Moving on transportation

On Nov. 17, the first day of the Dubai Air Show, Boeing will announce one or more launch customers for its 777X program (plane nerds take note.) The world also is likely to learn whether Washington or South Carolina nabs the 777X final-assembly honors (plane nerds, along with everyone else in Western Washington, take note.)

Political flaks are busy drafting good news/bad news press releases: “Be thankful we demonstrated leadership” or “If only the other party had the wherewithal to cobble together a transportation plan.” In fact, Boeing is the sword of Damocles in the debate over a state transportation plan. The Senate Majority Coalition, which is revisiting a package and has scheduled a listening tour this month (in Everett, on Sept 18 at 6:00 p.m. at the county’s Robert Drewel building) understands the stakes — and the political price of inaction.

Pointing to the sword may be unfair. Conventional wisdom is that Boeing already has made up its mind, but heel dragging preserves its political leverage. Oh, fickle suitor! The takeaway for the Senate majority is if they don’t find common ground and agree to a special session before Dubai, and Boeing opts for the Palmetto State, they become the fall guy. But a pox on everyone’s house if political posturing scuttles a state transportation plan. It’s too critical to the public interest and a vibrant economy.

As The Herald’s Bill Sheets reports, 15 Snohomish County projects totaling more than $382 million originally were on the table. The list included a $46 million interchange at 116th Street NE in Marysville and I-5 near the Seattle Premium Outlet mall at Tulalip. A new $44 million interchange on Highway 526 in Everett would ease congestion for Boeing and aerospace suppliers.

The price of admission includes decoupling a Columbia River crossing from the package, something Gov. Jay Inslee reluctantly yielded on. Republicans also insist on a series of reforms, and at least a couple are fair game. The state auditor’s recommendation to reform the ferry capital program, for example, and the use of a design-build purchasing process for new auto vessels, have appeal. But no package can be held hostage to a partisan wish list and deal killers such as “an open dialogue on prevailing wage.” Most assume these throwaways were inserted to assuage red-meat caucus members. But keep-em-happy politics can’t be allowed to sidetrack the package goal.

“Performance measures indicate that more of the state’s highway pavement is slipping to poor condition,” said the Washington Roundtable’s Steve Mullin. “It’s a trend that reduces safety, produces travel delays and increases maintenance costs for all drivers.”

Victory has a thousand fathers. United for transportation, lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, will be able to take credit and celebrate a win for Washington.

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