Commentary: Region has to consider options for U.S. 2 trestle

Waiting for lawmakers to pass another gas tax isn’t an option. We have to move forward now.

By John Spencer, Cassie Franklin, Jon Nehring, Dave Somers, Brian Sullivan and Sam Low

It’s 6 a.m. on a weekday, and commuters in Lake Stevens, Marysville, Snohomish and Monroe are bracing themselves. Not for an emergency or a natural disaster, though. Instead, they’re hunkering down for the grueling, daily slog of driving on the westbound U.S. 2 trestle.

Our residents know this daily crisis of congestion all too well, and it’s why we are resolute about the need for our communities, our region, and our state to replace the westbound trestle and its intersections with a modern, wider span. To do so, we need to act boldly, speak loudly, and be willing to look at a full menu of possible funding options.

The debilitating gridlock confronting drivers who must use the trestle has been building for years — the result of dramatic growth in population on one side of the bridge and major employment hubs on the other. The trestle is the home-to-work lifeblood for many people attempting to cross the bridge to get to jobs that are overwhelmingly near the I-5 corridor in Snohomish and King Counties.

The combined 2017 populations of the four communities we referenced above — Lake Stevens (31,740), Marysville (65,900), Monroe (18,350), and Snohomish (10,010) — total 126,000 people, and when you add in neighboring towns and unincorporated areas of Sam Low’s County Council District, the figure is closer to 200,000 and growing. And it’s growing at a much faster rate than anticipated. To address current congestion and accommodate future growth, increasing lane capacity on the trestle is essential.

Many of you experience and struggle with the big dent that gridlock puts into your quality of life. You sacrifice time with family and friends, as well as the direct and hidden costs you bear for gas, lost productivity and increased air pollution. Meanwhile, we put the retention and growth of our Snohomish County manufacturing base at risk by asking a 20th-century bridge to accommodate a 21st-century level of traffic.

As serious as the congestion is on the westbound trestle, there’s a second looming crisis for the bridge structure. It’s been patched, repaired and bandaged together for many years, a credit to the Washington state Department of Transportation. But within the next decade or two, the condition of the bridge may be compromised to a point where the safety risk is unacceptable.

The reality: The 50-year-old westbound trestle must be replaced. The cost of doing so is daunting — at least several hundred million dollars, if not somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million.

And there’s one more financial challenge: the lack of traditional funding for a trestle replacement. When the Legislature passed the Connecting Washington transportation package in 2015, it included more than $670 million in mission-critical investments in our county, along I-5 and Highway 9, in grant programs, in transit funding and much more. But Connecting Washington did not include funds for the westbound trestle because there was no finished design or financing plan for making it happen. That means most of the funds we could have received from gas taxes are tied up in other needed projects for the next 16 years — if not longer.

We have moved aggressively to remedy that and set the stage for action on the trestle. In the last two sessions of the Legislature, our area lawmakers have championed funding for what is known as an Interchange Justification Report, an important step to qualifying for federal funds to improve the interchange on the east side of the trestle. Earlier this year, the Legislature directed the Department of Transportation to look at a variety of financing options to improve and ultimately replace the westbound trestle — with instructions to bring back options and recommendations in 2018.

As we look at these options, we will look at every single funding source possible to pay for a new trestle structure, including partnerships with the private sector and creative combinations of methods for raising revenue. The alternative is to wait for the next time a gas tax or a traditional revenue opportunity comes along, and live with the realization that it might be 2040 or later before the trestle is replaced. That is a wait that our region’s economy cannot afford.

Therefore, the “wait” alternative is unacceptable to us — and we don’t think the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on us to make forward-thinking decisions would find it acceptable, either.

Our task is clear: We have to act, and we have to act now. We must replace the trestle sooner rather than later. Doing so will involve new ways of doing business — but the alternative, namely the risk of doing nothing, is not a path we are willing to take.

John Spencer is mayor of Lake Stevens. Cassie Franklin is mayor-elect of Everett. Jon Nehring is mayor of Marysville. Dave Somers is the Snohomish County executive. Brian Sullivan represents District 2 on the Snohomish County Council. Sam Low represents District 5 on the Snohomish County Council.

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