Olympia - Capitol

On Sunday, the Washington State Legislature concluded the 2019 legislative session. Many progressive environmental, transportation, land use, and housing bills managed to win approval and will become law. In this first piece, we provide an overview of key transportation bills that passed and did not pass this legislative session.

The good

House Bill 1504 revises state laws on impaired driving. Courts will be able to conduct a 15-year lookback on past impaired driving violations when three or more have occurred, allowing the court to render a felony conviction. However, minimum mandatory sentences may be modified for first time offenses. The bill also makes additional changes to law increasing penalty fees and restrictions on earned release from prison.

House Bill 1512 is designed to support transportation electrification through utilities. It allows public and regulated utilities to adopt a transportation electrification plan, provided that it does not cost ratepayers more than an additional 0.25% in energy costs to develop. Once a plan is adopted, the utility may provide a transportation electrification incentive program to customers.

House Bill 1772 refines the definition “motorized foot scooter” to any device with two or three wheels that has handlebars, a floorboard that can be stood upon, and that has an engine capable of providing speeds of 20 miles per hour or less. Motorized foot scooters will be considered a “vehicle” for the purposes of traffic laws. They cannot be used by persons under the age of 16 unless authorized by a local jurisdiction. Allowed speeds on streets and bike lanes will be 15 miles per hour and on sidewalks and trails local jurisdictions can set appropriate speed limits for motorized foot scooters. The bill further creates a framework for local jurisdictions to regulate scooter share programs.

House Bill 2042 will help the state advance greener transportation goals. The bill does this in several ways:

  • Adding a new $75 transportation electrification fee for electric and alternative fuel vehicles and a yearly $75 fee on hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles that are exempt from the alternative fuel registration renewal fee or new transportation electrification fee;
  • Adding a six-year sales and use tax exemption for alternative fuel passenger cars;
  • Adding six-year tax exemptions and credits for businesses that purchase alternative fuel commercial vehicles, purchase of electric vehicle battery buses and equipment, and several other instances.
  • Creating a six-year capital grant program for fleet electrification of transit agencies as well as alternative fuel carsharing programs for underserved communities and electric vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure; and
  • Allowing investor-owned utilities to provide an incentive rate of return on investments in electric vehicle supply equipment.

House Bill 2161 allows the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to procure five additional ferries capable of carrying 144 cars under an existing contract with options. To fund procurement, the bill authorizes WSDOT to impose a surcharge to back a 25-year repayment plan on the vessels. However, any fare increase related to the surcharge may not exceed 10%.

Senate Bill 5695 will increase penalties for illegally driving in high occupancy lanes. Whenever a violator commits two or more violations within a two-year period, the fines increase an extra $50. If a dummy or doll-like figure is used, fines will be further increased by $200.

Senate Bill 5710 consolidates various active transportation advisory bodies related to pedestrian and bicycle safety into one body and extends them in perpetuity as the Cooper Jones Active Transportation Safety Council. The council will be charged with reviewing serious injuries and fatalities of non-motorists and identifying ways that safety measures and programs can be implemented to reduce and eliminate them.

Senate Bill 5723 expands laws to make streets safer for vulnerable users of the roadway. Whenever a person is walking, biking, riding an animal, or driving a tractor on the right side of the street, bike lane, or shoulder, the approaching motorist must:

  • Move completely into the left lane of the right lane on a street with two or more lanes in the direction of travel;
  • Reduce speed to a safe passing speed relative to the vulnerable user and pass with at least three feet separation, if practical, when on a street with only one lane in the direction of travel;
  • Move completely into the opposite lane of travel if the street provides insufficient to pass on the left of the vulnerable user.

Failure to comply with the law could mean penalties of $48. If a motorist follows to closely or fail to property yield the right-of-way at an intersection to a vulnerable user, a fine of $48 could also be issued. Additionally, people walking are not compelled to use sidewalks if they are not accessible in which case they should use shoulders, if accessible, facing traffic or walk as near to the edge of the roadway. And people biking will no longer need to operate their bikes on the right side of the through lane in certain circumstances.

The mixed

House Bill 1994 establishes criteria for a project of statewide significance, which is in essence the I-5 bridge rebuild across the Columbia River. It allows WSDOT to assemble a planning team, expedite permitting, and work across state lines. The criteria does emphasize a requirement that the project must reduce injuries and fatalities as well as provide transit and pedestrian improvements and bike access across it.

Senate Bill 5370 establishes a statewide commercial aviation coordinating commission. The commission will be responsible for researching and evaluating the long-term needs for another primary commercial aviation site. By January 1, 2022, the commission will need to make a recommendation on a new preferred location. The preferred location, however, cannot be in King County. A timeline for implementation and development of the new preferred location must be outlined with operation capable of commencing in 2040.

Senate Bill 5825 will allow WSDOT to expand tolling on I-405, SR-167, and SR-509 in order to allow for the construction of new lanes and highway facilities along those corridors. The bill specifically authorizes WSDOT to issue $1.5 billion bonds to expedite projects using proceeds from tolls and other funding sources.

The bad

House Bill 1724 will require the City of Seattle to evaluate parking impacts related to Link light rail in Southeast Seattle. The bill will require development of a mitigation plan, which may mean that Sound Transit will need to pay the cost of on-street parking permits where Restricted Parking Zones are in operation.

The aftermath

There were many transportation bills that died with the close of the legislative, though most will probably return next year. On the plus side, the highway-heavy transportation package died in the Senate, a slew of anti-Sound Transit bills never made it past the committee process, and a bill to prohibit tolls on local streets also died, but it did make it to the Senate Rules Committee–a step before a floor vote. The legislature was also opposed to passing Tim Eyman’s initiative to rollback a variety of transportation funding sources.

However, the long-awaited bill to allow traffic safety cameras to capture block-the-box, crosswalk, and transit violations never made it for a floor vote in the Senate, despite making it out of the House and being pushed quickly through the Senate committee process. Last-minute amendments to satisfy windshield-minded Democrats watered it down to no avail. Likewise hours were wasted reworking a school levy bill that Senator Guy Palumbo (D-Maltby) loaded up with a poison pill amendment to siphon public school funding to pad the coffers of charter schools–stalling out the bill.

Other key transportation bills that did not make it this legislative session, include:

In our next piece, we will outline key features of the biennial transportation appropriations bill.

Article Author

Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.