Spending to keep freight moving

SEATTLE — Most people’s eyes glaze over when they hear terms such as freight mobility and infrastructure investment.

But that’s practically all anyone could talk about Monday at the Washington Trade Conference.

Trade is a huge part of the state’s economy. It helps support about 40 percent of jobs here, according to the Washington Council on International Trade, which put on the conference at the Westin in Seattle.

Last year, the state exported goods worth $82 billion — the fourth largest amount among all states.

The amount of freight moving around Washington is expected to grow by 85 percent over the next 15 years, said Peter Rogoff, Under Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“The infrastructure needs to be there to accommodate that level of traffic” without hurting commuters, he said.

If it isn’t, the state’s economy will suffer.

The White House released its proposal — Grow America — last spring. It’s a $302 billion, four-year plan that moves away from the current highway-centric plan. Instead, it gives more money to things such as rail and transit as part of creating a multi-modal transportation network, meaning it better integrates different modes of travel rather than overwhelmingly relying on automobiles.

But the bill faced opposition from some Senate Democrats, whose own proposal basically keeps the status quo. And its passage didn’t get easier last week, when voters gave Republicans control of the U.S. Senate.

When it comes to building roads, ports and other transportation infrastructure, the stakes are high, said state Rep. Gael Tarleton, a former Port of Seattle commissioner.

“The movement of people and goods has to be the top priority for our state for the next 10 years,” she said. “The budgets we make today for transportation and moving people and freight will be the decisions that last for 50 to 75 years. We’re going to spend billions and billions of dollars. We’d better get it right, because we don’t get a do-over.”

The job of making sure freight can move easily and quickly will likely fall to states, said Mark Szakonyi, senior editor at the Journal of Commerce.

“At the federal level, I don’t see (transportation spending) coming,” he told conference attendees. “They’ve been excellent at saying we need to spend more, but they really haven’t said how.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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