By Bill Ramos and Javier Valdez / For The Herald
How can we build a transportation system that works for all our communities?
It’s a given that investing in transportation means building highways and ferries. And, clearly, we need to modernize and transform how we move people and goods to use cleaner technology, such as electric vehicles.
But we also had another goal in mind over the last year as my colleagues and I developed a proposal to invest in transportation: equity.
House Democrats on the Transportation Committee are answering the critical need for transportation improvements with a plan that includes new investments in roads, transit, special needs transportation, bike and pedestrian improvements, and significant investments to reduce carbon output.
We also include long-neglected preservation and maintenance of existing infrastructure. The state Department of Transportation estimates each Washington driver incurs nearly $650 in annual car repair costs from potholes, cracks, and other poor road conditions; that’s nearly $3.7 billion for all drivers in the state.
Over the course of nearly 90 listening sessions, with communities that had never previously been involved, or whose voices historically were not prioritized in developing transportation policy, key messages emerged that the public told us we need to prioritize.
The first was opportunities to participate in the business side of transportation infrastructure to bring jobs and economic prosperity to underserved communities that have been overshadowed in state contracting. The second was the effect on the same communities from past transportation projects. Some have certainly been detrimental to certain communities, even if a project may have been good overall for the state. The third was creating more opportunities for family wage jobs and apprenticeships.
We didn’t want to just introduce a funding package and hope we got it right, we wanted to invite tough conversations that could lead to inclusive, equitable transportation outcomes. We wanted people involved early, we wanted to listen to their challenges, their needs, and how an improved transportation system could help realize hopes and dreams for a stronger community.
I am confident that the transportation package we have introduced reflects the messages we heard.
We recognize that the sheer size of the revenues raised will affect communities of color and other disadvantaged communities. Because of that, we prioritized mitigating impacts.
Our proposal will help women- and minority-owned businesses get certified to qualify and compete for transportation projects. It requires the state to conduct enhanced outreach outside of the Puget Sound region to bring more and new women- and minority-owned businesses into the system and get certified. And it provides the technical assistance these firms need to be successful. We also made sure to value members from disadvantaged communities by ensuring a place on state boards that help determine projects and policies.
This transportation package strengthens contractor mentorship programs to engage well established contractors with those who haven’t had the same opportunities. It expands apprenticeship programs like “Youth Direct” to connect kids, including foster youths, involved in the criminal justice system with job opportunities so they can learn, earn a paycheck, and contribute to their communities, all at the same time.
We’re also investing in frontline communities by targeting transportation projects to benefit them with a strong focus on communities that have had past injustices to make sure they really benefit from this investment.
The proposal is unique in that it raises new revenue without new borrowing through bonds, saving billions of taxpayer dollars in interest costs. Another connection between revenue and investments is how indexing the fuel tax to the Consumer Price Index will pay for the increased costs of preservation and maintenance. These measures were important to minimize the impact of regressive financing.
Now is the time to pass this proposal and finally bring an equity lens to transportation policy and planning; a matter so critical to our quality of life for all.
State Rep. Bill Ramos, D-Issaquah, represents the 5th Legislative District. He serves as second vice chair for the House Transportation Committee. Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle, represents the 46th Legislative District and serves on the House Transportation Committee.