House committee OKs Hayes bill to give Island County future transportation funding options

The House Transportation Committee approved a bill Monday by Rep. Dave Hayes that would allow Island County to form an organization of local governments to plan and fund area transportation projects.

House Bill 2815 would give Island County the authority to form a Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO) to prepare regional transportation plans, ensure local and regional coordination of transportation planning, and maintain a six-year regional transportation improvement plan.

“Island County had previously been in a 24-year RTPO partnership with Skagit County. But last year, Skagit County voted to separate itself from that regional transportation agreement. So that left Island County alone and ineligible under current law to form an RTPO,” said Hayes, R-Camano Island.

“We were removed from our RTPO because our partner county reached 100,000 population and we weren’t an attractive dance partner after that. That leaves us in a precarious situation,” said Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson during testimony before the House Transportation Committee on Thursday.

An RTPO can cover both urban and rural areas, and receives state funding in support of its planning efforts. However, under existing law, an RTPO must contain at least one county and have a population of at least 100,000, or contain at least three geographically-contiguous counties.

“Regional planning is a very high priority for Island County. We have geographical constraints that prevent us from being contiguous,” Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson told lawmakers in Olympia. “We are not here looking for special treatment. What we want is to be able to continue to plan regionally.”

“If transportation doesn’t move effectively on and off either one of our islands, it can stop building in our area and all growth and development,” added Jill Johnson. “We’re looking for a fix because we have to plan regionally.”

Under Hayes’ bill, counties with a population of greater than 75,000 that also contain a Washington State Ferries’ terminal would be authorized to form an RTPO.

“Transportation is vital on both Whidbey and Camano islands. This bill would provide the eligibility needed for Island County to form an RTPO, conduct planning efforts, and to be able to qualify for federal and state transportation funding,” said Hayes. “I’m pleased we were able to get it through the first step of the process. And now, we will work to move the bill through the rest of the Legislature.”

The measure was sent to the House Rules Committee. It has until Feb. 17 to be voted off the House floor.

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