Not investing in transportation costs money, too

Negotiations in Olympia over a new statewide transportation package have been ongoing – in fits and starts – for almost two years, but have been dormant while the key players wait to see if next week’s election changes the balance of power in the capitol.

There’s no doubt Washington needs a new round of transportation investments. Highways and bridges deteriorate over time, and currently the state is not keeping up with the growing needs for replaced pavement, upgraded bridges, and new lane miles.

Our state’s economic health is directly tied to some critical projects that need to be finished. SR 167 needs to be completed to I-5 and the Port of Tacoma, the replacement 520 bridge still has no funding for the Seattle-side landing to I-5, and after so many years, Spokane needs a north-south freeway corridor. Eventually the topic seemingly no one wants to talk about – resurfacing I-5 through downtown Seattle – needs to be addressed as well.

All of that costs money, but make no mistake, not investing in these projects will cost money too. A new study commissioned by the Washington Roundtable attempts to quantify those costs – and it reminds us of the flipside, that transportation upgrades will mean a more robust economy for all of us.

The study looked at a pared-down transportation package that included maintenance and completing six key projects. Richard Davis of the Washington Research Council summarized it this way:

“According to BCG, a $7 billion investment would return $42 billion in value over 30 years. The benefits show up in reduced congestion costs, improved safety, lower vehicle operating costs, expanded port activity and lower future repair costs. The analysts estimate the package would generate 184,000 construction jobs over the next 12 years. And BCG calculates that the bump in economic activity would boost state and local tax collections by $2 billion over 30 years.”

There are always reasons not to do things. Nobody likes gas taxes or tolls. The state is still figuring out how to pay for the McCleary education funding decision. These are obstacles, but we cannot let them stop us from making the investments today that will pay off later.

At a time when some in Olympia are considering a low carbon fuel standard that will raise gas prices without that increase being put toward transportation upgrades, the prospect of a higher, voter-approved gas tax – with the economic benefits that will flow from it – is starting to look like a bargain.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.