State need to invest in tranposrtation now | COMMENTARY

Our economic standing is at great risk if we allow our backbone network of roads, highways, bridges and public transportation to decay.

Renton, the Central Puget Sound and the State of Washington should be proud of our heritage as a center of aerospace, technology and innovation – and an economy that thrives by importing and exporting products and goods through world-class ports. But our economic standing is at great risk if we allow our backbone network of roads, highways, bridges and public transportation to decay.

We must invest in our transportation system, and we must do it now. That is the message legislative leaders from both parties received these past two months as they journeyed around the state to hold 10 “Listening Sessions” and heard concerned citizens, business leaders, local elected officials and transit riders urge that a transportation investment package be passed this year.

It is time to recognize that our transportation system is on the brink of crisis – and we need only to look at our own Interstate 405 to realize it. If we don’t add capacity to I-405 and fix the interchange at I-405 and State Route 167, we will continue to have the most congested interchange and freeway corridor in the state. The economic impact of this congestion is staggering – nearly 3 million vehicle hours of delay each year, at a cost of $70.8 million to the local economy, according to data from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

But I-405 is hardly our only problem. We have city streets deteriorating, county roads in urgent need of maintenance, and state highways in desperate need of repair. Bridges all over the state are ranked as “deficient” and in need of replacement. King County METRO, our countywide transit agency, will soon announce a specific set of bus routes to be pared back or eliminated as it prepares for a 17 percent cut in lieu of new funding. Additionally, our ferry system is aging, and critical gaps in sidewalk and bicycle facilities make it difficult for some children to get to school safely. The list goes on and on.

Last June, the House passed a 10-year, $9.5 billion transportation package that would have helped us fully fund I-405 improvements between Renton and Bellevue and construct a ”connector” to improve the mess at 405 and 167, along with providing funding for freight mobility, transit, local governments, and safety projects. And leaders of our State Senate have now heard from the public that there is a groundswell of support for enacting a transportation package.

For Renton, this transportation package is well worth supporting. Along with monies for I-405 and the I-405/SR-167 interchange, Renton would receive direct funding to help with desperately needed local roads maintenance, and King County METRO would receive funds to avert significant transit service cuts. There would also be additional grant funding and local funding options that we could take to our voters.

One option we do not have is to do nothing. If we want our businesses to stay, create and grow jobs, and keep the recent economic recession in the rear view mirror, we have to invest in our transportation system.

We need to act now. We respectfully urge our governor and state Legislature to convene a special session this year to pass a transportation investment package that is vital to the future of our region and our state.