Patty in the News

WASHINGTON — Millions of dollars for regional transportation projects in Washington have been included in the fiscal 2011 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill, thanks to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The bill includes about $5 million for projects in the Tri-City area, including the ongoing Highway 12 improvements between the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla.

The money was included in the bill by Murray, who's chairwoman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee.

"Especially now, it is critical to steer funding into transportation projects that create jobs and boost local economies in our backyard in Central Washington," Murray said in a statement.

For the Tri-City area, the bill proposes $1 million for Ben Franklin Transit to help replace its aging vehicle fleet; $1.4 million for rail improvements at Big Pasco Industrial Center; $1 million for the Red Mountain Interchange project; $500,000 for pedestrian pathways and transportation improvements in the Southridge area; and $1 million for right of way acquisition for Phase 7A of the Highway 12 project.

Murray also included millions of dollars for other Eastern Washington projects, including $2 million for rail improvements at the Port of Moses Lake, $1 million for Grant County Transit to build a new administration building and $1.3 million for an underpass on MLK Boulevard in Yakima's business district.

The bill, which was approved Wednesday by Murray's subcommittee, now goes to the full Appropriations Committee.

Many Tri-City public officials lauded Murray's efforts.

Randy Hayden, director of planning and engineering at the Port of Pasco, said Murray understands the importance of transportation to spur economic growth and create jobs.

The $1.4 million for the port would help the port continue its rail infrastructure rehabilitation project that began in 2005. Hayden said a rail-link helps to recruit manufacturers and provide a way to ship local products. If the port gets the money, construction of a new mile-long track will start next spring, he said.

"Once again, Sen. Murray has come through for the citizens of the Tri-Cities," said Benton County Commissioner Leo Bowman, referring to the money designated for two projects along Interstate 82. The money would pay for engineering and design and "get us to be shovel-ready," he said.

The two-part project would help construct a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 224 and Highway 225 near I-82 in Benton City and create a new Red Mountain interchange at Milepost 100 on I-82.

Both projects, which are estimated to cost $30 million, would improve traffic flow at the five-legged intersection at the Benton City interchange and provide more direct access to the Red Mountain winery area and West Richland, Bowman said. The projects also would improve emergency response times to the area by up to 50 percent, which can be critical in crisis situations, he said.

Kathy McMullen, Ben Franklin Transit's manager of service development, was excited about the possibility of getting money. "It's very much needed. We want some new buses for folks to ride in," she said.

Fourteen of the system's buses date to 1988, McMullen said. They have about 1 million miles on them and cost more to maintain, she said.

It would cost about $10 million to replace all old buses with new hybrid buses, McMullen said, and Ben Franklin Transit will seek additional federal money to do that. "We appreciate Sen. Murray's help," she said.

Jim Kuntz, executive director of the Port of Walla Walla, which led efforts for the Highway 12 improvements, shared a similar sentiment. "Things will start rolling now," he said.

Highway 12 work has already received $2 million from the state Legislature to help complete design, environmental assessment and land acquisition for Phase 7A, which includes building a new 5.5-mile, multilane highway from Nine Mile Hill north of Touchet to near Lowden.

The state Department of Transportation needs to purchase about 340 acres for the work and the proposed $1 million in federal money would be a great help to move the project forward, Kuntz said.

- Tri-City Herald