U.S. 12 federal funding fares better than officials expected


U.S. 12 federal funding fares better than officials expected

It appears the U.S. Highway 12 widening project will get the federal money officials hoped for and more.

By Andy Porter of the Union Bulletin

A project to widen U.S. Highway 12 got a bigger than expected boost Thursday.

The House-Senate Omnibus Appropriations bill provides $4.4 million for the project’s second phase, a significant increase over the amount local officials initially expected.

That money consists of $1.9 million approved by the House for planning and right-of-way acquisition as well as $2.5 million approved by the Senate for construction.

The money was agreed upon as part of a House-Senate compromise on the appropriations bill. The measure was approved by the House Thursday and is expected to be passed by the Senate today or Saturday, after which it will be sent to President Bush

Port of Walla Walla officials who have spearheaded a coalition to lobby for the project were “pleasantly surprised” by news of the larger-than-expected grant, Jim Kuntz, Port executive director, said Thursday.

Earlier versions of the appropriations bill had $2.5 million earmarked on the Senate side for the Highway 12 project and $1 million for the project on the House side. The final bill approved Thursday retained both amounts and added $900,000.

Kuntz said the support efforts of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., were the key to obtaining the money.

“Sen. Murray has made Highway 12 one of the top priorities in the state,” Kuntz said. “She deserves a lot of the credit as well as Congressman Nethercutt.”

A $62,000 lobbying effort put together by the Port also paid dividends in the forts to lock down the funds, Kuntz said. Port officials Thursday approved extending the contract with Ball Janik LLP, a Washington D.C., law firm to continue the coalition’s efforts to gain federal funds.

The lobbying contract for 2003 will total $84,000, Kuntz said. Port officials are at work to gain donations from local governments, businesses and others to fund the lobbying effort, he said.

A critical piece of legislation this year will be renewal of the Intermodel Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, Kuntz said.

The legislation locks in federal funds for transportation improvements over a six-year period and inclusion of the Highway 12 project in that legislation would be a significant aid to future phases of construction, Kuntz said.

The first phase of the project , a 3.4-mile section between McNary Pool and Dodd Road, has been funded. Construction on the $10.1 million project is expected to begin this spring and be finished by the late summer of 2004.