Viewpoint: We Need a Statewide Transportation Package

By John Creighton and Tom Albro, March 1, 2013, Puget Sound Business Journal

Policymakers continue to point to job creation as the most pressing issue facing the nation. You’re talking our language. Fostering growth through freight mobility is the Port of Seattle’s core mission.

This year in Olympia, we’ve got an opportunity to put the rhetoric into action by passing a major statewide transportation revenue package. We must act on long-deferred infrastructure investments, including transportation projects like State Route 509 that move manufactured goods and agricultural commodities to market.

We focus on transportation systems that provide access to global markets because they translate directly into jobs. A new study commissioned by the Washington Council on International Trade and the Trade Development Alliance concluded that four in 10 jobs here are tied to international commerce. Washington truly is a global state.

The Port of Seattle is at the heart of our export growth engine. We handle 2 million containers a year, and in our Century Agenda vision, we aim to triple the value of outbound cargo and grow 100,000 jobs across the region.

We’re investing in infrastructure to make that happen. The port has committed $362 million to freight corridors around King County in the last 15 years, including the Alaskan Way deep bore tunnel. More needs to be done.

The Legislature must act decisively to keep Washington competitive in a global economy. We understand it’s never easy to raise transportation revenues, even when the need is clear — Puget Sound remains among the nation’s 10 most congested regions, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.

A balanced approach is important, and the port’s freight mobility priorities will benefit other vehicles and transit users. The State Route 509 extension near SeaTac will open new options between Interstate 5 and the airport and waterfront. The Mercer Corridor project, in conjunction with the Alaskan Way tunnel, will keep things flowing to the north end of Elliott Bay.

In Sodo, we need improvements to east-west arterials to unlock the choke points that gum up freight movement between the seaport, two key rail yards and area freeways. Our community is already investing billions to keep that Sodo transportation network working. On the average workday, 5,000 trucks travel through the area. If the new sports arena lands in that same congested zone, we know there will be further complications for freight mobility that must be mitigated.

We also know our port is part of a larger system. Barrels of ink have been spilled on the topic of the rivalry between ports of Seattle and Tacoma, but on this issue, our two ports march in lockstep. The State Route 167 extension in Pierce County is a freight infrastructure investment that’s important to the region’s long-term economic vitality. And our FAST Corridor Partnership with communities along I-5 provides grade separations that improve safety and help get goods to market via rail.

Much remains to be done. Our state’s backlog includes projects of major significance all over the state. A new Columbia River crossing to replace the existing antique drawbridge (the only stoplight on I-5 for 1,500 miles) is long overdue. Investments in Central and Eastern Washington will speed farm products and manufactured goods to markets across the globe.

This is where the rubber hits the road. Let’s find the political will to pass the first major statewide transportation package since 2005, not just to grow construction jobs for tomorrow, but to support a vibrant economy for the next generation. These projects are truly an investment in our kids’ prosperity.

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