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Friday, October 8, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Environmentalists say Horn must go

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

A coalition of environmental groups and activists started a public campaign yesterday to prevent Sen. Jim Horn, R-Mercer Island, from being re-elected to a seventh term in the state Legislature.

The independent group, calling itself The Committee for Washington's Future, charges that Horn, a longtime politician and chair of the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee, is too focused on pricey road projects. Members accuse Horn of being a roadblock to regional transportation solutions that would include more funding for transit and rail, considered more environmentally friendly than road pavement.

"Jim Horn has made it his personal mission to force the state and region into a very imbalanced approach to funding transportation," said Aaron Ostrom, leader of the group and executive director of 1000 Friends of Washington, an environmental advocacy organization that is not part of the group. "It's unrealistic, incredibly expensive and it can't succeed."

Horn was quick to defend his transportation record, saying that the projects he has supported have included funding for buses and car-pool lanes. "Roads can be done in an environmentally sensitive manner," he said.

Horn accused the group of not being upfront about its motivation. "What these people are really arguing for is rail," he said.

The environmental group, which estimates it so far has received about $30,000 in donations, has set up a Web site — www.layoffthehorn.com — and has purchased two weeks of cable-television ads.

Major supporters so far include the Washington Conservation Voters, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Sierra Club, the Cascade Bicycle Club, developer Bruce Lorig, Seattle Monorail Project Executive Director Joel Horn, and Peter Goldman, an environmental lawyer.

The group's Web site criticizes Horn's support for widening Interstate 405, building a new, eight-lane Highway 520 bridge, and sending a regional transportation tax package to voters that focused mostly on roads instead of transit.

The senator, who is being challenged in November's election by Mercer Island lawyer and Democrat Brian Weinstein, said transportation planning requires the study of many different options. And, he said, transit is already being funded at healthy levels while "the backbone of our system," freeways, are underfunded.

"When people start throwing mud on me, it won't stick. People know me and the work I've done," he said.

Issaquah developer Skip Rowley praised Horn's approach to traffic congestion. He said the senator was key in helping secure funding for a recent project that refurbished Tibbetts Creek underneath Interstate 90 in Issaquah, creating spawning areas for salmon and wetlands. "He's our lifesaver out here," Rowley said.

The senator also defended his record on the environment, pointing out that as a state representative he served on the House environmental affairs committee. Many road projects include improvements to streams, recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat, he said.

In its annual rating of state legislators, however, the Washington Conservation Voters gave Horn a low score of 21 percent, calling him "out of step" and saying the senator has worked "to turn transportation into a bitter partisan debate."

The group also criticized Horn's involvement with past and current proposals for a third north-south freeway located somewhere east of I-405 in the Cascade foothills. In the past, the idea has been referred to as "I-605."

The cable ads feature a man driving a convertible through pastures and telling a talking cow that Horn supports building a new freeway in the rural regions east of Interstate 405.

Last year, with Horn's support, the Legislature earmarked $500,000 for the study of a "Commerce Corridor" in the foothills. In 1998, $500,000 was approved to study whether Highway 18 should be extended to Everett via the Snoqualmie Valley, creating a bypass from the Port of Tacoma to the Port of Everett.

"He's so focused on roads, and that's really out of touch with what the people in the Puget Sound region expect," said Michael McGinn, political chair of the Sierra Club's state chapter.

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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