Highway 12 funds still on track


Highway 12 funds still on track

A Senate-House conference will now meet to reconcile differences between spending authorized by the two houses

By Andy Porter of the Union Bulletin

Federal funds for future widening of U.S. Highway 12 cleared a critical hurdle Thursday as the Senate passed an omnibus spending bill.

The $2.5 million to aid the second phase of the U.S. Highway 12 project was among transportation funds for a number of Eastern Washington transit projects included in the bill, according to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The Senate approved its version of the spending bill late Thursday by vote 69-29. A Senate-House conference will now meet to reconcile differences between spending authorized by the two houses.

That conference may change the final amount for the project since the House version of the spending bill allows only $1 million for the U.S. 12 widening.

Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., who worked to obtain the House funds earlier this year, “will be closely overseeing” what goes on in the conference, which will consist of the leadership of the two houses, said Scott Gruber, who maintains Nethercutt’s Walla Walla office.

Passage of the Senate bill was good news to the coalition of public and private entities who are working to widen the highway, Jim Kuntz, executive director for the Port of Walla Walla, said today.

The Washington Department of Transportation is preparing to begin construction on the first phase of the project, a 3.4-mile section between McNary Pool and Dodd Road. Money for the $10.1 million project has already been appropriated.

The U.S. Highway 12 coalition has “two really important strategic decisions to make” in the coming months, Kuntz said.

These will involve how to obtain funds for future construction from the regular transportation appropriations passed by Congress in 2004 in addition to the Intermodal Transportation Surface Efficiency Act, which is up for renewal this year.

“So in this (coming) fiscal year, we have a unique opportunity for perhaps two appropriations, the 2004 regular transportation in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act,” Kuntz said.

As planned, the U.S. Highway 12 widening project consists of seven phases.

The first four phases would widen about 12 miles of the highway between Burbank and the Wallula Junction. Phases five through seven would widen the road over the remaining 27 miles between Wallula and Walla Walla.