WSDOT: Freight congestion could cost Washington $3.3 billion, tens of thousands of jobs

Steve Wilhelm, December 3, 2014, Puget Sound Business Journal

The just-released Washington State Freight Plan, the most comprehensive Washington state has ever attempted, is an effort to prioritize where dollars should be spent to best help the state’s freight transportation system.

The plan was released Tuesday by the Washington state Department of Transportation. The state Legislature has been unable to agree on a transportation funding package that would pay for many of the elements in freight plan.

The plan, which addresses the period 2014 to 2030, said that failure to improve conditions will lead to freight congestion, and that a 20 percent increase in congestion will cost the state more than 27,000 jobs and $3.3 billion.

Freight mobility is important for Washington state, the plan concludes, because freight-dependent industries support 1.5 million jobs in the state, or 44 percent of the state’s jobs.

Creators of the plan have been using some new approaches, including developing and testing methods to analyze the economic impacts of truck freight improvements on the highways.

The plan identifies a series of issues:

About 3,700 miles of highway are due or overdue for preservation projects, but the current Washington state Department of Transportation funding will only pay for a third of that over the next two years.

Short-line railroads are hampered by poor maintenance that lowers track speeds to 10 miles an hour, impacting users such as agricultural producers.

To respond to need, the study says the state needs to help highways operate as efficiently as possible, needs to find ways to reduce demand, and needs to strategically allocate resources to fix the worst problems.

“The Freight Mobility Plan is a blueprint to help inform planning and funding decisions to maintain the state’s competitive edge,” said Barbara Ivanov, director of the freight systems division in a statement. “WSDOT will update the plan on a five year cycle, and the project list every two years.”

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