By Dave Earling, Ray Stephanson, Jon Nehring, Stephanie Wright, Rick Cooper and Troy McClelland
The collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River last week should serve as a wake-up call on an issue that is too often placed on the back burner: the need to maintain and invest in our transportation infrastructure not only to ensure efficient mobility, safety, a strong economy and healthy job base, but to preserve the quality of life that makes Washington state a special place to live.
Our transportation system is teetering on the brink of crisis. State highways, county roads, and city streets continue to deteriorate. Our bridges, as we have just been dramatically reminded, are in dire need of repair or replacement.
Major transportation projects, critical to our economic vitality, are under construction but still only partially funded. Other long-overdue projects that will ease traffic congestion and move freight through the state are still on the drawing boards because of lack of funding.
The ferry system is in desperate need of replacement vessels for aging boats. Stormwater runoff is polluting our waterways. Transit agencies have reduced service and are facing more severe funding cuts.
Serious gaps in sidewalk and bicycle facilities make it difficult for children to get to school safely.
In 2011, the Connecting Washington Task Force, representing business, local government, labor and environmental interests, developed a 10-year strategy to maintain and improve the state’s transportation system. The task force’s final report estimated that the state would need to invest approximately $50 billion over 10 years to adequately meet the transportation system needs.
Snohomish County is a significant part of this statewide need. We are a hub for aerospace; we have a manufacturing core with high employment dependent upon the I-5 corridor; we have essential ferry links across Puget Sound; we provide port access critical to aerospace parts delivery; we suffer from drastic budget cuts that have crippled transit services; and we have a scarcity of east-west highway corridors to move our people and goods.
The needs and the transportation problems in Snohomish County are mounting, and the longer we wait, the more it will cost to address these challenges.
This year provides us with the best opportunity to move forward that we have had in years. A broad coalition of stakeholders — business, labor, environmentalists, and local-elected leaders — has been working together and ALL agree that we need to take action now.
So does Governor Inslee. He and legislative leaders of both parties have come up with a plan that addresses our most pressing challenges. The priorities in their approach: maintain what we have, protect jobs and our economy, and support transit and local transportation efforts.
The result is the “Connecting Washington” package (House Bill 1954/House Bill 1955) proposed by House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn. Together, these bills would make a significant down payment on our problem, and in the process spur economic development. The $9.5 billion, 12-year package would make key investments in road maintenance and preservation, freight mobility improvements, and traffic congestion relief. Moreover, the proposals will provide direct funding and funding options to local governments to protect transit service, maintain and improve local roads, and ensure safety improvements to bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
For Snohomish County, this package reflects a number of major improvements to our regional transportation network, including:
•Investments in the Mukilteo Multimodal Ferry Terminal.
Additional northbound capacity on I-5 between Everett and Marysville through the use of “running shoulder lanes” that can be opened to the public to ease morning and evening “peak hour” congestion.
Improved freight access in Everett between 41st Street and W. Marine View Drive to the Port of Everett.
A half interchange at State Route 526 and Hardeson Road to reduce congestion in the southwest Everett industrial centers.
Upgrades to the I-5 and 116th Street NE (Marysville) interchange.
An interchange at I-5 and SR 529 between Everett and Marysville (study and design).
The State Route 9 Snohomish River Bridge and improvements at the SR 9/SR 204 interchange;
State Route 99 revitalization in Edmonds;
The I-5/156th Street NE interchange (study and design).
State Route 524 widening from 48th Avenue W. to 37th Avenue W.
The Poplar Way Extension Bridge.
Bus Rapid Transit lanes along 128th Street, and additional transit funding for Community Transit and Everett Transit.
As the package is further refined by lawmakers, local business and community leaders would also urge consideration of study and design funding for State Route 531 (43rd Avenue-67th Avenue NE widening) and construction funding for the I-5/SR 529 interchange.
These are the types of infrastructure investments we have to make if we are to keep our roads efficient and safe, if we are to serve our North Puget Sound Manufacturing Corridor employment centers, and if we are to win the competition for production and assembly of the 777X airplane being developed by the Boeing Co.
Our state is literally at a crossroads with a transportation system that is our lifeblood. We can either do nothing, or we can advance a comprehensive approach to the needs of our transportation network that clearly focuses on manufacturing, freight and congestion in and around our industrial clusters and port facilities.
The situation won’t improve unless our elected officials act in Olympia this year, this session.
Our Snohomish County area lawmakers have worked extremely hard to include local and regional priorities in the transportation funding package. We salute their efforts and urge them to help take this transportation package to the finish line.
Let’s get this done!
About the authors
Dave Earling is the mayor of Edmonds.
Ray Stephanson is the mayor of Everett.
Jon Nehring is the mayor of Marysville.
Stephanie Wright is chair of the Snohomish County Council.
Rick Cooper is chairman of the board for Economic Alliance Snohomish County.
Troy McClelland is president and CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County.