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The Puget Sound Gateway needs heroes in Olympia

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on May 18, 2013 at 6:34 pm with No Comments »
May 17, 2013 6:45 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Take a good look at the list in the next post.

Those 24 lawmakers have the power to create nearly 100,000 jobs and keep Pacific Rim shipping pouring into Puget Sound through the 21st century.

Yet those same lawmakers could also help forfeit 100,000 jobs. For lack of interest or courage, they could allow the ports of Tacoma and Seattle to become backwaters of maritime commerce — which supports more than 200,000 livelihoods.

The decision before these South Sound legislators is whether to throw their combined weight behind the Puget Sound Gateway to secure its passage in the special session of the Legislature.

The Gateway is a $1.8 billion project that would extend state Route 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma, state Route 509 from Sea-Tac Airport to Interstate 5 and build strategic interchanges to create a transportation super-corridor in Pierce and King counties.

It’s an expensive project: Highways don’t come cheap. Regardless, the future of the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, the preservation of jobs, the expansion of payrolls, and the efficiency of Interstate 5 all depend on passage of the $1.8 billion Gateway project.

Because it will require gas taxes and tolls, the Legislature won’t touch it in 2014, an election year. And there’s no reason to believe it will pass in 2015 if it can’t pass this year. Business and labor organizations are pulling together to get it to the governor’s desk as part of a larger transportation package.

But so far, there has been no corresponding push from what might be called the Pierce County caucus. (We’re including the three lawmakers from the 30th District in the Federal Way area.)

The Pierce County delegation has moved mountains in the past, repeatedly securing funding for important transportation projects — such as the Nalley Valley viaduct in Tacoma — against political odds.

If the area’s 24 lawmakers are united and determined, they can put the Puget Sound Gateway over the top.

The transportation package has statewide appeal; among its projects are a widening of I-405, a much-needed highway corridor in Spokane and major improvements to Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass.

But nothing of this magnitude happens without forceful leadership. Nor does it happen if the regions that would benefit most seem divided or apathetic about it. Witness the Legislature’s declining interest in funding a new bridge over the Columbia River as factions in Vancouver squabble over its merits.

Three Pierce County lawmakers — Hans Zeiger and Dawn Morrell of Puyallup, and Jake Fey of Tacoma — have been courageous advocates of the Puget Sound Gateway. Zeiger in particular has bucked anti-tax sentiment in his own Republican Party.

Others have shown varying degrees of interest. No one appears outright opposed. But delegation as a whole has not thrown its heart and soul into the effort.

This should be a full-court press on the part of Republicans and Democrats alike: Jobs and economic strength should be bipartisan goals. The South Sound and the entire state have too much to lose if the Puget Sound Gateway never opens.

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