Inside Opinion

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Tag: highways

June
27th

State commerce in the grip of the GOP

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

The job’s not done yet, lawmakers. Now it’s highway time.

It’s great that the Legislature’s Republicans and Democrats finally settled on a state operating budget that reportedly directs an additional $1 billion to schools. We’re looking forward to seeing the details, where the devil often resides.

But the passage of an operating budget was always a foregone conclusion, despite the months of bickering over its specific provisions. The Washington Constitution requires the Legislature to approve one.

A genuine accomplishment of this Legislature – that includes you, Republican senators – would be passage of a transportation budget to unplug bottlenecked corridors where the state’s freight and traffic are now getting slowly strangled.

The $10 billion package – approved Thursday by the House of Representatives – is of paramount importance to the state’s economy.

Only one Republican – Puyallup’s Hans Zeiger – had the guts to support it. Most other lawmakers in his party appear willing to kill it for one reason: The highway improvements require new tax revenue. These legislators chatter about massive reforms in the Department of Transportation and other near-term impossibilities, but it really comes down to evading a tax vote.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, roads and bridges don’t grow on trees. Santa Claus doesn’t lug them down the chimney. You’ve got to buy them.

If you don’t need them, that’s one thing. But Washington sorely needs strategic investment in its infrastructure – in Spokane, at Snoqualmie Pass, on Interstate 405 and other places where cargo and cars are getting halted for lack of road capacity.

State Route 167 is the poster child of lost economic opportunity. That highway passes from I-405 through Renton, Kent and Auburn – only to get guillotined at Puyallup. A mere six miles separate it from the Port of Tacoma and the I-5 corridor.
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June
25th

No excuses on state transportation vote

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

The Legislature must pass an operating budget before it calls it quits for the year. That’s a constitutional necessity. But it must also pass a transportation package. That’s an economic necessity.

With the special session winding down, the prospects of the $10 billion highway-and-transit proposal remain precarious. Lawmakers can’t let it fail. The consequences of its passage — or its rejection — are literally incalculable.

Aside from a festering dispute over a new bridge between Vancouver and Portland, the projects in the package enjoy broad support.

The most important of them, the Puget Sound Gateway, would break open freight chokepoints by extending state Route 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma, and by extending state Route 509 from the SeaTac area south to Interstate 5.

If those chokepoints stay in place, they could ultimately turn the ports of Tacoma and Seattle into maritime backwaters as Pacific Rim shippers and manufacturers shift their cargoes to competing routes free of chronic congestion.

Other regions have big stakes in this measure:

• It would earmark $175 million to rebuild I-5 interchanges near Joint Base Lewis-McChord to ease traffic jams that paralyze the freeway on a regular basis.

• It would widen and add lanes to Interstate 405 to relieve congestion in that corridor.

• It would extend highway and rail corridors in Spokane, expanding that area’s freight-shipping capacity. It would also widen Snoqualmie Pass to improve its safety and ability to handle large trucks.

Freight mobility isn’t a particularly sexy issue, but the ability to efficiently move goods — apples, jet components, electronics, wheat — is vital to Washington economic future. All of these projects would help move people efficiently as well.
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Oct.
10th

I-1125 puts taxpayers on hook for local toll projects

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Tim Eyman makes his living selling initiatives, which means he’s got to churn them out regularly to keep his paydays coming. Some have contained the germs of good ideas; others have been folly incarnate.

Initiative 1125, on this year’s ballot, falls under into the incarnate category. It sounds wonderful: a law to protect drivers from unreasonable highway tolls.

Scratch and sniff, though, and it turns out to be a monkey wrench aimed squarely at the state’s efforts to keep cars moving on overcrowded roads.
Its biggest defect is so stupendous that it’s hard to believe Eyman or anyone else in his shop anticipated the impact.

Tolls are commonly used to repay bonds that finance big transportation projects, such as the state Route 520 bridge across Lake Washington. The Legislature – like other legislatures throughout the country – delegates toll-setting authority to panels responsible for making sure the bondholders get the interest and principal they’ve been promised.

If highway projects in Washington started looking like bad loans, private financing for future projects would dry up. Like it or lump it, that’s the way capitalism works.

I-1125 proposes to vest toll-setting authority in the Legislature; its supporters crow about making elected officials accountable for the fees.
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Nov.
17th

The disappearing rest area

I recently returned from almost two weeks in Arizona, one of the 10 states facing the most financial peril, according to the Pew Center on the States’ analysis. (Fortunately that’s one list Washington isn’t on.)

As a traveler, I discovered one very visible sign of the state’s distress: closed freeway rest stops. In October, the Arizona Department of Transportation closed 13 rest areas, citing a $100 million shortfall in its budget.

When I looked into it, I found that many states are closing rest areas as a way to save money. They see the proliferation of fast

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