The Washington State Senate Democratic caucus has chosen a new leader for the chamber’s influential and powerful Transportation Committee: Marko Liias (D‑21st District; Snohomish County). Liias will take over from his colleague Steve Hobbs, who resigned from the Senate last month to become Secretary of State.
“It is an honor that my colleagues trust me with this responsibility and have selected me for this position,” said Liias in a statement. “As we face dramatic changes to transportation revenue and mobility options, this is our moment to write a visionary, equitable, climate-focused transportation package that invests in our shared priorities while respecting our real and unique local needs.”
The other finalist for the position, NPI understands, was Rebecca Saldaña (D‑37th District; Seattle) who is currently the Vice Chair of Transportation.
Both Liias and Saldaña are part of the caucus’ leadership team: Saldaña is a Deputy Majority Leader and Liias is the Majority Floor Leader.
The caucus selected from between Liias and Saldaña in an internal vote. The caucus’ standard operating procedure for leadership and committee chair elections is to use a secret ballot to reduce friction and possible acrimony.
The Senate Democratic caucus noted that Liias has been involved in transportation advocacy and legislating for over a decade.
“Liias had served as Vice Chair of the House Transportation Committee from 2008 until his appointment to the Senate in 2014 and helped negotiate the Legislature’s last transportation revenue package in 2015. In the Senate, he has played key roles on numerous transportation issues, including and especially transit access,” the caucus’ statement pointed out, citing Liias’ previous service in the House.
Hobbs had been Transportation Chair since Democrats regained a Senate majority in late 2017 with Senator Manka Dhingra’s special election victory.
At the time of his appointment to the executive department, Hobbs was working on negotiating a new statewide transportation package with Governor Jay Inslee’s office and House leadership. Hobbs’ opposition to climate action bills and highway-centric transportation advocacy have long frustrated Washingtonians working on the causes of reducing pollution and improving freedom of mobility.
With Hobbs now in the executive department, Senate Transportation will be run by Liias, who is promising a different approach, as the statement above demonstrates. It’s nice to see the words “equitable” and “climate-focused” in the same sentence as “transportation package that invests in our shared priorities.”
To meet the moment, the Legislature will need to pass a transportation package that is radically different from the car-centric packages it has adopted in the past. Instead of appropriating huge sums for widening highways or building new highways, the Legislature must make meaningful investments in bus and rail transit, ferries, bike paths, sidewalks, and multimodal infrastructure.
It would be a mistake to continue pouring huge sums into adding more lanes to already wide highways like Interstate 5, even if the new lanes are to be dedicated to high occupancy vehicles. Our highways are wide enough.
We’re hopeful that Senator Liias will push for a transportation package that makes big investments in Amtrak Cascades, freight mobility, fish passage, and right of way for pedestrians and bicyclists. The state should also help Sound Transit deliver ST3 faster and provide funding to rural transit agencies to ensure we can offer better, higher frequency bus service. We do need to replace the I‑5 Columbia River Bridge and the U.S. 2 trestle up in Snohomish County, but we should not be using those projects to increase car capacity, which would inflate their price tag.