Pierce County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation. That’s why getting transportation right is so important — to our economy, our community and everybody who’s trying to get to work or school each morning.
Yet it’s easy to get transportation wrong. That’s why we need some straight talk on two big issues: the transportation challenge in this state and the car-tab controversy with Sound Transit.
When it comes to transportation, the biggest myth is that we can simply build more highways. We already are putting massive sums into improving and expanding our highway system. In 2015, lawmakers approved a transportation package funded by 12-cent gas tax.
There’s just no way to add enough lanes to handle population growth. Highways are the most expensive option for taxpayers, and it’s physically impossible to add more lanes at key chokepoints in the Tacoma, Seattle and Everett areas.
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Only a balanced approach — highways, ferries, mass transit and other options — will make your daily commute better.
I’m happy to report that Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass a transportation budget this year that makes progress on all those fronts. That budget includes more than $8 billion in the next two years to help people get where they need to go and move goods to market.
We now have funding to improve our highways and finish critical local projects:
▪ Extending carpool lanes on I-5 to the Tacoma Mall.
▪ Advancing funding to purchase property for construction of state Route 167.
▪ Connecting bus rapid transit from Spanaway to downtown Tacoma.
▪ Adding a lane to relieve congestion near Joint Base Lewis McChord.
Another big issue today centers on the car tabs that fund Sound Transit 3, which voters approved last year.
There are two approaches to giving taxpayers some relief on increased car tab fees. In the House, I voted for legislation to send rebates to taxpayers so that their car tabs more closely track Kelley Blue Book values.
People would get lower tabs without delaying or killing the light rail and mass transit projects that citizens approved at the ballot box.
That House bill passed with strong support from Democrats and Republicans.
The Senate took a radically different and partisan approach.
It’s no secret Republicans have traditionally been hostile to mass transit and more friendly to a highways-only approach. That’s clearly reflected in the Senate bill that passed on party lines, 25-24.
Instead of targeting relief to taxpayers, the Senate bill would take a meat ax to ST3, with up to $12 billion in projects killed.
I was part of the negotiating team when we passed the 2015 transportation package. I’ve always believed that to foster trust and accountability, you have to keep your word.
As a part of those negotiations, I gave my word to support billions of dollars for highways, and the other side agreed on mass transit funding, including ST3.
As The News Tribune Editorial Board noted, we desperately need those projects, which include light rail to Tacoma and extending the Sounder train to DuPont.
To get things done on transportation — whether unclogging traffic gridlock or making sure more people can hop on a train to get to work — we have to work together, as Democrats and Republicans, to find real solutions instead of sound bites.
We know from history that sticking to partisan positions leads to political gridlock.
I’m hopeful that we can find creative solutions and reach new agreements, because our county won’t stop growing — and all of us will still need to get to work and school every morning.
Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, is vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee.