The Sultan Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge project, S.R. 522, U.S. 2 and Monroe’s synthetic turf athletic fields were just a few of the capital needs discussed during Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent visit to Monroe.
The governor stopped by Monroe’s Lake Tye Park on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, to meet with local leaders and provide some insight about the legislature’s recent stalemate over water rights, which prevented the passage of the 2017 – 2019 capital budget. Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick, Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas and Snohomish Mayor Tom Hamilton attended the meeting, along with various elected officials including Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low.
Each mayor had the opportunity to present the most pressing capital needs in their respective communities. Monroe is seeking funding for a renovation project at Lake Tye Park, which would convert the existing athletic fields to all-weather facilities using a phased approach. Snohomish is working with Snohomish County on an expansion of the Centennial Trail, which would stretch from Snohomish to Woodinville with the goal of connecting to the Burke-Gilman Trail.
Mayor Eslick presented three of Sultan’s top capital needs, including the Sultan Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge project and an emergency evacuation command center, which would house Snohomish County Fire District 5 and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office east precinct, plus an emergency operations center, a public meeting facility and a health clinic. The city is also seeking funding for a flood protection system known as a “muscle wall,” which offers significant benefit over sandbags.
The wall, which is put together in sections, can be rapidly deployed at the first threat of a flood event, Eslick said, offering vital protection in Sultan’s downtown area when waters from the Sultan and Skykomish rivers overrun their banks. The preemptive system could potentially earn residents and business owners a reduction in their flood insurance premiums.
Mayor Hamilton stressed the importance of capital projects in east Snohomish County.
“Capital budgets just aren’t a pot of money; they have these tentacles that go out everywhere into the community and create sales tax dollars that then are the health and the vibrance of our communities,” Hamilton said. “Capital projects are incredibly important to our health and vitality.”
Inslee said that it’s not possible to overstate the importance of locally-driven capital projects, because they bolster economic development and help sustain future growth. And although the capital budget has not passed yet, there is almost unanimous support for local capital projects.
“The good news is that there is unanimity on a bipartisan basis to support these local projects across the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “Anytime we can have unanimity and bipartisanship that’s a beautiful thing in Olympia, because we have divided government.”
The capital budget provides funds for things like schools, local infrastructure, parks and recreational facilities, state office buildings, low-income housing and more. Unlike the operating budget, which funds the day-to-day operating expenses of various state agencies, the capital budget funds hundreds of construction projects and invests over $1 billion in school construction.
The state of Washington has never failed to pass a capital budget before, said Inslee.
“This is unprecedented,” Inslee said. “This is a break of a long tradition of success where parties have been able to work together, no matter who’s in the majority, to be able to come up with a capital budget.”
The issue stems from the Supreme Court’s recent Hirst decision, which involves the administration of wells. While there is widespread recognition that the legislature needs to respond to the court’s decision, there has not been agreement as to the best approach, Inslee said. There are varying ideas, he added, but so far, no consensus on a solution. This division prevented the passage of the capital budget, he said, as one of the parties hinged the budget’s passing on a solution for Hirst.
They need a bipartisan solution, Inslee said.
“We don’t have it yet,” Inslee said. “But we need this capital budget right now and these kids can’t wait. They just can’t wait for this.”
Inslee said that he is dedicated to achieving resolution. As soon as the legislature indicates that it is prepared for further dialogue, he’ll convene a special session.
The discussion spurred conversation about transportation issues on S.R. 522 and U.S. 2, two of east Snohomish County’s most problematic roadways. Mayor Thomas has championed relentlessly for the completion of S.R. 522, which narrows to a notorious chokepoint immediately southwest of the Snohomish River Bridge and northeast of Paradise Lake Road.
“I just ask that the parties come together and just remember they serve the people and not the party machines. I want to see 522 fixed,” Thomas said. “The people that live here pay the gas tax, regardless of how the people who represent us voted.”
The conversation segued to U.S. 2.
“I can’t let 522 go by without talking about Highway 2,” Eslick said. “This year was worse than ever.”
Traffic slowdowns on U.S. 2 were exacerbated by construction projects and closures on I-90, she said, which dramatically increased the use of Sultan’s residential roadways as travelers used Google maps and other web-based mapping programs to try and bypass the gridlock on U.S. 2. The result was miles-long backups on the Sultan Basin Road, Old Owen, Ben Howard and other residential streets.
Eslick zeroed in on the importance of working proactively to plan for future capacity on U.S. 2.
“It’s not going to get better, it’s only going to get worse,” she said.
She said that her hope is to see WSDOT divert a portion of the funding it has earmarked for U.S. 2 safety improvements, and put it towards carving out a future plan that would build capacity on U.S. 2.
“That’s my proposal and I’m going to carry that torch,” Eslick said.