Covington prepares for short legislative session

Transportation is a top priority for city leaders

Between elections, budget planning and day-to-day chores, Covington City Manager Regan Bolli also worked on a list of priorities to bring to the state legislature this upcoming session in hopes of garnering more funding and support for his city.

“Our process is one where I kind of track what’s happening throughout the year and what projects we may have upcoming in future years, and generate several ideas,” Bolli said. “We look up the makeup of the legislature and what projects might be a good fit for what they’re working on.”

After the list is created Bolli shows it to the council during a regular council meeting. The council then asks for additions or to change some priorities before it receives a final approval in a vote during a second council meeting.

The priorities list was approved by the council in a unanimous vote during the Nov. 12 regular meeting.

Each year the city creates a list of priorities to lobby for in Olympia. Bolli said the city contracts with a lobbying group part time and other times Mayor Jeff Wager and Bolli get in the car and head south to represent the city.

The number one priority this year for Covington is transportation infrastructure projects in and around Covington that require state funding.

The top of the list is State Route 18. The City of Covington joined the South East Area Legislative Transportation Coalition (SEAL TC) to request the legislature include $285 million in the next transportation project package. The money would be used to widen SR-18 from the Issaquah Hobart Road to Raging River.

“With Highway 18 … we wouldn’t manage that, we are just trying to get a group together to widen that because we know it’s a regional need,” Bolli said. “We developed (SEAL TC) in Covington two years ago to form a coalition to work together to designate a regional priority. We decided the widening of Highway 18 should be that priority.”

Covington brought Maple Valley, Black Diamond and the cities’ respective chamber of commerces into SEAL TC. Since then the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority, the City of Issaquah, the City of Snoqualmie and the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe are members.

Bolli said SEAL TC chose the specific stretch between Issaquah Hobart Road and Raging River since the area has lane reductions which increases congestion and causes safety concerns.

The current state transportation budget appropriates $8.9 million in 2019-21 and $18 million in 2021-23 for the project, according to the city’s priorities list. This creates a total of $25 million allocated in advance to make the project construction ready. But additional money is needed to fund the construction. Washington State Department of Transportation estimated the widening of SR-18 will cost $285 million.

“Last year we lobbied hard and received the $25 million,” Bolli said. “We know there is going to be talk this session, we don’t think it’ll be finalized, but talk of the next transportation package. So our goal is to make sure that total $285 million is in the package.”

Another priority is State Route 516, which bisects Covington’s downtown and is where regional traffic from surrounding areas flows onto SR-18.

“As these communities have grown, this two-lane regional arterial has reached capacity,” the city’s legislative priorities list states. “The Legislature previously recognized the need to widen this arterial and allocated $13.2 million in the 2015 Connecting Washington funding package to widen SR-516 between Jenkins Creek and 185th. However, the 1.7-mile section of the corridor from 185th to the east city limits at 212th remain unfunded.”

The city plans to lobby for an additional $30.8 million to be included in the future state transportation package to widen the space on SR-516 to a five-lane arterial.

The city will also lobby for any potential legislation that will provide the city with more funds, since the Joint Transportation Committee completed a study that showed Covington has $1 billion in unmet local transportation needs.

Bolli said the list was created before the recent General Election, which is when voters approved Initiative 976. I-976 will lower car tabs across the state to just $30 each, cutting budgets state and city-wide when it comes to transportation.

“I’m concerned, given the passage of I-976, that some of these projects won’t get off the launch pad,” Covington City Councilmember Sean Smith said to Bolli during the Nov. 12 council meeting. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t continue to push them but I want to think about our energy with our lobbying … are there other priorities we should be looking at? I just think it’s going to be a lean year for large construction projects.”

“Even prior to the passage of I-976, we didn’t expect to receive any transportation funding this year,” Bolli responded. “But simply to get it on a priority list that will eventually go into a transportation package. So regardless of that passage, even though there is a shortage now of state revenue that will be applied to these projects, (legislators) will still be working to try to solve this issue somehow. And it may be that some projects won’t make it on that list, and we don’t want to be one of those projects.”

The City of Covington will lose about a quarter of its street funds budget, $305,000, each year if I-976 is enacted in 2020.

Other priorities

The city is also looking at a request for $250,000 to complete Friendship Park improvements to replace outdated equipment, update amenities and improve nearby infrastructure.

While there are other parks the city would also like to receive funding for, Bolli said the upcoming legislative session is a short session and it would benefit the city to ask for funding on a project that would cost less than a quarter-million dollars and could have a quick turn around.

“We evaluated some of our smaller pocket parks,” Bolli said. “We evaluated three or four of our smaller parks and Friendship Park was a good fit for what we could ask for. Especially, one of the reasons we thought this would be a good one, is there is a subdivision being built right across from it.”

The last item on the priority list is an overall support for legislation which would “provide tools to cities to support economic development in downtown centers, such as the Covington Town Center.”

Covington will join the Association of Washington Cities to lobby for such bills.