Inside Opinion

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Tag: Port of Tacoma

July
14th

With port on an even keel, keep Bacon on commission

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

When things are going well, it’s not a good idea to rock the boat. That maritime analogy is appropriate to the Port of Tacoma commission race on the Aug. 6 primary ballot.

Although three port commissioners are up for election, only one drew opposition, four-term veteran Connie Bacon in Position 1. Commissioners Don Meyer and Dick Marzano are unopposed.

Running against Bacon are former Port of Tacoma security director Eric E. Holdeman of Puyallup and engineer Dave Dormier of Gig Harbor. The two top vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 5 general

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July
13th

Quebec oil train disaster must not be repeated here

Black tank cars full of crude oil sit at the Tacoma train yard June 20. The cars comes from the same North Dakota source as the ones that exploded July 6 in Quebec. (Staff file photo)
Black tank cars full of crude oil sit at the Tacoma train yard June 20. The cars comes from the same North Dakota source as the ones that exploded July 6 in Quebec. (Staff file photo)

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Even a minimal risk becomes a serious risk if multiplied enough. The improbable — but catastrophic — explosion of tank cars in Quebec should have us thinking about the oil trains headed for our corner of the continent.

The crude oil that flattened a section of Lac-Megantic and killed dozens of its citizens July 6 had come from North Dakota, where new drilling technology has turned the Bakken geologic formation into a Persian Gulf-scale bonanza of petroleum.

New pipeline construction hasn’t caught up with that bonanza, so North Dakota’s oil industry has been shipping out immense quantities of crude on long trains.

The Port of Tacoma saw its first such “rolling pipeline” from North Dakota last November. Oil trains with be pulling into Tacoma and other Washington cities with increasing frequency, and the potential size of this black tide is staggering.

The Sightline Institute, an environmentalist research group, recently did a survey of the places where petroleum companies are moving to expand petroleum capacity in this state. In addition to Tacoma, those destinations include terminals and refineries in Vancouver, Hoquiam, Anacortes and Ferndale.

The group estimates that Tacoma could see an average of a train a day when current oil-by-rail plans are completed; it estimates that Vancouver could see an average of 10 a day with a large new crude oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

Emphasis on “could” — environmentalists have been known to overstate their cases. But even if Sightline is highballing the numbers, there’s no question a whole lot more tank cars will be rolling this way in the next few years. This on top of a potential surge of long Montana coal trains that threaten to bisect cities in Western Washington.
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May
25th

SR 167: A job-creating bridge waiting to be built

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Washington is getting a taste of what it’s like to lose a critical stretch of a major highway.

Before it collapsed Thursday, the Skagit River Bridge on Interstate 5 carried roughly 70,000 vehicles a day, more than 8,000 of them trucks. Its collapse severed the main artery that links the economy of the Puget Sound region to Vancouver, B.C.

The disruption shows how one highway fracture can choke the movement of people and goods hundreds of miles away. But Washington has already suffered another – less visible – highway failure that’s done far more damage in recent decades.

Helicopters with camera crews may not be circling it, but the unfinished six-mile gap between state Route 167 and the Port of Tacoma is also strangling commerce and jobs. It’s the economic equivalent of a ruptured freeway no one bothered to fix.

SR 167, which now runs from Interstate 405 in Renton to the Puyallup area, was always supposed to turn west and connect to Interstate 5 and the port.

The extension has been planned for more than 30 years. Right of way has been purchased, environmental preliminaries are complete, and much of the design work is done.

But the concrete isn’t there – which means that Pacific Rim exporters cannot smoothly move their freight past the port, and Washington farmers and manufacturers cannot smoothly move their goods to the port.

The obstruction has been costing the state tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Increasingly, it is tempting maritime shippers to look for alternative routes to Chicago and other big inland markets.

Six hundred miles north of here, the once tiny but rapidly expanding terminal at Prince Rupert – the location of North America’s deepest ice-free harbor – has suddenly emerged as a ferocious competitor for Puget Sound shipping. One of the Canadian port’s key advantages is an unobstructed railway corridor to the heart of the United States.
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May
18th

The Puget Sound Gateway needs heroes in Olympia

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.)
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April
17th

Could SR 167 sink in the Columbia River?

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Out of the blue comes a distant political squabble that somehow threatens the most important transportation effort in the state – the Puget Sound Gateway Project.

Gov. Jay Inslee supports the Gateway, which would knit together state Route 167, Interstate 5 and state Route 509, eliminating bottlenecks and creating a bonanza of jobs in the process. The state House of Representatives is prepared to invest more than $1.25 billion in it.

But suddenly everything might hinge on a spat over light rail in Clark County. Read more »

April
13th

A slimmed-down, job-rich Puget Sound Gateway

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.
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March
2nd

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

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.
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Jan.
23rd

Finishing SR 167 should be high on delegation’s to-do list

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

When South Sound lawmakers talk about their legislative priorities, near the top is finishing state Route 167 – the six-mile Port of Tacoma bypass. But completing the SR 167 extension has been a priority for more than two decades. It’s time to stop talking about it and get moving on it.

With competition growing from Canadian ports and a widened Panama Canal threatening to take shipping business away, Washington lawmakers and local business interests recognize how important it is to get trucks quickly between the port and points east.

The Washington State Department of Transportation refers to the $1.5 billion SR 167 extension as “a critical missing link in the state’s highway network.” Besides moving trucks more efficiently, the freight corridor also would take a lot of big semis out of heavy Interstate 5 traffic, decreasing accidents and rush-hour gridlock. Read more »