will cover about $1.6 billion of the $1.9 billion project. Tolls on the new portions of SR 509 and SR 167 will raise about $180 million. The Legislature still needs to approve the tolls for the highways and set the rates, which could occur during the 2019 session.
Legislators determined that anywhere the project goes inside city limits – those jurisdictions could be expected to help pay for the highway expansions. That list includes Kent, Des Moines, SeaTac, Fife, Puyallup, the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma. Kent’s portion includes $1 million for the Veterans Drive extension that will go underneath I-5 and $1 million for a new I-5 interchange at SR 516 aka Kent Des Moines Road. The total cost of those two projects is $33.8 million.
City officials haven’t figure out a source yet for the $2 million. But that money wouldn’t be due to the state for about seven years, when the first phase of work is completed.
Besides the Veterans Drive extension and new interchange, Kent also will benefit in 2030 with an additional southbound I-5 lane between the Kent Des Moines exit and the South 272nd Street exit.
Councilman Dennis Higgins continued his objection to the Legislature asking cities to help pay for highway projects – something he said it had never done before – but he doesn’t see an alternative.
“I feel slightly better that we are not the only ones being asked, but it still doesn’t make me feel very good about it,” Higgins said. “I’m not happy about it, I don’t think any of us are. The state Legislature and our members have heard our protests. I fear that having set this precedent they are going to go to that well again someday, but I don’t see any other way around proceeding with this.”