Gov. Jay Inslee has been stumping the state with a bipartisan and self-evident message: A highway chokepoint in one part of Washington hurts the economy in all parts of Washington.
Many parts of Washington – especially the South Sound – are hurting for lack of road capacity. Lawmakers should address the problem with a statewide transportation package – and pass it in a November special session.
Jobs and profits depend on reliable, efficient highways. Boeing, for example, is contemplating building its next jetliner, the high-tech 777X, in Washington. The assembly lines would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in wages for Washington workers.
Boeing buys its aerospace components from suppliers far and wide – dozens of them in Pierce County alone. When siting big projects, Boeing looks at the reliability of a region’s transportation system. So does its arch-competitor, Airbus, which is also reportedly contemplating doing business in Washington.
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Boeing is just one of hundreds of high-wage companies that need good roads to bring in supplies, move out their products, and get their employees to work and back.
A state transportation package that didn’t make it through the Legislature in June would have expanded highway corridors and freight bottlenecks in much of the state. It would have widened Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass, for example, created more capacity on freight-heavy Interstate 405 and extended a critical truck route in the Spokane area.
Pierce and South King counties would have been the greatest beneficiaries of the package.
State Route 167 – originally designed to connect I-405 with Interstate 5 in Tacoma – never got beyond the Puyallup area. The unfinished gap between Puyallup and Tacoma is a literally a roadblock between the port and points east.
The gap forces Eastern Washington farmers to move perishable Pacific-bound crops on congested or roundabout routes. It does the same for Kent Valley wholesalers who bring goods in through the port. It forces trucks from all over into I-5 lanes, snarling cars and buses in overcrowded lanes.
The legislative proposal would have funded a strategic Puget Sound Gateway that would break open chokepoints by finishing SR 167, extending SR 509 south from SeaTac to I-5 and improving critical I-5 interchanges.
The Columbia River Crossing – a flashpoint of contention in last spring – has been mercifully dropped from the package. Frustrated with Washington’s infighting over its $450 million share of the work, Oregon lawmakers are looking at financing the multi-span bridge themselves.
Washington lawmakers will be distracted and running in 100 different directions when they convene in January for next year’s short session. A transportation plan that fixes big, expensive problems across the state is necessarily complex and dependent on knotty political and financial tradeoffs. It needs a session all its own, and November’s the time to do it.