Opinion Columns & Blogs

Region must come together on transportation package

Last fall a “world class” label was bestowed upon us in a newspaper column: “Hey, we’re world class! For truly terrible traffic.” This should serve as a wake-up call for action.

That headline came after the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) released its 2014 Congestion Report, showing us that the gridlock and brake-tapping we’ve been stewing in for years has gotten significantly worse.

Between 2011 and 2013, the hours of traffic delay in the Puget Sound rose 1.8 percent, and the combined annual cost to us for all that delay was $811 million. According to the WSDOT report, the 10-mile evening commute on Interstate 5 between Federal Way and Tacoma that should ideally take 12 minutes instead averaged twice that long in 2013. What it adds up to is a frustrating mix of lost productivity and family time, increased air pollution and more stress.

It is time for all of us to rise up and say, “Enough!” While we can’t wave a magic wand and make traffic go away, we can and must invest in transportation infrastructure that enhances mobility and safety, protects our economy and job base, and protects a quality of life we cherish.

In Olympia, the state Senate has approved a 2015 transportation revenue-and-reform package that makes some critical down payments on the worst of our transportation problems here in Fife and Pierce County. Most importantly, the Senate’s package would invest significant revenue to finally complete the state Route 167 corridor through Fife and into the Port of Tacoma.

This project has been on the books for decades, and the lack of a completed SR 167 corridor puts added congestion and quality-of-life burdens on our local roads in Fife.

The Senate’s package also provides direct funding, grant funding, and local financing options for cities and counties to begin combating the mobility and maintenance backlogs on our local roadways. And it provides revenue options that will allow Sound Transit to take an “ST3” package to the ballot next year.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go to make this 2015 transportation package a reality. The House of Representatives needs to consider the package and put its own stamp on it, and while we believe the Senate’s work represents a great start, we still hope there is a chance to include funding for Port of Tacoma Road interchange improvements and increase the funding levels of the revenue options granted to Sound Transit to better ensure a light rail extension through Fife and into Tacoma.

With the port on the verge of expansion, we can’t afford any more delays. We need investments that serve our distribution centers, move our workers to and from manufacturing jobs, and allow our freight haulers and transit drivers to make on-time deliveries of goods and people.

We are truly at a crossroads with a transportation system that is our lifeblood. Our choice is to allow it to get worse, or take action and improve transportation networks for the good of our manufacturers, our industrial clusters, our ports and our people.

The House Transportation Committee is taking the next step in the legislative process by holding hearings on the transportation package. Working together in a bipartisan way, we believe that a transportation bill can be successfully passed. We ask that you help us with a simple message and encouragement to House and Senate members with a simple message: “Let’s get this done!”

Tim Curtis is the mayor of Fife.