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There’s only one way to finish SR 167: Finish it

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on March 2, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
March 1, 2013 6:14 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

A six-mile strip of uncompleted highway has become the state’s biggest economic bottleneck. Fortunately, lawmakers now recognize that state Route 167 must be extended – at long last – from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma.

The lingering debate is whether the $1.5 billion project should be tackled without enough money or as a single-lane “highway.” We hope the Legislature will recognize the futility – and the financial waste – of such half-measures.

That six-mile gap is the graveyard of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of jobs and opportunity. Phasing is the reason the gap exists.
SR 167 was originally intended to run south from Interstate 405 in Renton through the Kent Valley, then turn west at Puyallup and connect to Interstate 5 and the port. But the money ran out, six miles short, in the late 1980s.

Twenty-five years later, this final critical phase remains unfunded – and the state is paying dearly.

Lacking a corridor to the Kent Valley, I-405 and beyond, trucks from the Port of Tacoma are forced onto I-5 in Fife, congesting the freeway and getting themselves caught in that congestion.

This backup is a grave threat to the port, one of the state’s most powerful generators of payrolls. Pacific Rim shippers don’t have to send their freight through Tacoma or Seattle; if it takes too long to get their truck-borne cargoes to Interstate 90 – headed for Chicago and other big markets – they can switch to Vancouver, B.C., or Southern California.

That missing six miles of SR 167 is threatening jobs far beyond the port itself.

Farmers in Eastern Washington need a reliable corridor to Tacoma for their exports. The warehouses and stores of the Kent Valley need predictable, just-in-time deliveries of the goods they sell. Pierce County’s Frederickson-based aerospace companies need a guaranteed route to aircraft manufacturers.

Given its economic importance, the extension of SR 167 has already been on the back burner for far too many years. If the Legislature is going to fund the road, lawmakers should find a way to fund it completely, through state highway revenues, federal grants, tolls and whatever else it takes.

Judy Clibborn, the Mercer Island Democrat who chairs the House Transportation Committee, has brought genuine vision to her job. Her new transportation package would combine funding for SR 167 with funding to fix another economic chokepoint, an unfinished stretch of state Route 509 between the SeaTac area and I-5.

So far, though, the package identifies only $1 billion for the SR 167 project. Lawmakers must keep looking until they’ve figured out where the rest of the money is going to come from. You can’t open a bottleneck by leaving the cork halfway in. There are tens of thousands of jobs trapped in that bottle; let’s get them out.

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