A state transpo package

Transportation is counting sheep. Like “infrastructure,” it’s a word that shouldn’t be used when operating heavy machinery.

Transportation also drives night terrors, with visions of temple-pinching gridlock. Cardiology lingo is the norm. Congestion. Poor circulation.

Transportation is nevertheless a thread that binds business and communities. Pouring money into highways, ferries and public transit (“invest” is the policy euphemism of choice) needs to be strategic. The highest return on ferrying people and goods is criterion one, along with a non-political calculus to determine funding priorities.

The Washington Roundtable, a group of business honchos who hold sway in Olympia, is floating a proposal to prompt debate in the Legislature. The Roundtable brainstorm centers on a 10-year plan to underwrite key operations, maintenance and preservation needs of the state highway system (Get off the back-hoe and read on.) The second feature is completing projects in critical transportation corridors. The theme is a Lutheran-ish “Take care of what we have and finish what we’ve started.” And, yes, it comes with a price tag. The Roundtable proposes a 15 percent gross-weight fee on trucks over 12,000 pounds, a value-based vehicle license fee at a 0.6 percent rate (no one tell Tim Eyman) that excludes commercial trucks, and a nine-cent gas tax increase. The gas tax would be in two parts to, at least in theory, ease the pain.

The eat-your-broccoli emphasis on maintenance and operations is delightfully unsexy. Pavement costs money, as Washington’s flood pants accommodate its growth spurt. Some of the Roundtable’s targeted projects benefit Snohomish County, including reconstruction and improvements on I-5 and in Central Puget Sound. The rest do not, although an argument can be made — U.S. 2 drivers and Marysville residents excepted — that Seattle-area corridors affect Snohomish County businesses. True, but a few regional priorities should be on the list. This includes $2 million for interchange-justification money to convert the new 156th Street overpass into an interchange with I-5 to ease traffic around the Lakewood Crossing shopping area (the big bucks will need to come from the feds.)

And there’s U.S. 2, Washington’s highway of death, which can’t be ignored yet again. Leadership is the X factor. Snohomish County benefits from a handful of transportation whizzes such as Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling, Everett City Councilmember Paul Roberts (both Sound Transit Board members) as well as Mukilteo Rep. Marko Liias, the Vice Chair of the House Transportation Committee. However, with the recent defeat of state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen and embattled County Executive Aaron Reardon exhibiting no political pull, Snohomish County requires a strong, unified push. We need to get on the project list, or get run over.

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