An investment in roads is an investment in the future

The collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River should serve as a major wake-up call for an issue that has been largely forgotten lately – our transportation infrastructure and the need to invest in it.

In 2011, the Connecting Washington Task Force’s final report estimated that the state would need to invest approximately $50 billion over 10 years to adequately meet the transportation system needs.

In the case of state Route 167, which dead-ends in Puyallup, we have been waiting decades to complete this corridor from Puyallup and to the Port of Tacoma. Completing SR 167 is one of the best things we can do as a region to help our port stay competitive, to help shippers and growers move their goods more efficiently to market, and to create tens of thousands of new jobs.

This year we have a real opportunity to act and to move forward. A broad coalition of stakeholders — business, labor, environmentalists, local elected leaders — have been working together; all agree that we need to take action now.

The result is the Connecting Washington package (HB 1954/HB 1955), proposed by House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn. Together, these bills would make a significant down payment on our problem. The $9.5 billion, 12-year package would make key investments in maintenance and preservation of our roads.

For Puyallup, this transportation package is well worth supporting. More than $1 billion is included for what is known as the SR 167/SR 509 Puget Sound Gateway project, which will allow us to complete SR 167 into the Port of Tacoma and SR 509 into the Port of Seattle through South King County. We would also receive about $1.5 million over 12 years to help with desperately needed local roads maintenance, and there would be some new funding for Pierce Transit as well as for grant programs that assist cities such as ours.

Our state is literally at a crossroads with a transportation system that is our lifeblood. Our current roads are crumbling, traffic congestion is worse, freight is getting stuck and transit service is getting cut.

We can either do nothing or we can make a down payment to create and grow jobs and the economy, and more efficiently move people and goods. The situation won’t improve unless our elected officials in Olympia act, this year, in this special session of the Legislature.

Rick Hansen is mayor of Puyallup. Shelly Schlumpf is executive director of the Puyallup Sumner Chamber of Commerce.