House transportation plan offers relief and reform

You would think from state Sen. Steve O’Ban’s recent Viewpoint on transportation (TNT, 4-19) that Pierce County was on the receiving end of a highway robbery. “Stick’em up,” say the greedy Seattleites, “and give us all your money!”

It’s a good story – but it belongs in the fiction section.

There is no doubt that improving Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McCord is a top priority. The stretch of highway is congested and dangerous, and it is past time we do something about it. That is why House Democrats passed a transportation revenue package two years before Senate Republicans got around to taking action. It is also why our proposal includes $350 million to make meaningful improvements and reasonably expects the federal government to chip in for improvements that benefit a military base.

What really matters for commuters and our economy is results. We should be focused on building right-sized projects and leveraging non-state funds, not spending more taxpayer money to score political points.

Any claim that our region loses out in the House of Representatives’ proposal conveniently ignores the multitude of other needs that it addresses all over the South Puget Sound region. The House package is a much more comprehensive solution to Pierce County’s transportation needs than what passed out of the Senate.

We fund smaller projects across the region that will make a huge difference for the communities they serve. For example, I worked with Republican Rep. Hans Zeiger of Puyallup to include $22.3 million to improve commuter and freight access to the Port of Tacoma – one of the biggest sources of jobs in our region.

We invest $2 million to create better separation and improve safety along the well-traveled Point Defiance rail bypass. And $2.5 million will go to integrating our roadways with the Vashon Island Ferry to make travel more efficient for everyone.

Our package also invests in transportation options for all users in Pierce County. It builds a safe route to local schools in University Place along 54th Street, a dangerous street for children. It contains a study to extend the HOV lanes from Tacoma to JBLM, providing a quicker, more efficient route for countless drivers who commute together to and from the base.

And, of course, there is Sound Transit.

There is a huge demand, in Pierce County and all around the Puget Sound, for rapid transportation options that cut through the gridlock and provide people with choices for their commute. Our transportation package provides Sound Transit with the full $15 billion in authority necessary to extend light rail to Tacoma and provide new express bus service around Pierce County. Voters would get to decide if they want to invest in a reliable, efficient transportation system.

Unfortunately, the Senate package limits voters’ ability to choose and hurts Pierce County. It provides $4 billion less in authorization for Sound Transit, which simply won’t be enough to bring light rail to our region. South Puget Sound residents will be paying taxes for very little benefit.

Does that sound like a good idea?

House negotiators, myself included, are committed to reaching a deal that will grow our economy and help fight traffic congestion. We also understand the need for reform, which is why we passed legislation to reform project delivery, streamline permitting and make agencies more accountable. These are real reforms that will generate real savings.

Senate Republicans, however say that we need major policy changes and fund shifts – their definition of “reforms” – before making any new investments in transportation infrastructure. It is difficult to take such a position seriously when members of their own party grouse that we are not spending enough money in their district.

We need a transportation package that benefits everyone – not one that hinges on policies that hurt our workers, our schools and our economy.

State Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, represents the 27th Legislative District.