Washington State Senate Leader Calls for Funding to Improve Rural Roads

The issue of highway safety arose after two WSU students died in traffic accidents and another was seriously injured over Thanksgiving break.

📅   Thu March 17, 2016 - West Edition
Nicholas K. Geranios - Associated Press


The issue of highway safety arose after two WSU students died in traffic accidents and another was seriously injured over Thanksgiving break.
The issue of highway safety arose after two WSU students died in traffic accidents and another was seriously injured over Thanksgiving break.

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) The leader of the Washington State Senate wants more state funds to improve rural roads leading to Washington State University in Pullman.

State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, is asking Gov. Jay Inslee to take $113 million proposed to improve fish passage and use the money instead to improve the dangerous highways that are heavily used by WSU students.

“If that money goes toward anything in Washington state, it should go toward making it safer for our kids to drive our highways,” Schoesler said in a news release this week.

U.S. Highway 195 and state Route 26, both predominantly two-lane roads, are the main highways that carry people to and from Pullman.

Washington State University has about 20,000 students, and many travel long distances on the rural roads to reach campus.

A transportation package passed by the Legislature earlier this year allocates money for passing lanes on both roads. But that work is not scheduled to begin on US 195 until 2017 and on state Route 26 until 2025, Schoesler said.

The issue of highway safety arose after two WSU students died in traffic accidents and another was seriously injured over Thanksgiving break.

Dorene Boyle of Yakima, parent of a WSU student, after those accidents started a petition to have additional lanes constructed on the highways. Her petition had nearly 6,000.

Schoesler complained that Inslee has been willing to pump millions of dollars into improving roads leading to the University of Washington in Seattle.

“Gov. Inslee should value Cougars as much as Huskies — and the safety of our students more than fish,” Schoesler said.

Schoesler has focused on $113 million that Inslee recently requested in a supplemental budget to remove more barriers to fish passage across the state. “We already allocated $300 million in the current budget for fish culverts,” Schoesler said, adding the funds should be used instead to improve roads.

Inslee's office referred questions to the state Office of Financial Management. That agency said the Legislature would have to take action to speed up construction of passing lanes on the two highways.

According to OFM, the $113 million fish passage and barrier removal project would fix 50 to 75 percent of fish barriers and open 580 to 870 miles of fish habitat around the state.

The governor has proposed more than $1.5 billion for road improvements in eastern Washington through his Connecting Washington package, said David Schumacher, director of OFM.