Transportation agenda is critical in 2013 legislative session

State legislators will soon dive straight in to the principal assignment before us in Olympia. I speak of our state’s operating, capital and transportation budgets.

Let me emphasize at the outset a very important and absolutely essential responsibility we have as a Legislature: We must provide increased funding for early learning, K-12 schools and higher education. These are sound investments in the next generation, helping young people realize their dreams and training a workforce for the 21st century. At the same time, we must continue to protect our most vulnerable – including children, seniors and disabled citizens.

However, there is one other issue that looms very large on our 2013 agenda – the substantial investment we have proposed for improving our transportation system. As a vice chair of the House Transportation Committee, I’m heavily involved in this dialogue that touches every corner of the state.

Strategies for project selection by the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board (FMSIB), for example, are high on our specific transportation to-do list. The question we seek to answer is, “What can we do to get the best bang for our buck with scarce resources – to ensure that our dollars invested in transportation are stretched as far as humanly possible?” Providing the FMSIB greater flexibility in selecting projects is one important answer to that question.

No one knows better than Tacoma-Pierce County families and businesses the need for improving our transportation infrastructure.

Resolving – at long last – the glaring mobility gaps in the Puget Sound Gateway project is an enormous endeavor. In fact, our House Democratic “Connecting Washington” package of transportation projects prioritizes completion of the missing link of state Route 167 to extend the highway to the Port of Tacoma and provides funding for improvement of key interchanges near Joint Base Lewis-McChord. This work will be a great step forward in improving accessibility and reducing congestion in Tacoma and Pierce County.

The priorities in this package are aimed at solving challenges both for motorists and for industries. The awful reality is that our unmet transportation demands are costing us dearly – both in hours and in dollars: Thousands of people stuck in traffic are losing valuable time with their families, and hundreds of trucks filled with goods are idling on our roads, increasing the cost of doing business in Washington.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In targeted revenue enhancements over the next 10 years, our Connecting Washington package will raise billions of dollars for Washington’s transportation system, including strategic transit investments, while creating tens of thousands of jobs in the coming decade.

Truly, we all have a great interest in this enterprise. Stakeholders from various perspectives on the transportation challenge have participated in crafting these critical investment proposals. In fact, local leaders in Pierce County have impressively rallied around the SR 167 Puget Sound Gateway project.

Freight and commuter mobility are extremely important in striving for an answer to these transportation challenges. In recent years, we’ve stepped up to the plate and carried out a good initial portion of this effort. Now it’s time to reinvest in Washington’s people and businesses. It’s time to reestablish our commitment to building a better, more-efficient tomorrow for future generations.

It bears repeating that everyone has a huge stake in this legislation. The outcome will benefit communities and neighborhoods everywhere. So, up front, the bill should be spread fairly. We each owe our fair share in paying the tab.

I have no illusions about the political minefield through which this Connecting Washington proposal must now make its way before the end of session. But no one said it would be easy. There have and will be long hours hammering out compromises in the weeks ahead.

That being said, with what is at stake for the future of Washington, this job is simply far too important to kick down the road.