Two recently released studies conclude that greater transportation spending would be a boon to Washington, and they also show why the bulk of the projects should be on the West Side.
You wouldn’t give your entire family cold medicine if only one person suffered from congestion. Similarly, the state should direct its cure where it would do the most good. But that’s easier said than done in politics, where state legislators ask, “What’s in it for my district?”
The answer is that when traffic is bottled up in the Puget Sound area, the whole state gets a congestion headache. For this reason, the state Legislature must take another run at a solution.
The 2014 WSDOT Corridor Capacity Report states, “The Puget Sound area accounts for 97.8 percent of statewide delay, while urban centers such as Spokane, the Tri-Cities and Vancouver along with the rest of the state highway system accounts for the remaining 2.2 percent.”
These delays cost Washington businesses $858 million in 2013, according to the Department of Transportation report. An estimated $811 million of that was incurred in the Puget Sound area.
Daily backups in Spokane are confined to short stretches of Interstate 90 during brief time periods covering the morning and evening commutes. But they’re easily avoided by leaving a little earlier or a little later. But in the Seattle area, long delays are difficult to avoid, and these traffic jams throttle commerce.
Like it or not, the state’s economic engine resides west of the Cascade Range, and when it isn’t firing on all cylinders, it hurts us all. Goods produced in Eastern Washington struggle to get West Coast markets and beyond. The West Side produces the lion’s share of state revenue, too.
That’s not to say that Eastern Washington projects are not worthy of funding. A Washington Roundtable study concludes the state would receive a $42 billion economic boost over the next 30 years if it were to spend $7 billion on a half-dozen statewide road projects that have been the subject of recent debates in Olympia. The completion of the North Spokane Corridor, at an estimated cost of $750 million, is one of them.
Doing so would probably require a gas tax increase, and the Legislature has debated tacking on between 9 cents and 12 cents to a gallon of gas. Provincial politics makes this difficult, because most of the projects would be out of sight of Eastern Washington residents.
But Washington ports – the closest to Asia – are already in danger of losing business to other states and Canada. The economic potential of turning Spokane into a regional hub with a north-south freeway remains unrealized. It’s frustrating to watch short-sighted politics torpedo long-term economic benefits.
Rather than cave to the geographical instincts of us vs. them, we need legislators to educate the public on why clearing congestion where it occurs is beneficial for the entire state.
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