Our Voice: Transportation package vital for Mid-Columbia

Good roads are something many take for granted, at least until they’re not so good anymore.

Our state is long overdue for a transportation package to address failing roadways, antiquated systems and other inadequacies. This a safety and commerce issue, but politics have gotten in the way of progress one too many times when it comes to improving our state’s infrastructure.

We have implored our leaders in Olympia to get together for the good of the state on this issue time and again. They failed to find an agreeable plan last year; we hope 2015 brings a solution.

A proposed transportation package now working its way through the Legislature would be a big boost to the Tri-City region, and the state. The $12.3 billion proposal would cover the full $30 million cost of a much-anticipated interchange off of Interstate 82 near Red Mountain and West Richland. It would let the city of Pasco finally replace the 80-year-old railroad overpass on Lewis Street to the tune of $27 million. And it would provide the estimated $300 million needed to finish the expansion of Highway 12 between the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla.

If you have spent any time in the Tri-City area, you know all three of these projects have long been discussed and needed — but languished for lack of funds.

Where would the state find this money? Through a gas tax.

Before you freak out, think about the big picture. Our state is strapped. It is grappling with a court-ordered mandate to better fund education — our roads, bridges and byways aren’t going to fix themselves.

The money for our transportation system has to come from somewhere and a gas tax is essentially a user tax, one of the fairest ways to fund improvements and projects by those who benefit from them.

And even though it’s pennies, the tax increase wouldn’t be felt all at once. The 11.7-cent tax proposed would be phased in over three years: 5 cents this summer, 4.2 cents in 2016 and 2.5 cents the following year.

With current lower fuel prices, the tax is even more palatable.

Beyond many folks’ aversion to any kind of new tax is the clear and present need for projects like those that would benefit the Tri-Cities, as well as those critical to the economic health and public safety of other communities across the state.

Still not convinced, try this — estimates are that driving on deficient roads can cost a driver as much as $1,845 per year in auto repairs.

Efficient and well-maintained roads make big economic sense on many levels. We depend on a robust transportation system to get our goods to market.

Let’s just hope those we elected to safeguard our state’s best interests can get past the politics and put a long overdue priority on our state’s transportation needs when it comes time to cast their votes.