Transportation The region's top challenge in 2001
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The News Tribune's Civic Agenda: Transportation The region's top challenge
Source: The News Tribune Tacoma, WA
Publication date: 2000-12-31
Stanley Kubrick's "2001" - released in 1968 - cinematically envisioned a
future in which people routinely commuted between the Earth and the Moon,
and ranged far into outer space.
If only. The real 2001 is now upon us, and just getting to work and back is
increasingly a problem for earthlings who dwell in Western Washington.
Many of our highways and arterials are overwhelmed by levels of traffic they
were never designed to carry, and some of our bridges - such as the one
spanning Hood Canal -- are literally crumbling. Traffic congestion between
Everett and Olympia today is often worse than in Los Angeles.
Washington state thus has turned "2001" on its ear: It has entered the 21st
century with a 1968-vintage transportation system. And the dawning New Year
is shaping up as a crossroads: Things could get much worse - or much
better - in coming decades, depending on how well we deal with several
serious threats to our highways and mass transit.
This is why the editorial board of The News Tribune has chosen to emphasize
transportation in our annually updated civic agenda - though we have by no
means forgotten economic development in the South Sound and other pressing
issues affecting the region's future. In fact, all the objectives in our
2001 agenda - which is summarized on this page - are interconnected.
The South Sound's economic future, for example, will hinge on whether we
have an efficient transportation system, excellent public schools, abundant
college opportunity, a vibrant downtown Tacoma, crime-free neighborhoods and
a beautiful environment -- in short, the kind of quality of life that keeps
existing employers rooted here and attracts new corporate investors.
This 2001 civic agenda reflects the editorial board's highest priorities; it
will guide our editorial comment on regional and state issues throughout the
2001 looks to be a critical year for transportation policy - in the state as
a whole as well as locally.
Washington's highways have been underfunded for many years, and the cracks
in the system keep on widening. One example is the HOV lane on southbound
Interstate 5 coming out of Seattle. It stops abruptly less than 3 miles
south of Tukwila, at the Kent-Des Moines exit. The remaining 18 miles of
freeway into Tacoma are severely congested on a regular basis during the
evening rush hour.
The roads of Western Washington are rife with similar chokepoints that could
be significantly relieved with construction projects the Legislature and
state Department of Transportation haven't been able to fund. And various
railroad crossings are seeing increasing conflicts between automobile and
train traffic, which threatens the timely shipment of freight to markets to
the east - and thus the international competitiveness of Puget Sound ports.
In this case, funding is needed for overpasses and underpasses to let the
cars get past the trains without impediment.
But because of the cost of improvements is so great - a single new
interchange can cost upwards of $100 million -- the available funding falls
far short of covering the needed highway work.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation -- an expert panel created by
the Legislature in 1998 - has identified $150 billion worth of highway and
ferry needs in Washington. Existing taxes and federal grants will generate
about $55 billion over the next 20 years. That leaves a shortfall of $95
billion. Perhaps $40 billion- to-$50 billion of this gap might be closed
with better traffic management and greater efficiencies, but there will
still be a need for $30 billion to $40 billion in new revenues over the next
Lawmakers had been putting off action on transportation until they saw the
Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendations. Those long-awaited proposals are
now in hand. The panel has identified an array of ways to spend our highway
dollars more intelligently and raise the additional revenues that economies
alone won't cover. It is the job of the 2001 Legislature to act on those
recommendations and enact a transportation package that will permit our our
roads and transit systems to expand with our growing population. New taxes
or fees will be required in addition to reforms; so the job will demand
political courage and leadership from Gov. Gary Locke and state lawmakers.
State action is also required on the planned second Narrows bridge, another
transportation issue of critical importance to the South Sound.
Years ago, the general shortage of highway money led the state to enter into
a controversial partnership with a private consortium to build a new,
toll-financed bridge over the Narrows. But the state Supreme Court ruled two
months ago that the contract, while constitutional, violated a 1961 statute.
That law must either be amended or the state must find another way to build
the second bridge, which is necessary to improve the safety of the existing
span and alleviate the severe backups it creates on Highway 16.
Finally, Sound Transit's light rail system is under siege. Cost overruns -
some of which the agency bears responsibility for, some not - have brought
out a legion of critics who want the project killed. If they succeed in
derailing this initial segment of tracks between Sea-Tac Airport and the
University District in Seattle, commuters in the Puget Sound region will
never have an efficient alternative to the increasingly crowded highways.
Sound Transit must make whatever changes are called for, but it must proceed
with light rail. In 50 years, when the region's population will be far
greater than it is today, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren won't
remember the cost overruns. But like electric rail commuters in New York,
Chicago and other cities, they will be glad we had the foresight to create
the system when it was still possible.
- - -
Agenda 2001: Tuesday: No. 3: Quality of life issues
The good life we enjoy in the Pacific Northwest depends on strong schools,
college opportunity, public safety and the preservation of our natural
Agenda 2001: Monday: No. 2: Economic development
Pierce County's efforts to attract investment, create jobs and expand the
private sector have suffered from lack of coordination. That needs to
Publication date: 2000-12-31
© 2000, YellowBrix, Inc.
Also welcome to the 21st century. Dawson