Washington Wants Feds to Pay for Rail, Highway Improvements

By Tom Bacon

Washington State transportation planners are jostling to get part of  a surviving relic of the 2009 stimulus package meant to pull the nation out of the great recession. In eastern Washington, the state wants to buttress a rickety old railroad and smooth out a highway bottleneck.

The state transportation department wants to rehabilitate a deteriorating section of a state-owned short line railroad that's critical for grain growers in central and eastern Washington. And the agency would rebuild a state highway interchange with I-82 in Benton City.

The money for both projects - plus tearing down and rebuilding the old Mukilteo Ferry Terminal in western Washington - would come from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program - the TIGER program, for short. It's one of the few programs generated by the stimulus project which  Congress has continued to fund.

The railroad rehabilitation work would upgrade nearly seven miles of the Palouse River and Coulee City Rail System, which was purchased by the state in 2007. It's a critical link for grain growers in the west plains area.

The short line suffered from deferred maintenance - read, neglect - after it was marked for abandonment by the BNSF railway several years ago.

In Benton County, the state wants about three-and-a-half million dollars to build a roundabout at the intersection of State Routes 224 and 225 and to streamline the nearby freeway interchange.
The only western Washington project in the capital funds request is to replace the old congested Mukilteo ferry terminal.

The TIGER grant recipients will be announced this fall.
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