Highway Robbery: WA’s Economic Advantage Going the Way of Old Roads

By Tom Albro, Don Meyer, John Odland and Vince O’Halloran, June 18, 2013, Crosscut.com

For more than two decades, transportation and economic leaders in our state have talked about connecting two incomplete highways to the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma. Now, finally, the talk is turning to action. A statewide transportation funding package will generate nearly 100,000 jobs, save time for truckers and commuters and create desperately needed capacity on I-5.

State Routes 509 and 167 have never lived up to their potential. One ends in a cul-de-sac outside Sea-Tac Airport and the other in a cornfield adjacent to Puyallup — not exactly a great way to move products and freight in the most trade-dependent state in the nation.

Our leaders in the Washington state Legislature want to fix that. The “Puget Sound Gateway” project will complete these routes and knit together our two ports with congestion-relieving improvements along I-5. It’s all part of the package crafted by State Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, and State Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Curtis King, R-Yakima.

The payoff is real. This investment in completing SR-509, which has been “shovel-ready” for over a decade, means over 17,000 permanent new jobs. It takes 15 percent of all trucks off I-5. It will save motorists 11 minutes or more by reducing traffic jams in the corridor — and, the list goes on. The benefits of completing SR 167 into the Port of Tacoma are just as clear and just as obvious.

Right now, the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma are in the most intense global competition they’ve ever faced. The government of British Columbia will spend $25 billion at the Ports of Prince Rupert and Vancouver to lure jobs and cargo north of our borders. In 2014 the project to widen the Panama Canal will open up another cargo route that has eastern and Gulf Coast ports poised to capture our market share and jobs. That’s why the two ports are united in support of the Puget Sound Gateway.

We can either invest in critical projects like SR 509 and SR 167, or watch other states and regions pass us by. It’s time to take action now.

These new routes will serve our Green River Valley logistics centers and warehouses, apple growers in Wenatchee and composite manufacturers in Moses Lake. These are thriving industries that have created thousands of jobs all across Washington, including the workers we represent.

The package does the right thing by placing more of the burden on transportation system users to pay for badly needed improvements, maintenance and operations. It also includes a 10-cent increase in the gas tax (the first increase in 8 years) and boosts weight fees paid by truckers and commercial vehicles.

We don’t take increases in the gas tax and other fees lightheartedly. The future of our economy depends on a robust transportation system. And remember that our gas prices have fluctuated 30-40 cents over the past few months without one new cent going into the infrastructure that supports the job centers of our state.

The package is also a balanced approach to transportation. It enables cities and counties to restore their local streets and supports transit service throughout the state. For businesses, this return on investment is worth the money. For workers, the jobs and economic vitality are worth the money. These improvements will keep jobs, trade and quality of life headquartered right here in the great state of Washington.

Too much is at stake not to act right now — this year, this session. To the Legislature, we say, “Please build it now!”

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