Tom, Hunter see legislative need for work on 520 bridge, Viaduct

By Mary Stevens Decker

Reporter Newspapers

Sen. Rodney Tom and Rep. Ross Hunter, Democrats from Bellevue's 48th District, discussed transportation and education Jan. 8 at a town hall meeting in Redmond.

The two, both from Medina, said decisions regarding the ailing Evergreen Point floating bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle would be huge issues in Olympia during the current legislative session.

Referring to these “festering transportation problems,” Hunter added, “the viaduct is an Eastside issue whether you know it or not, because traffic back-ups in downtown Seattle always impact 405 and 520.”

With a nod toward citizens' impatience to move forward on these projects, Tom remarked, “We shouldn't rush to make a 50-year decision. ... It's better to gather all the information,” and Hunter said the main objective is to make sure that whatever design is approved for a new floating bridge, it will safely handle its load of 110,000 cars per day.

Adequate funding for public education, especially college programs, is another looming challenge for legislators this year, they said. Tom pointed out that it's increasingly expensive to provide technical education for in-demand jobs such as health care. And with the current economy, fewer and fewer people can afford to attend private schools.

The legislators listened to appeals from two representatives of agencies which assist vulnerable populations throughout the Eastside.

John Stilz asked for support of the King County Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which advocates for the rights of elderly or disabled people in nursing homes, residential care facilities, adult family homes and veterans' homes. Many residents are abused, neglected or not allowed to voice their preferences about their own health care, finances or activities, he said. The ombudsman program relies heavily on volunteers to check on their welfare and make sure they are treated with dignity.

Hunter agreed that “because of illness or dementia, many can not speak for themselves.” He and Tom concurred that heading off health care problems is more cost-effective than waiting until more serious repercussions occur.

Erin George spoke on behalf of Friends of Youth, expressing worry over funding cuts that would affect at-risk and homeless youth. Hunter said he's committed to seek help for them, noting, “Do we spend $30,000 a year to incarcerate them in Monroe? Or do we put a kid on the path to succeed in school and a job?”

Tom mentioned another proactive program that he'll bring up in Olympia. He's proposing a $1 increase in the cigarette sales tax. He cited the costs of caring for people with diseases linked to smoking and also believes it will help to discourage teens from smoking. “Rarely do 30-year-olds say, ‘I think I'll take up smoking,'” Tom pointed out.

A citizen asked about support for sports venues such as Key Arena and Husky Stadium.

Tom stated that education and transportation issues must trump such expenditures. “There is plenty of money in professional sports. You can't take it out of the public's pocket when the money is there from ticket sales,” he explained. Hunter said he's as big a sports fan as any — but from a lawmaker's perspective, would have to agree that new sports facilities are not a priority at this time.