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Originally published April 15, 2011 at 3:29 PM | Page modified April 18, 2011 at 1:50 PM

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Corrected version

Guest columnist

Move Seattle forward by moving past tired, old road debate

Guest columnist Jordan Royer argues that Seattle officials must stop dithering over transportation projects and act to keep the regional economy vital with efficient transportation planning.

Special to The Times

CONFLICTING visions of Seattle's future are playing out in debates around transportation projects. Reconciling these divisions is the only way to break the logjam and move us forward.

Will Seattle continue to be a major international city with a powerful maritime-industrial complex and manufacturing center, or will we follow the paths of Portland and San Francisco with an economy based on services and culture?

There is a lot to like about Portland and San Francisco. But what sets Seattle apart is its ability to create good-paying, middle-class jobs through our maritime-industrial cluster. Portland has chronically high unemployment and it's almost impossible for middle-class families to live in San Francisco.

In Seattle, we should focus on keeping what we have by maintaining the infrastructure that supports the efficient movement of goods and services and takes advantage of our trading relationship with Asia.

The opportunity is huge. In just the next five years, China will add more consumers than there are people in the United States today. Our state already exports food, raw materials and manufactured goods to China.

How do we take advantage of our close relationship with an ever-growing and developing China? What decisions need to be made to leverage our advantages?

We need to be decisive and bold in making transportation investments.

And let's stop comparing San Francisco's Embarcadero freeway to the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Yes, the Embarcadero came down, and the street was improved and streetcars were added.

But San Francisco gave up its working waterfront years ago. Seattle still has a real jobs-generating waterfront: container terminals, the grain elevator, cruise ships, fuel and cargo barges, fishing vessels, the Coast Guard, and hundreds of businesses that supply the Port of Seattle and manufacturing sectors. There is no comparison.

Again, it is a question of who we are and what kind of city we want for the future.

Seattle has the 10th-highest number of manufacturing jobs in the country at 166,900 jobs — more than Atlanta, Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cincinnati.

Do we want to risk losing all those jobs? Do we want to lose that part of our culture?

Make no mistake, there are serious discussions — and even battles — right now over the future of our city.

We all know about the Great Viaduct Debate. After more than a decade of discussion, planning and decision-making, some people want to start the whole process over again.

So what's this all about? It's not really about transportation at all.

It's about a social experiment: The idea is to force gridlock so more people take public transit or ride bicycles. This is why Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn acknowledges that for his surface/transit option to work, 40,000 cars would have to go away.

Unfortunately, we have a mayor intent on dividing us between cars, buses, trains and bikes when in reality we need to plan for it all. We need bike lanes and buses and trains just as we need our freight corridors to be efficient and safe. The future will include cars and trucks too.

This is why it's a flawed strategy to force gridlock as a transportation policy — whether through a road diet or deliberate delay of transportation projects. It's not good for business and it's not good for our quality of life.

Efficient north/south transportation corridors — Highway 99, and interstates 5 and 405 — are vital to the region's economy.

Truck drivers for Boeing log 7.6 million miles a year moving parts around the region. The new Boeing tanker contract will create or save 11,000 jobs. At its plant in Renton, thousands of workers produce a new 737 almost every day.

The port just had its best year, moving more than a million containers and a record number of cruise ship passengers.

And there are countless other companies that make and ship things and provide living wages for thousands of people in our community.

Why would we want to risk those jobs by jamming up the transportation system?

In an incredibly competitive industry, the terminal operators, shipping lines, truckers, railroads, depend on infrastructure that works. Logistics and the ability to efficiently and cheaply move freight over long distances has always been the American economic advantage.

Understanding our unique place in the country and the world and taking advantage of opportunities is critical. This is not the time to shrink back in complacency and think only within our own small city boundaries.

We love to talk in Seattle and we tend to take a while to make a decision. But instead of constant hand-wringing and fear of the future, we should remember how bright the future really is for our region.

If only we have the courage to act.

Jordan Royer is vice president for external affairs at the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, representing container terminal operators and shipping lines that serve the West Coast.

This article originally suggested that China would add "more people than there are people in the United States today." It now reads, correctly, that "China will add more consumers than there are people in the United States today.

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