State transportation plan balances reforms, investments

The Legislature has passed the first new transportation funding package in a decade. Credit is due to Senate Transportation Committee Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima) and ranking member Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) and ranking member Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) and other legislative leaders for being at the table for many months to work out compromises and reach a deal. While no one on either side of the political aisle thinks the plan is perfect, it is a way forward for congestion relief, freight mobility, and accountability.

Infrastructure is a core function of state government, and it’s expensive. In this case, we’re talking about 11.9 cents of additional gas tax.

I made it clear my vote for new transportation funding depended on two conditions: full funding for the completion of Highway 167 from my hometown of Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma, and meaningful reforms to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to decrease costs and increase accountability. Both of these conditions were met.

While the completion of 167 is important to my district and key to the competitiveness of our port in Pierce County, the impact of the transportation package reaches across the state. Highway 509 will connect the Port of Seattle to I-5. We will see congestion relief on I-5 through Joint Base Lewis-McChord, widening of I-405, completion of the North Spokane corridor and improving traffic flow on Snoqualmie Pass. It means progress on transit and the ferry system, and major investments in maintenance and preservation.

Even so, worthy projects are not enough to win the confidence of citizens who have grown increasingly frustrated with WSDOT. Citizens have expressed dismay about the stalled tunnel-boring machine in Seattle, cost overruns and faulty pontoons on the 520 bridge, a design error on Highway 16 in Tacoma, and mismanagement of the ferry system.

Fortunately, this transportation package not only addresses the importance of investing in much-needed projects across the state, but it changes how our transportation department and system are operating. It means projects are more likely to be done on time, on budget, and with less bureaucracy and administrative waste.

Thanks especially to leadership from Senate Republicans, the adopted reforms include use of sales taxes on road projects for the state transportation budget rather than welfare and prisons, use of practical design methods to reduce unnecessary costs of infrastructure projects, streamlined permitting, fast-tracked replacement work on structurally deficient bridges, better reporting and corrections of design errors, more efficient ferry construction, and a new state transportation policy goal of congestion relief. One additional measure in the transportation agreement is a critical consumer protection to prevent the governor from imposing a costly low carbon fuel standard. Without such a protection, a transportation deal could have fallen apart.

The bipartisan work done on the transportation funding package is evidence that our legislative process can work. In a time of partisan gridlock in Washington, DC, Olympia shows that it is still possible to work across the aisle and get things done for the state, to bring interests together and come up with a compromise solution that will benefit so many communities throughout the state.

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Rep. Hans Zeiger

Rep. Hans Zeiger

State Rep. Hans Zeiger (R-Puyallup) serves on the House Transportation Committee.
Rep. Hans Zeiger

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