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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Sean V. O’Brien: Essential to maintain vigorous advocacy for North Spokane Corridor

Sean V. O’Brien

By Sean V. O’Brien

We are now past the halfway mark of the 105-day legislative session in Olympia. With cutoff dates and various legislative deadlines passing us by, the status of proposed measures is becoming clear and we’re getting more of a sense of what will live to see the light of day and what efforts will die on the vine.

Now is also the time when much of the focus of the session turns to the budgetary components of the legislature’s work.

It is crucial the clarion call of support for the North Spokane Corridor continues to be heard by leaders in Olympia.

Early in the legislative session – in response to the governor’s proposed budget which axed the funding for the project – business associations, community groups, advocates for labor and industry, nonprofits and individuals flocked to Olympia and raised their voices to urge legislators to fund this vital infrastructure project that has been decades in the making.

It can be easy for us all to take a “well, we checked that box” perspective as we move into the second half of the session and letters, phone calls, and in-person visits have already occurred.

But now, as the true budgetary lay of the land is being ironed out, it is imperative these same efforts continue. Legislators in Olympia must continue to hear from us about the significance of this project.

We all know the critical stakes: increased economic, industrial and commercial development that will not only benefit the region but will enhance Washington state’s economic competitiveness; multimodal enhancements; safety improvements due to moving freight off surface streets; decreases in emissions and gasoline and diesel consumption through more direct routing and a reduction of congestion, as outlined in the state’s environmental impact statement.

We also know the pitfalls: Pushing the project’s completion out a decade or more will only increase the costs in the long run. Portions of unfinished sections will sit useless while the region could be benefiting. And we will lose the critical labor force already trained for this work.

According to the Inland Northwest Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, the region would lose nearly 1,000 jobs a year if this project – which would provide $1.6 billion in economic impact – is paused.

As the state continues to face surplus revenues, there is no excuse for cutting or postponing projects that have already been approved through the environmental review process.

The bipartisan coalition of local leaders advocating for the project’s funding is a powerful testament to its merits and should resonate with Olympia’s budget makers. From Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig and Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward – who adeptly advocated for its funding in testimony before the Senate Transportation Committee – to the bipartisan legislative delegations from the 3rd, 4th and 6th legislative districts, as well as the dozens of other local and county officials, their leadership has been steadfast.

As Woodward testified, “This project is arguably the most important transportation link since Interstate 90 came through our city.”

Olympia must recognize that. You can continue to use your voice to ensure they do.

Sean V. O’Brien is Eastern Washington director for Washington Policy Center. He is the former executive director of the Congressional Western Caucus and is based in the Tri-Cities. Members of the Cowles family, owners of The Spokesman-Review, have previously hosted fundraisers for the Washington Policy Center and sit on the organization’s board.