Coal or no coal, let’s fix SR 432

Editorial,  April 23, 2015, The Daily News

If Interstate 405 had never been built east of Seattle in the 1960s, Microsoft would likely have found another place to set up shop. Construction of I-205 in eastern Clark County in the 1980s opened up a vast swath of land for new commercial and residential development.

 

Just as building roads can spur economic development, so can construction of rail lines. The proposed SR 432 project in Longview — which includes both road and rail improvements — is designed to accomplish the same here.

 

Unfortunately, the 432 project has become a tool used by those who are opposed to Millennium Bulk Terminals’ proposed coal export facility, so its funding by the Washington legislature has become both controversial and problematic.

 

It’s our point of view, however, that the 432 project is essential for Southwest Washington regardless of what happens with the coal terminal.

 

Improvements along the 432 corridor have been discussed for years, but the project gained momentum with Millennium for good reason, because long coal trains servicing the coal terminal would block at-grade crossings. The 432 project includes street overpasses near the Industrial Way/Oregon Way intersection and another at Industrial Way near the Weyerhaeuser main gate near the south end of Washington Way.

 

The 432 projectwould eventually include extending the rail spur that now ends at the Millennium site farther west to Barlow Point, a property the Port of Longview wants to develop.

 

A recent posting in the Sightline Institution blog notes that there aren’t any development prospects for Barlow Point now. While this is true, it misses the point that it’s hard to sell industrial land without much access. Of course, just because there’s road access doesn’t mean there will be development, as witnessed at Longview’s Mint Farm Industrial Park, which has thus far generated 90 jobs — far fewer than the 7,000 city leaders once predicted.

 

Unlike the areas near I-405 in eastern King County, Longview’s job base is industrial and likely to stay that way, and improved rail access is one pathway to attracting more employers.

 

The various branches of government in Olympia have come down predictably on 432. Gov. Jay Inslee’s original proposed transportation budget included nothing for 432 — or anything else in Southwest Washington, for that matter. The Senate’s budget included $85 million for 432, a start on a project estimated to cost a total of $300 million.

 

Last week, the House Transportation Committee narrowly rejected inclusion of 432 in the House budget, on a 13-12 vote. Local legislators are working on ways to keep the 432 funding in the budget as the process drags on into a likely special session. They’re also hoping to keep alive a proposed $900,000 for a South Kelso rail crossing. One thing both projects have in their favor is that if spending isn’t sprinkled around the state rather than being focused in the Puget Sound area, the entire transportation package could fail.

 

There’s still some chance the final transportation package will indeed include money for 432, and an equally good chance that anti-coal forces will be watching even more closely as environmental permitting for Millennium moves along.

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