Lowry signs legislation to enhance the state's trail system; expand rail service

SEATTLE - Gov. Mike Lowry today signed into law a measure that will pave the way for a cross-state recreational trail system while also expanding Washington's freight rail capacity.

During a bill-signing ceremony at Seattle's Gas Works Park, the governor said House Bill 2832 will help fund completion of a cross-state trail along the Old Milwaukee Railroad line by re-opening and franchising state-owned portions of the Milwaukee right of way to rail use.

"I've always said that our state's quality of life and economic development go hand in hand," Lowry said. "This plan is a perfect example of the good that can happen when we take on both goals together."

HB 2832 will provide a legal framework for the state to acquire resources for the cross-state trail system by allowing freight rail users to franchise portions of the state-owned right of way for their use. The new law also allows for a dedicated cross-state trail account capped at $11.5 million under the Parks and Recreation Commission for trail acquisition, development and maintenance.

In addition, the new law changes management of various parts of the state's right of way so that those intended for trail use will be managed by the state Parks and Recreation Department and areas planned for rail use will be managed by the state Department of Transportation.

Lowry said the new law will help bring to reality a long-sought dream of hikers in a way that allows the project to pay for itself.

"The cross-state trail project has been in the works for many years," Lowry said. "This measure is a giant step forward. It is very good news for everyone in the state who values our exceptional quality of life and the recreational opportunities we treasure."

The governor said the idea for a cross-state project dates back to 1981, when the state purchased portions of a rail right of way once owned by the bankrupt Milwaukee Railroad. The Legislature later dedicated the area to trail use. Back then, Lowry said, trail users were optimistic the land would eventually provide the foundation for a complete cross-state trail from Puget Sound to the Idaho border.

Today, however, while much of the Old Milwaukee line is used as a trail, resources have never been available to complete the system. Major gaps in the trail exist where the line remains in rail use or where adjacent property owners have re-acquired control of the right of way.

The legislation, which was requested by the governor, also will take steps to re-open the Old Milwaukee route through Stampede Pass.

Under the new law, Lowry said, everyone will benefit: the state's economy, and the people who live here.

During the afternoon ceremony, the governor also signed into law a measure that is aimed at improving the state's air quality by encouraging people to find alternatives to driving alone to work. Senate Bill 6260 continues and expands the state tax credit to businesses that provide financial incentives to employees who rideshare or use public transportation.

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For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office at 360-753-6790