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A slimmed-down, job-rich Puget Sound Gateway

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on April 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm with No Comments »
April 12, 2013 5:52 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

It’s been a while, but both political parties in Washington once understood the connection between highway investment and jobs. This is the time to revive that bipartisan vision, given what the Puget Sound Gateway Project promises to do for payrolls both west and east of the
mountains.

The Gateway would extend state Route 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma; it would also extend state Route 509 south from Sea-Tac Airport to Interstate 5.

It would build highway interchanges, connect SR 167 with SR 509, multiply the connections with Interstate 5 and produce a seamless highway corridor through the Kent Valley to the South Sound, then north again to the economic engines of King County.

The result: congestion relief throughout the region and speedier shipping from the ports of Tacoma and Seattle.

The cost – roughly $1.8 billion – sounds steep. But the SR 167 segment alone would create an estimated 80,000 permanent jobs, many of them high-paying. The SR 509 segment, when complete, would produce a corresponding windfall of employment.

Another critical benefit: The port connections would help Tacoma and Seattle to keep up with the competition in Canada and Mexico.

To Pacific Rim shippers, every extra hour their cargo is held up in traffic is an incentive to shift their business to a different port where the trucks and trains move out more quickly.

Trucks from the Port of Tacoma now must go north on I-5 before they can get their loads to King County and markets eastward. They help congest the freeway and get trapped in the congestion. Finishing the Puyallup-Tacoma link of SR 167 would grease their passage to wholesalers in the Kent Valley and points far beyond, such as Chicago.

The original price tag for all this was $3 billion. In recent weeks, though, a coalition of planners and supporters pulled together by U.S. Rep. Denny Heck engineered a much less expensive first phase that provides almost as much benefit in the short term.

The SR 167 extension, for example, would be pinched to two lanes between Puyallup and Valley Avenue East. But traffic projections suggest that the full build-out to four lanes won’t be needed until about 2030.

Sacrifices like that have pulled the cost of the entire regional loop into the doable range. What’s needed now is support from the public and from lawmakers in Olympia.

The Puget Sound Gateway Project can be compared to the interstate highway system: Like I-5 and its many cousins, the loop would connect people with jobs and freight with markets, fast-tracking economic growth.

The interstates cost a fortune in their day, but they returned the investment many times over. The Gateway would do the same.

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