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Need for transportation infrastructure won’t go away | Letters
By State Sen. Tracey Eide and State Rep. Roger Freeman
With today’s economic challenges, people are driving less while driving more fuel-efficient cars. We’re buying less gas and, as a result, paying less gas tax, which is what funds our state transportation system. This has eroded our ability to fully maintain our current system, much less build on it.
But our needs don’t go away. Washington is one of the most trade dependent states in the nation. Our businesses, large and small, need to move their products efficiently across our state and through our ports.
In our trade-dependent state, this is critical for business competitiveness and for our economic future. All Washingtonians need the assurance that they are traveling on roads that provide safe, smooth travel. And we need to add infrastructure that will power our economy in the coming decades.
A decade ago, in 2003 — and again in 2005 — voters responded to our state’s need for increased transportation infrastructure by passing referendums that added 5 cents and 9.5 cents to the statewide tax on a gallon of gasoline. Those investments funded the construction of major roads and bridges across Washington, including the first phase of the I-5/SR-18/SR-161 "Triangle" project, that relieved congestion and provide safe, smooth travel and the efficient movement of freight.
In the 2013 session, we joined many in the Legislature who understand this need and proposed a revenue package that would build and maintain the transportation infrastructure we all depend on. This revenue package was supported by the Association of Washington Business, chambers of commerce, labor organizations, King County Metro, environmentalists and, cities and towns across Washington.
But to the detriment of Washington's future, the proposal died for lack of support.
We both voted for the revenue package because we understand how important these transportation projects are to our state and our district. Included among the investments the package would have funded: Phase II of the Federal Way Triangle — five interrelated projects to make current roads more efficient to handle today’s increased need for capacity.
The package also would have funded the Puget Sound Gateway, extending SR 509 and SR 167 to link the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma to I-5. These links are critical to the prosperity of our businesses, ports and local economy.
Another project the tax would have funded was a modern bridge spanning the Columbia River along I-5 — a critical transportation corridor not just for Vancouver and southern Washington but for entire Pacific Northwest and beyond. If you’ve driven across the two existing bridges that span the river, you know how backed up they get — and how badly we need additional capacity.
And if you’ve followed the news this year, you know how vulnerable these outmoded bridge are to collapse. One was built in 1919, the other in 1958 — and both have the same structural vulnerability that caused the Skagit River Bridge to collapse earlier this year when the top of a tractor-trailer truck hit one of its beams. Beyond that, engineers say the outdated Columbia River bridges can’t survive a major earthquake. Who wants to be driving across them the horrific day that earthquake comes?
Obviously, the time to act is now. What’s more, those were just the main projects. The package also would have funded scores of smaller projects to boost highway construction, bike and pedestrian trails, transit, rail, ferries and other efforts to improve transportation in communities across the state.
Roads are not Democratic or Republican, everyone drives on our highways. We all need safe, reliable and efficient transportation. We will continue to work with the businesses, chambers, labor and environmental groups, transit organizations and cities who supported this proposal and see that it passes for the good of Washington.
State Sen. Tracey Eide, the co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, and State Rep. Roger Freeman represent the 30th Legislative District