Our Voice: Legislature must act on transportation issues

The Senate Transportation Committee's road show landed in Pasco on Thursday night with a three-hour public hearing at Columbia Basin College's Gjerde Center.

Gov. Jay Inslee took advantage of the opportunity to stump in the Tri-Cities for a comprehensive transportation package, telling the Herald's editorial board that legislators are headed toward a bipartisan plan by the end of the year.

Much of the Pasco hearing focused on the proposed Lewis Street overpass, but the state's transportation issues transcend local projects to touch every part of Washington's economy.

A $10 billion transportation plan, including a 10.5-cent increase in the state gas tax, passed the House this year but stalled in the Senate.

We're not ready to share Inslee's optimism about the timing of a deal that addresses the Senate's concerns, but he is spot on in describing a statewide transportation package as essential to Eastern Washington's interests.

Mid-Columbia farmers suffer just as much as Seattle commuters when traffic slows to a crawl in the Puget Sound region. Reliable, timely access to global markets through the Port of Seattle is crucial to Eastern Washington growers, Inslee said.

There's little debate about the need for a major investment in the state's transportation infrastructure. Without a transportation package this year, the state will experience a 52 percent decrease in the maintenance budget for highways and bridges in the next two years, Inslee told the Herald.

The American Society of Civil Engineers already has determined that 366 of Washington's bridges are structurally deficient and 1,693 are functionally obsolete, the Washington State Wire reported. Another 71 bridges will join that list in the next biennium if the Legislature fails to act.

The business community is solidly behind increased spending on a comprehensive transportation package. The Association of Washington Businesses' study on the issue found that:

"The importance of Washington state's transportation system cannot be overstated, in terms of both the jobs it creates and the value to our economy by moving people, goods and services.

"Washington state's transportation industry provides employment for more than 80,000 residents. The industry supports another 1 million-plus jobs in freight-dependent sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, construction and forestry, producing nearly $434 billion in gross business income."

Gas consumption will continue to decline, especially as electric vehicles gain in popularity.

The gas tax, even with a hefty increase, can't be relied upon to produce enough revenue to maintain Washington's highways.

But money must be found somewhere. The investment state taxpayers made in our transportation system has paid off. Maintaining it is essential to our future economic success.

The costs may be painful, but not as painful as failing to act would be.