State’s economy depends on federal transportation bill

In Northwest Washington, we rely on the usual ways to get ourselves to work, school and recreation: driving our cars on roads, bridges and highways. But we also rely on many other transportation modes. Our ferry system is the largest in the country. And we go motor-free on our legs and our bicycles. Washington state was recently named the most bicycle-friendly state for the eighth year in a row.

Our diverse transportation network also is critical for our economy. Transportation means jobs. Nearly one-quarter of jobs are in manufacturing in Snohomish County. That includes 64,000 jobs, more than 750 companies and $5.5 billion in wages, according to Economic Alliance Snohomish County. These manufacturing jobs depend on a strong transportation system—people need to get to work, and products need to get to market.

But on July 31, the biggest source of federal funding for roads, bridges, highways and transit — the Highway Trust Fund — will expire. If Congress fails to act, the consequences for Northwest Washington residents and businesses are real. Washington state’s ferry system will receive less investment, contributing to delays. Community Transit’s Swift II bus line progress will be hampered. And needed upgrades to I-5 that would improve traffic congestion, like a new interchange in Marysville, will be held up.

Without a long-term transportation bill that provides predictable investments for our nation’s roads, bridges, highways and transit systems, we are slamming the brakes on our economy and jobs.

That is why I helped introduce a long-term transportation bill called the GROW AMERICA Act earlier this year. The Act is a six-year, $478 billion bill that would make critical investments in the infrastructure we use every day — from the morning commute on I-5 to the school ferry trip from Clinton to Mukilteo.

Roads, bridges, highways and transit systems are an easy part of our lives to ignore when they are working well. And our region is full of success stories. Take the state’s first Bus Rapid Transit line started in 2009. Community Transit’s Swift line carries about 5,700 riders every weekday, with buses that arrive every 12 minutes during peak hours. Federal funding helped make this bus line possible.

Because of the success of the Swift line, Community Transit plans to expand it to better connect people with employment centers in Snohomish County. Swift II would run from a new transit center in Everett to the existing Canyon Park park-and-ride lot. Community Transit anticipates applying for several million dollars through the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts program. But without Congressional action to shore up the funding for this program, new Swift service cannot go forward. This is a real implication of how Congressional inaction could impact Pacific Northwesterners’ ability to get around.

Our region has many other transportation success stories, as well as imminent needs for better infrastructure investment. To help explain where our region stands on transportation issues, I recently released a report that explains the implications for our roads, bridges, highways and transit if Congress once again fails to pass a long-term transportation bill. It is available on my website. I hope you will check it out and let me know your thoughts. Read the report at tinyurl.com/LarsenTranspo.

This week I am meeting with transportation stakeholders throughout the region to learn more about the role federal funding plays in supporting strong infrastructure.

Washington state cannot have a big league economy with little league infrastructure. Repairing and maintaining our roads, bridges, highways and transit systems puts people to work and keeps people and goods moving so our economy can grow.

Federal funding is key to keeping our transportation network strong. Congress has less than a month to act, and I am pushing my colleagues to get a long-term transportation solution across the finish line. The economic health of our region depends on it.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., represents the 2nd Congressional District.

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