During a press conference on Tuesday, Jay Inslee did everything but openly admit that Senate Republicans were right for firing Washington State Department of Transportation Director Lynn Peterson — though he has yet to actually apologize for attacks he made on GOP leaders. Inslee announced changes he would pursue to help relief congestion on I-405 after the tolling scheme made traffic even worse.
So, just what do these changes entail? Via MyNorthwest.com,
“Notably among the changes, the governor wants to remove tolls on I-405 during non-peak evening hours. He has instructed the Washington State Department of Transportation to work with the state’s transportation commission to make it happen as early as spring. Tolls could also go away on weekends and holidays.”
Inslee also proposed funding to begin analyzing certain road changes, including (via the Seattle Times):
- Adding a lane on I-405 at Highway 520 to Northeast 70th Place in Kirkland, where it would become an exit-only lane. Costs might range from $5 million to $30 million, based on noise reduction and fish-protection needs.
- Strengthening the right shoulder of northbound I-405 in Bothell for use as a general lane beginning at Highway 527 and ending as an exit-only lane onto Interstate 5 at Lynnwood. It would open to traffic only in peak times, and at speeds far below the usual 60 mph freeway limit, as announced previously by tolling director Patty Rubstello. Costs could range from $30 million to $50 million.
Following Inslee’s announcement, Republican state Rep. Mark Harmsworth voiced a major concern: Inslee’s “changes” still do not go far enough. Harmsworth stated,
“…this does not fundamentally address the root issue – congestion during peak hours. It is merely a band-aid. In fact, some of the changes could take up to three years to implement. Whereas the general purpose lane that was converted could be changed back much faster.”
Harmsworth—along with GOP state Senator Andy Hill—already proposed a fix to the debacle that is the I-405 tolling scheme: House Bill 2312 and Senate Bill 6152. As Harmsworth points out, these bills would provide substantive relief and “could be heard as early as next week.”
Republicans are not the only ones concerned with the changes Inslee announces. Trooper Jeff Merrill, president of the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association, referred to Inslee’s proposed road changes as a “kind of a knee-jerk reaction to a bad plan.”
Merrill explains that the problem is that Inslee’s “knee-jerk reaction” would reduce the “space for emergency vehicles and would confuse some motorists.” The reality is that if “troopers don’t have a place to pull over vehicles safely, chances are they’ll do less enforcement in those spots.”
Inslee’s announcement is—in the end—his attempt to appear as though he is acting for the good of commuters after public backlash that could not be ignored. The Seattle Times explains that it is Inslee’s way of “presenting himself as a friend to motorists this election year,” especially considering GOP challenger Bill Bryant’s criticism of the tolling scheme.
Bryant, a Port of Seattle commissioner, advocates converting one of the two tolling lanes into a general traffic lane (in each direction), then allowing two-person carpools into the remaining toll lane for free.
It’s undeniable that Inslee is rushing to respond to what he has finally realized is a deeply unpopular policy—it’s not something he would have bothered to do for commuters if it was not an election year. Inslee demonstrated his lack of concern for the commuters when he failed to step in and urge Democrat State Representative Judy Clibborn to allow debate on a bi-partisan bill that would fix I-405, when he viciously attacked Senate Republicans for doing their jobs and holding his transportation secretary accountable, and when he (most recently) completely dismissed voters’ concerns over the entire tolling scheme.
Inslee’s façade of concern for fixing I-405 cracked during his Tuesday press conference when reporters asked him about motorists who are dissatisfied with the tolling plan as a whole. Inslee curtly suggested those drivers “talk to their legislators” to discuss complaints.
It appears that Inslee is so out-of-touch with Washingtonian voters that he has utterly failed to realize that’s exactly what commuters have been doing. That’s why the plan pushed by Rep. Harmsworth and Sen. Hill gained bi-partisan support (enough to easily pass the state Legislature).
The problem is Inslee’s gross lack of leadership and the delusions of certain members of his party, not that commuters have failed to voice their concerns with their representatives.
Perhaps Inslee should spend a little less time sleeping, exercising, and meeting with campaign donors during regular work hours and a little more time gaining a semblance of insight into what is important to the everyday lives of Washingtonians.