Opinion

House’s Seattle-centric transportation package no deal for Pierce County

Pierce County’s economic future took a hit this week when the state House of Representatives released its transportation proposal.

Once again we saw a Seattle-centric bias from House leadership when they shifted vital transportation funds away from the Interstate 5 corridor near Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the full completion of state Routes 167 and 509 in order to add $230 million to projects in the Seattle area.

For the past two years, members of the Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties’ delegations have joined me to advocate for the $450 million necessary to fix the JBLM chokepoint and increase the mobility of people and goods. It is our state’s most vital north-south route and will require nothing less than a full build-out to expand road capacity.

The bipartisan Senate transportation package included this necessary funding for JBLM and prioritized funds for a four-lane completion of SR 167 and SR 509. The House transportation package is a significant step backward for JBLM and our region. It does not fund the recommended alternative by the state Department of Transportation for the corridor and postpones any meaningful solutions for another 16 years.

That’s 16 years of delays and congestion we can’t afford.

With more than 800,000 residents, Pierce is the second most populated county in Washington. The Puget Sound region added 38,000 people last year alone, and trends in population growth are projected to continue.

The JBLM corridor also supports one of the country’s largest military base operations that provide 34,624 jobs. Approximately 400,000 vehicles travel through the gates at JBLM every week, and 80 percent of those vehicles access the base via I-5.

We expect to see a 20 percent increase in freight trucks that move the goods you need and purchase every day. More than 15,000 freight trucks use the stretch of I-5 through JBLM. The expected increase of freight traffic over the next 20 years represents an additional 30,000 trips per day. The JBLM chokepoint will only get worse with lost money that you as a consumer will end up paying for and lost time with our families.

The House proposal also reverts to the “bottleneck strategy” of having four lanes drop to two on SR 167 and then back to four as it approaches I-5, therefore guaranteeing a traffic chokepoint and more delays of vital goods and services to the Port of Tacoma and our region.

Any transportation package must include greater accountability measures and cost-savings when we build projects and allocate funds. We cannot commit billions of taxpayer money without major reforms to our transportation system.

The House proposal falls woefully short on major reforms. Sales tax reform to protect transportation revenue for building and maintaining roads: gone. Valuable reforms to our ferry system that would save millions and make the contract process more competitive: gone. Streamlining the permit process to save time and money: gone.

The Senate transportation package also included a “consumer protection” clause that would prevent Gov. Jay Inslee from imposing expensive fuel standards by executive order. Reports on what is known as low-carbon fuel standards show that prices at the pump could rise anywhere from 25 cents to $1 – increasing energy costs without building a single road or fixing a bridge, while hurting family budgets and local businesses.

Winston Churchill once stated, “It is not enough to do our best. Sometimes we must do what is required.” The House transportation package falls far short of what is required for the JBLM corridor, SR 157-509 corridors and our state.

State Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, represents the 28th Legislative District in Olympia.

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