One of the best pieces of news to come out of the just-concluded legislative session was passage of a new transportation package. On SGW we called it “the right package at the right time,” and it’s quite an accomplishment. It comes after a drawn-out, sometimes contentious debate that began in earnest in 2013.
The package is good news for our economy. It builds projects that are important for jobs and commerce – improving I-405, easing the bottleneck at Fort Lewis, and completing SR 167 to the Port of Tacoma, among others. It also prevents an ill-advised low-carbon fuel standard from being imposed by executive order.
Now that the legislative wrangle is over, it’s up to WSDOT to implement these plans. It’s a big job, and the public is watching.
The reality for WSDOT is, public confidence in the agency is low right now. The average driver thinks there’s too much study, too many EIS’s, and not enough action. They’re not wrong.
Legislators’ job not over
The agency’s esteem has not been helped by the Bertha debacle, which is in the news again this week. That situation is not necessarily one of WSDOT’s choosing – it was the City of Seattle that insisted on a reduced-capacity tunnel to replace the viaduct. Voters are displeased all the same and look to WSDOT as the coordinating agency to put the project back on track.
At this important juncture, close, effective legislative oversight is more important than ever. WSDOT needs to know that they have more than the governor and an agency secretary to answer to – the legislators who passed this package, and answer next year to the voters for it, are watching too.
Washington has a part-time legislature. That’s mostly a good thing, but it does make agency oversight more difficult. This is no time for a hands-off approach to project delivery. We’re counting on the legislature’s transportation leaders – especially committee chairs Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima) and Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) – to monitor performance on behalf of the taxpayers, every step of the way.