Guest: We can’t afford not to invest in improving roads, rail and bus transit
The House passed legislation to improve the efficiency of our transportation system and make agencies more accountable, but for two years Senate Republicans have refused to bring it to a vote, writes guest columnist state Rep. Judy Clibborn.
Special to The Times
TRANSPORTATION this session is about building a better future for Washington, and priority No. 1 is passing a critically needed transportation investment package.
This issue is central to the health and well-being of our state and its economy. Across the country, other states are making huge investments in their roads, bridges and ports to help grow their economies. Washington’s business community, from small local shops and family farms to our largest employers, like Boeing and Microsoft, are clamoring for the Legislature to improve our transportation system. Failing to provide the infrastructure necessary to move goods and people quickly threatens our global competitiveness and our ability to create jobs for Washington residents.
A transportation investment package would also provide much-needed transportation options for Washingtonians who cannot afford to drive or are unable to do so. Often, these are the most disadvantaged members of our society, including low-income families, children, the elderly and individuals with disabilities. Whether it be taking commuter rail to work, walking on a safe route to school or having a reliable bus to and from the grocery store, we have a moral obligation to ensure these individuals have the same freedom of mobility as someone who has a personal automobile.
House Democrats passed a package in 2013 that would have invested $10.3 billion in much-needed transportation infrastructure, funded by a 10.5 cent increase in the state fuel tax. We are prepared to act again as soon as the Senate engages on this important issue by passing an investment package of its own. There are two years worth of negotiations that the Senate can use as a foundation for compromise, or it can pursue some of the new funding mechanisms proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee, such as a cap-and-trade system or a tax on carbon emissions.
No matter what form it takes, a transportation investment package would require new revenue, and that is a responsibility that House Democrats do not take lightly. While working to make this transportation investment package a reality, we have passed legislation to improve the efficiency of our transportation system and make agencies more accountable for their actions. Such reforms include right-sizing projects to reduce their scope and cost, streamlining the environmental review process to get construction going more quickly and requiring the state Department of Transportation and other agencies to immediately report any error that costs taxpayers money.
These are real reforms. They would help us reduce costly mistakes and build a better transportation system in every corner of Washington. But for two years the Senate has refused to bring them up for a vote. House Democrats will continue to advocate, this session and beyond, for legislation that makes our transportation system more responsive and responsible.
The other significant transportation issue this legislative session will be authorizing Sound Transit to pursue its new long-range plan. There is a hunger around Puget Sound for new investments in public transportation that bridge the gaps between communities, including the expansion of express bus lines, light rail and Sounder trains. These systems not only provide a valuable service for the passengers who ride them daily to work and school but also benefit those who drive by keeping cars off the road and reducing gridlock.
Authorizing this new authority is a matter of local control. The Legislature would simply be allowing the people of Puget Sound to decide at the ballot box if they want as much as $15 billion in new public transportation investments, such as light rail to communities such as Federal Way, Everett or Redmond. If approved by the voters, the revenue would be raised from local fees and taxes, meaning there would be no tax or other cost to residents in the rest of the state — only a benefit in the form of less gridlock and a friendlier business climate.
Whether it be a transportation investment package, Sound Transit authorization or any of the multitude of smaller issues Olympia will face this year, we must have the courage to plan for our future by taking action today. If we do not, then all we will have to look forward to over the next 10 years is more backups and gridlock, more jobs lost to other states and countries and a greater Balkanization of our state.
That is not the future that Washingtonians want or deserve, whether they are in Spokane or Seattle, Ellensburg or Bellingham, Kent or Vancouver. We can do better, and it starts by taking action this legislative session.
Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, is chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee.