Washington has ignored its roads for so long, the state economy’s in jeopardy.
That warning comes from a report released this week by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based and industry-backed transportation research group. The study also says a third of urban highways in Washington are in poor condition, a quarter of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete and the state transportation department faces a $1.8 billion backlog in “pavement preservation.”
Standing near the partially completed North Spokane Corridor, Carolyn Bonifas Kelly, the group’s associate director of research and communications, called on elected officials to make transportation infrastructure funding a priority “at all levels.”
The report highlighted the state of pavement as integral to Washington’s finances, noting that trucks carry 58 percent of goods within the state, freight valued at $253 billion in total. An additional 20 percent of goods are carried by courier services or multimodal transport companies, which include trucks.
The report comes as the Washington Legislature debates dueling $15 billion transportation plans, both funded by an 11.7 cent gas tax increase but consisting of different projects and revenue sources.
Cheryl Stewart, executive director of the Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors, used the report’s release to call on local legislators to unite in support of the $1 billion in Spokane projects in the Legislature’s transportation plans.
“They have to deal with it now,” she said. “We need to make sure they are fighting for the projects in our area. We need them all to fight for it.”
Stewart said Republican state Sens. Michael Baumgartner, Mark Schoesler and Curtis King have done well in pushing Eastern Washington transportation priorities. On the state House side, she said “we are very lucky” to have Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, on the transportation committee.
Stewart said the Legislature’s plans both contain about $868 million for completing the final 5 miles of the North Spokane Corridor, connecting it with Interstate 90. The construction estimate is up from the original $750 million because of inflation, according to the state Transportation Department.
The Senate’s plan includes money for other projects, such as $10 million for Spokane Transit Authority’s Central City Line and $21 million for widening I-90 between Harvard and Barker roads. The House plan has $18 million for the Central City Line and $8.8 million to construct the University District Gateway Bridge, for pedestrians and cyclists.
Stewart said her group estimated the average motorist in the state would pay about $95 a year in gas tax to fund the Spokane projects. More than 10,000 jobs would be created and the projects would have an overall economic impact of $2 billion, she said.
“They’re huge economic drivers. We certainly support all of them,” Stewart said of the projects in the competing packages. “Transportation is such a hot topic. It’s on everyone’s minds. The governor said yesterday he hoped to sign in. So I think there’s a very good chance it will pass, and we think Eastern Washington will be well represented.”
Riccelli said his biggest priority was “getting the north-south corridor to I-90,” but he said he had a responsibility to promote projects put forth by the city of Spokane, including funding for the University District bridge and Central City Line.
“To me, those are the city priorities, and I represent 65 percent of the city,” he said. “I stand by the Central City Line. I absolutely think that’s the direction we should be moving.”
Riccelli expressed frustration that all local legislators haven’t voted in support of regional transportation projects, but he suggested he would “fight for” projects in nearby legislative districts even if the actions weren’t reciprocated.
“We need our whole delegation to support the North Spokane Corridor,” he said. “I’m not trying to call folks out on the carpet during negotiations, but $750 million for the North Spokane Corridor in both budgets is big.”
Beth Thew, secretary-treasurer with the Spokane Regional Labor Council, also urged lawmakers to fund transportation projects, saying it was “all about jobs.” She noted she wasn’t referring simply to construction jobs but increasing connectivity in Spokane for “jobs of the future.”
Thew did say the report made her think of more than employment. The TRIP report listed 11 bridges in Spokane County that are structurally deficient, including the I-90 bridge over Latah Creek and the U.S. 195 bridge over I-90.
“When I’m driving over a bridge, I don’t want to go, ‘Is this bridge safe or not?’ ” she said.
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