Infrastructure, arguably the most snooze-inducing word in the English language after the adverb “arguably,” is vital to the economic and social health of the Pacific Northwest. If we don’t invest in (insert sexy word here), the Northwest loses capacity to move goods, stimulate business and ensure primary services such as public safety.
Transportation is a salient example. As The Herald reported Wednesday, beginning in mid-July, the state Department of Transportation will replace the concrete deck and part of the steel support frame of the bridge that carries southbound traffic on I-5 over the Stillaguamish River. Repairing the Depression-era span will take four months. After a 2012 inspection, the bridge was put on the state’s “structurally deficient” list which, according to experts, doesn’t mean it will go the way of Gallopin’ Gertie circa 1940. It simply needs fixing (There are 139 state-owned bridges in Washington rated as structurally deficient).
The cratering of a transportation-revenue package in the last legislative session was a mistake that will be felt for some time.
The old transportation paradigm involved road-centric Republicans, buoyed by the business community, horse-trading with transit-focused urban Democrats, animated by organized labor. There was chest thumping, but everyone understood that transportation, like basic education, was a core state responsibility.
In that pre-gridlock era, art-of-the-possible politics produced a mix of roads, transit and, yes, a gas tax for traffic-fatigued Washingtonians to vote yea or nay. Governing, however fleeting, trumped ideology.
The Legislature’s original traspo package included 15 Snohomish County projects totaling more than $382 million. The list included a $46 million interchange at 116th Street NE in Marysville and I-5 near the Seattle Premium Outlet mall at Tulalip. And a new $44 million interchange on Highway 526 in Everett would ease congestion for aerospace suppliers.
There is other (insert sexy word) such as a long-term solution to combined sewer overflows in Everett. An Environmental Protection Agency map pinpoints the 772 communities nationwide that, like Everett, use combined sewer systems. They are, according to the EPA, “remnants of the country’s early infrastructure and so are typically found in older communities.” Combined systems fell out of favor by the 1940s. The EPA’s combined-sewer policy dates to 1994. Two examples worth emulating are King County and the city of Portland.
This (sexy word) can’t be reduced to a campaign slogan. Too bad. In the public sphere, it should be priority one.