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FILE — Evening rush hour traffic moves along East Yakima Avenue on May 31, 2019, in Yakima. The East-West Corridor, a county road expansion project, will provide a second connection linking the Terrace Heights neighborhood to Yakima.

The congressional delegation representing Yakima County had a not-unexpected difference of opinion on the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law Monday by President Joe Biden.

Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, Washington state’s two Democratic senators, voted in favor of the bill and praised the projects it will fund in the Evergreen State.

Those projects could include funding for the East-West Corridor project in Yakima County; $5.2 million for improvements at the Yakima Air Terminal; and additional money for a proposal to return passenger rail service to Central Washington, according to Cantwell’s office. 

Cantwell and Murray issued statements Monday highlighting the bill’s investments in the state’s highways, rail system, airports and coastal seaports.

“Washington state families will see a difference directly as more goods get from our ports to store shelves, and people from every part of our state find good-paying jobs to rebuild our infrastructure — from repairing our bridges to replacing lead pipes, and everything in between,” Murray said.

“Over time, communities will see this bill in action as families in the Yakima Valley finally get connected to high-speed internet, as Sound Transit expands light rail options in Puget Sound, as electric vehicle charging stations are built across our state, and so much more,” she added.

Said Cantwell: “Today’s bill signing makes an historic investment in our ports, with a more than 40 percent increase over current funding to improve facilities, operations and intermodal connections to coastal seaports, river and Great Lakes ports. This will greatly improve the efficiency of our supply chain."

Fourth District U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican who represents Yakima County, opposed the infrastructure bill and decried its link to Biden’s “Build Back Better Act,” a package of tax increases and social programs that the House and Senate are expected to consider this month.

“Friday’s vote represented a complete and total failure on the Democrats’ part to listen to the American people,” Newhouse said in a statement issued Nov. 8. “After months of backroom dealings with no input from Republicans, Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi held a vote in the dead of the night to pass the ‘bipartisan’ infrastructure package and tee up the massive, socialist spending spree linked to it, known as the Build Back Better Act.

“I voted against these bills because I could never in good faith vote to pass legislation that would harm the people I took an oath to represent,” Newhouse said. “Not only does the infrastructure package fall short of providing the much-needed reforms and funding Central Washington deserves, but the House Democrat leadership refused to consider any amendments offered by Republicans throughout this so-called process.”

Biden and the members of Congress who attended Monday’s signing ceremony — mostly Democrats but a fair amount of Republicans — took a different view, pointing out the infrastructure bill’s investment in the economy.

Specifically, Yakima County projects could benefit from the bill’s $4.5 billion increase to the INFRA (Infrastructure for Rebuilding America) Grant Program, which includes highway freight projects, roadway or bridge projects to the national highway system, and railway-highway grade projects, a Senate staffer said.

For example, in 2019 the city of Union Gap received a $6.66 million INFRA grant for its regional beltway connector project.

The city of Toppenish and Yakima County’s Interstate 82/U.S. 97 Freight Express Route project could benefit from the INFRA program’s expansion, a Senate staffer said, should the city and county apply in a future funding round. This project would widen the two-lane rural roadway, improve alignment and separate the railroad from the highway southwest of Toppenish.

The Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant program also receives a $7.5 billion boost from the infrastructure bill, a 50% increase from the program’s current levels, a Senate staffer reported.

This program funds surface transportation work and is dedicated to an equal split in funding between rural and urban areas. Yakima County projects that could receive RAISE funds include:

• The East-West Corridor Project, which would build an alternative connection between Terrace Heights, the city of Yakima and Interstate 82;

• The city of Yakima’s Cascade Mill Street Network project, which includes a half-mile of a new arterial street with sidewalks, bike lanes, roundabouts and a direct connection to the Yakima Greenway; and

• Additional work on the city’s North First Street revitalization project.

There is also $313.5 billion over the next five years for highway work from the Highway Trust Fund, a 24% increase. Washington state expects to receive about $4.7 billion in highway trust fund money over the next five years, a Senate staffer reported.

This money, allocated by the Legislature, will primarily be used to maintain roads and bridges. Potential Central Washington projects include fixing a highway embankment on SR 410 in Chinook Pass; repairing the pavement at the I-82 Donald Road interchange near Wapato; and fixing corrosion on the center girder of the Harrison Road Bridge on SR 823 near Selah, the Senate staffer said.

Finally, the infrastructure bill includes $36 billion for the reformed Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail, including at least $12 billion for projects not on the Northeast Corridor for passenger rail planning and construction.

Washington state could apply for some of these funds as it continues planning for the return of passenger rail service to Central Washington, the Senate staffer said. This proposal has been considered in two studies over the past five years, in 2017 and 2020.

Spearheaded by the All Aboard Washington organization, the effort would restore passenger train service from the Tri-Cities to Seattle, with stops in Toppenish, Yakima, Ellensburg and Cle Elum, via the BNSF railroad line and the Stampede Pass through the Cascade Mountains. It has been nearly 40 years since passenger rail service was available in the Yakima Valley.

Contact Joel Donofrio at jdonofrio@yakimaherald.com.

(1) comment

caseycorr

Remember that Dan Newhouse voted against transportation improvements for his own district just out of partisan spite. No wonder it’s so hard to get anything done in government.

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