Finishing SR 167 should be high on delegation’s to-do list

The News TribuneJanuary 24, 2013 

When South Sound lawmakers talk about their legislative priorities, near the top is finishing state Route 167 – the six-mile Port of Tacoma bypass. But completing the SR 167 extension has been a priority for more than two decades. It’s time to stop talking about it and get moving on it.

With competition growing from Canadian ports and a widened Panama Canal threatening to take shipping business away, Washington lawmakers and local business interests recognize how important it is to get trucks quickly between the port and points east.

The Washington State Department of Transportation refers to the $1.5 billion SR 167 extension as “a critical missing link in the state’s highway network.” Besides moving trucks more efficiently, the freight corridor also would take a lot of big semis out of heavy Interstate 5 traffic, decreasing accidents and rush-hour gridlock.

Fortunately, it’s looking as though enough stars might be aligning to push through some kind of funding package in the state Legislature – and maybe get some federal funds as well. That’s going to require tight cohesion within the Pierce and South King county delegations as well as pull from the region’s members of Congress.

What could help is the fact that Seattle and King County interests want a similar freight corridor between the Port of Seattle and I-5 by filling a gap in state Route 509. Getting funds for SR 167 could be easier if it’s part of a larger port transportation package – a jobs project supported by labor and business interests.

Buy-in for new transportation revenue might also be possible from environmental groups if there’s some funding for mass transit and stormwater projects. They’re part of a stakeholders group that has been talking about funding ideas for much-needed transportation infrastructure.

Money is needed to maintain existing roads and bridges; half of the state’s roadway surfaces will be in poor shape within a decade unless repairs are made. Such megaprojects as completing the 520 floating bridge and building a new bridge over the Columbia River near Vancouver also have their advocates.

But SR 167 has been on the back burner longer than just about any project. It’s finally time to get it done. Pierce County legislators must insist that it be included in any transportation funding package.

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