Transportation projects key to region’s continued growth

John McDonagh

For more than a decade, transportation infrastructure in Southwest Washington has, for the most part, meant the Columbia River Crossing (CRC). Regardless of whether it was correct or fair, we allowed our regional needs to be defined by a single project. We allowed that to happen. No longer. It is imperative that our region’s other transportation needs are understood and appreciated for their statewide significance.

In a recent meeting with Governor Inslee, a local business transportation contingent made a case for five projects in the county. These five projects are crucial to freight mobility and to growth in the commercial/industrial sectors, each of which are job creators (both in their construction and in what the projects make possible).

Jobs are the backbone of the continued economic recovery. Given the depth of job loss Clark County experienced, the region needs every job we can create. What could get in the way of those jobs? Politics.

The Governor isn’t feeling particularly warm and fuzzy about Southwest Washington. After all, he went to bat for the CRC and our legislative delegation made it quite clear they would not support the project. Now they weren’t the only reason it didn’t move forward, but it was a key factor. In the end, the governor put his political equity on the line and lost the bet.

The CRC was never intended to be the only infrastructure project important to our region, but rather to be the lead project. Unfortunately, with the realization that funding was limited, due in large part to the Great Recession, it was the only project we discussed for too long.

Now that the CRC is history (the need is not, just the plan), we have the obligation to advocate for the projects across our region that will allow for development, move freight more efficiently and allow for the still desperately needed job creation across the county.

Competing for the transportation dollars we need are dozens of projects around the state, not to mention two so-called mega projects in the Puget Sound area: the tunnel which is intended to replace the Alaska Way Viaduct along the waterfront in Seattle, and the 520 Bridge across Lake Washington from Seattle to Bellevue. Both mega projects are plagued by cost overruns, delays and bad component designs (critics of the CRC would have a field day with these two projects).

Given the lack of support from our legislative delegation for the CRC, it’s not only the Governor that questions the region’s consensus to support major transportation projects. Additionally, legislators from the rest of the state have little political advantage in supporting any projects in this region, should there be a transportation package at all.

If the state is committed to supporting a growing economy it must sort out how to address the transportation infrastructure needs across the entire state, including projects in Southwest Washington. Continuing to neglect our aging and failing transportation infrastructure could stymie economic development for a generation or more, given the lengthy process of getting projects through the system.

We recognize there are competing priorities in Olympia, but if we don’t provide for the ability to move commerce in, out and across the county and state, we all lose.