By Steve Mullin, April 16, 2015, Seattle Times
SO many of us share a traffic nightmare, whether it’s slogging across Lake Washington, inching along Interstate 5 or 405, or dealing with the inevitable costs of driving on bad roads. Under our feet and wheels are some of the poorest quality roads in the United States — the 15th worst in the nation — and it’s costing us.
According to a 2014 report from TRIP, a national transportation research group, deficient roadways cost Washington residents approximately $6.5 billion annually in the form of additional vehicle operating costs, the cost of lost time and wasted fuel due to traffic congestion and traffic crashes. Everyone is impacted: growers, shippers, manufacturers, commuters and families. Our state must do better.
Thanks to bipartisan leadership in the state Senate — led by Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima, Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, Joe Fain, R-Auburn, and Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo — a serious proposal is in play in Olympia. The state Senate passed a bipartisan transportation package on March 2. With time running short in the current legislative session, it is time for the full House to take action on a bipartisan package as well.
The Senate’s $15 billion transportation package relies on an 11.7 cent increase in the state gas tax, phased in over three years. It invests much-needed dollars in the preservation and maintenance of our state’s existing roads and bridges and completes corridors critical to our entire state.
Widening Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass would improve safety and provide for smoother movement between Eastern and Western Washington.
Completing the Highway 520 bridge’s west landing would improve the link between the region’s economic centers of Bellevue and Seattle.
Extending Highways 509 and 167 would expedite freight movement in and out of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, both vital economic engines for the entire state.
Upgrading Highway 9 through Snohomish County would improve safety.
Improving I-5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord would improve mobility between the south and central Puget Sound regions.
The project list, and the benefits, go on. This package would bring new money for ferries. It would help keep toll rates down on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. It would provide additional funding for cities and counties and options for transit.
Each of these investments is important for families and employers. Collectively, they represent a commitment to Washington’s future.
The population in our state is expected to grow 16 percent by 2030. A lot more people will be using Washington’s roads and bridges.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates that, without new investment, 60 percent of state highway pavement will be in poor condition or worse by 2026. That’s three times the amount considered to be poor or worse just three years ago.
BCG further estimates that if Washington does not increase its investment in the preservation and maintenance of roads and bridges, and improve key corridors, it will cost every driver $940 in additional congestion-related expenses and $1,040 in maintenance each year.
Washington must strategically invest in transportation. The Senate package would help ensure the roads and bridges residents travel on every day are safer and more efficient. It would give transit agencies options to pursue expansion. It includes reforms that would make sure tax dollars are better used. It would create jobs, spur port activity and support economic growth.
Lawmakers have a real opportunity, the first in a decade, to make strategic transportation investments that would pay substantial dividends for decades to come. Passage of the Senate package was a critical step. It’s now time for the House to act as well.
Steve Mullin is president of the Washington Roundtable, an association of senior executives from the state’s major private sector employers.