Making a list and checking it twice with state funding wish list

Contributing writerJanuary 27, 2013 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – at least for politicians and those in the road-construction business – that festive season of handing out presents, paid for by voters and motorists, to various regions and corners of the state.

There’s a lot at stake for giver and recipient, so the process of gift selection is an important one. Finding just the right gift is a matter of deciding what each person wants or needs, and making sure that no one feels left out or slighted.

In many cases the choice is obvious and straightforward. At times it’s complicated.

Down in Vancouver, for example, the choice is obvious – a new bridge to carry Interstate 5 over the Columbia River into Oregon. But the choice is not straightforward. Such has been the bickering over the Columbia River Crossing – where specifically it’s to be built, in what configuration, whether it should be designed to accommodate light rail – that whatever the outcome someone is going to be left grumbling that it’s the wrong color or size.

For other regions, it’s a less convoluted matter. In Eastern Washington, they’d like completion of the North Spokane Corridor carrying state Route 395. In the Tri-Cities, they’d like further improvements to U.S. 12 (the link to Walla Walla).

And in the Puget Sound region, they want ... well, that’s where it gets interesting.

In Pierce County, at least, it’s clear what the powers that be want – completion of state Route 167, a six-mile stretch from just north of Puyallup (at the interchange with state Route 512) to state Route 509 near the Port of Tacoma. Just in case anyone missed what is at the top of the wish list, the port has done the equivalent of circling the desired item in the catalog 12 times with red crayon by setting up a blog specifically dedicated to the topic. It’s also had a lead role in establishing the SR-167 Completion Coalition.

The appeal of the project, at least to local interests, is apparent. A four-lane divided highway all the way to the Tideflats would provide a seamless drive for freight headed to and from the Kent Valley (roughly defined for our purposes as Renton to Puyallup) via the Valley Freeway and then the new segment.

That’s a much easier route than getting freight from the factories and warehouses of the Kent Valley to the Port of Seattle. Not only might the new link encourage existing companies to shift their shipping patterns, it might encourage companies in the South Seattle industrial area, feeling pinched by congestion and operating costs, to follow those businesses that have already moved out to the valley.

That in turn poses some interesting challenges for King County politicians in deciding what projects to back. For the record, the Port of Seattle says it does support the extension of 167 “because of the project’s significant freight mobility benefits for the entire region,” a spokesman said. “The 167 project is similar in scope to the SR 509 project, another port priority, which extends that highway from the airport out to I-5, as well as add lanes on I-5.”

So what else does King County want and what projects might be involved in the comparisons of who got what? The Washington State Transportation Commission’s latest revenue proposal lists more than $9 billion in uncompleted corridor projects, the bulk of those in King County. Those include state Route 520, I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, I-405 and state Route 509.

(Interestingly, there’s been very little mention in this latest round of proposals about improvements to state Route 18, especially the congested two-lane, undivided, white-knuckle segment in the vicinity of Tiger Mountain, the scene of some nasty collisions and bad weather.

Upgrading the remainder of that road to four-lane divided-highway standard, while located in King County, would benefit Pierce County shippers and businesses as a link to I-90 and Eastern Washington.)

Behind the scenes of arguments and lobbying over the megaprojects (“if they ask Mom and Dad for a bridge, maybe there won’t be enough left to buy that interchange I’ve always wanted”) will be many small dramas played out as support is enlisted from smaller counties and towns, each with their own wish-list projects. Think of those as the stocking-stuffers.

You might have thought the holiday music had been put away for 11 more months. But in Olympia and around the state, they’re just warming up for multiple rounds of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” – with especially robust singing of the lines about making a list and checking it twice.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at bill.virgin@yahoo.com.

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