Comment: Transportation bill moves us ahead to greener future

The package provides crucial funding for transit, electrification, fish passage and stormwater needs.

By Teri Gobin and Maia Bellon / For The Herald

This year, the Washington state Legislature has the unique opportunity to remake how our state stays connected, and how Washingtonians get where we need to go.

Straying from the traditional approach of past transportation packages, Move Ahead Washington is the cleanest transportation revenue package in state history. Dedicating $5.4 billion over 16 years directly in transportation approaches that reduce emissions and will result in cleaner air. The package includes huge transit, bike and pedestrian investments, electrified ferry fleets, and low carbon fuel and vehicle electrification.

Move Ahead WA also addresses key community needs through investments in road infrastructure preservation and maintenance. And though the investments in transit, multi-modal infrastructure, and electrification are clear wins for the climate, this package also prioritizes some key, yet often overlooked, transportation-related needs.

Move Ahead WA, proposed by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, and Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, is a transportation package that puts forth clear investments in clean water and healthier salmon habitats, namely vital funding for fish-passage barrier removal programs and stormwater infrastructure, both essential to building a healthy future for Washington state. Its passage has the potential to revitalize our state, putting us on track to meet our climate goals, connecting communities and prioritizing the health of the Salish Sea, our waterways, ecosystems and the people who depend on them.

The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed in United States v. Washington that state blockages of salmon habitat violate tribal treaty rights, which require that fish be available for harvest. State-owned road culverts can prevent or impact salmon migration and spawning, in turn contributing to their population decline. Fifteen percent (or over $2.4 billion) of the Move Ahead WA package goes toward removing these barriers, often at the end of their useful life, which would help meet the state’s legal obligations to restore fish access to about 450 of its most significant barrier culverts in western Washington.

The Tulalip Tribes and other tribal governments have already laid the foundation for these ventures, putting in countless hours and years of work on this issue to set the state up for success. Additionally, Washington state’s own Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Derek Kilmer championed $1.4 billion in competitive federal grant funding for culvert replacement and fish barrier removal in the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act, which Congress passed late last year. The time is ripe for Washington to take huge strides for our salmon this year, and not pass up this opportunity.

Another key piece of the proposal that stands to improve Washington’s health are investments in green stormwater infrastructure. Roads and highways are the main source of stormwater runoff, the leading contributor of pollution in the Salish Sea’s waterways, which in turn harms wildlife and human health. This long-term transportation package is proposing historic investments for the Department of Transportation to address polluted stormwater from roadways, guiding those investments towards fixing existing pollution, toxic hotpots, salmon recovery needs, and green infrastructure projects.

Some of our state’s biggest highways, like I-5, could see the implementation of innovative solutions to address polluted runoff, which is killing salmon. Green stormwater infrastructure is a proven solution for cleaning the polluted runoff entering the Salish Sea, as demonstrated by Salmon Safe, The Nature Conservancy and myriad partners through the innovative Aurora Bridge bioswale projects.

Move Ahead Washington is a transportation package for the future. It invests in our people, our health, our salmon, and the next generations. Tribal leaders and other advocates around the state have laid the groundwork for a ground-breaking package like this to be possible. Sen. Liias has led the Senate through the first step of enacting this transformative package, and now we call on the state Legislature to take the baton and run the final stretch.

Teri Gobin is the Tulalip Tribes chairwoman. Maia Bellon is a trustee for The Nature Conservancy in Washington and former director of the Washington state Department of Ecology (2013-19).

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