Roadwork lies ahead to keep jobs in county, state

More voices are joining the chorus seeking not just action but results from the Washington Legislature when it starts work in January.

Keep Washington Competitive is a coalition of business, labor, ports, agriculture and trade organizations that formed earlier this year to influence policy on issues related to trade and the creation and retention of jobs in the state.

Among the issues it hopes to see addressed are changes to the state’s environmental review process to make it more predictable and attainable and shorten the process to no more than 18 months. And it wants science-based decisions to lead policy on water-quality standards.

Without seeing specific legislative proposals, we’ll withhold judgement, except to say that the state should be able to help businesses more easily comply with environmental review and do so in a timely fashion without weakening its standards for protection. And using the example of stormwater runoff regarding water quality, we also think it reasonable that the state, counties and municipalities address stormwater issues on a larger scale as part of its infrastructure responsibilities, rather than leaving those, such as ports and marine industries, who are farthest downstream to take care of more than their share of stormwater pollution.

We are, however, fully behind KWC’s push for a transportation package that addresses current weaknesses in moving supplies, goods and services, not to mention commuters.

The coalition is concerned about transportation infrastructure spending recently undertaken in Vancouver, British Columbia, an investment that unless matched here could mean great losses to the state, first in cargo, then in businesses and jobs to Canada.

Port of Everett Commissioner Troy McClelland, a member of the coalition, pointed to $1 billion in much-needed transportation spending in Snohomish County to finish incomplete portions of the freight corridors in the county, including I-5, Highway 99 and Highway 9, and to replace at-grade rail crossings with overpasses, particularly in Marysville, where an increase in freight rail traffic has not only caused delays for motorists but is increasing costs for businesses dependant on trucking.

McClelland’s counterpart at the Port of Seattle, Bill Bryant, said the Legislature will need to include a gas tax increase as part of the funding package, but said he hoped it also would look at re-allocating revenue from the sales tax generated by transportation projects themselves and for automotive products. As well, the coalition wants to see public-private partnerships used, particularly for projects to separate rail and vehicle traffic at crossings.

Larry Brown, legislative and political director for the Machinists at Boeing and a member of the coalition, painted the need for transportation improvements starkly.

“We landed the 777X project and gave up our pensions to do it,” he said. Without an investment in transportation, there’s less incentive for Boeing to build its next plane here. “We don’t have any more pensions to give away.”

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