WE are at a critical crossroads. We either build or improve the transportation infrastructure needed to support the jobs and commerce that our ports provide, or we sit back and watch our state fall behind as other ports take the lead as global markets expand.
A comprehensive plan to fund and complete Highway 167 and Highway 509 during this legislative session will not only help our ports compete in the global marketplace, but will safeguard Washington’s place as an important trade-industry hub in an ever competitive world.
We have a small window of opportunity to prepare for an explosion of global competition when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2015. The ports and states that are prepared to meet this new challenge will reap the benefits of long-term business and job creation. Billions of dollars are being spent in other U.S. cities and in other countries to improve port infrastructure.
The ports of Seattle and Tacoma are working individually and together to make the investments necessary to strengthen their position in the marketplace. They realize that their competition is not with each other, but with the ports outside the state of Washington. But they can’t do it alone. Just as Georgia, Miami, Florida, Baltimore, New York and Vancouver, B.C., have backed their ports, we must make the commitment to build the transportation infrastructure to save Washington state from being cast aside in the world-trade arena.
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Forty-four percent of regional truck trips by the ports of Tacoma and Seattle travel on Highway 167 to distribution centers in our valley cities: Auburn, Puyallup, Sumner, Pacific, Algona, Kent, Renton and Tukwila. Our valley is recognized as the second-largest distribution center on the West Coast. In addition, our valley cities understand the economic impact of being located between two of the top 10 shipping ports in North America. Highway 167 is a vital link to the robust international supply networks that serve our local and global businesses.
That’s why the valley mayors recently sent a letter to House Transportation Chair Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, urging her to include the completion of Highway 167 in this year’s transportation funding package. We also understand the importance of the completion of Highway 509. Both projects will ease traffic congestion, open accesses, improve industrial services, shorten travel time and move large truck traffic off our local streets.
Recently, representatives from labor, manufacturing, civic leaders from neighboring cities and a representative from the Port of Tacoma agreed at a Port of Seattle round table that we can better position ourselves to meet global competition if we work together for a common purpose: to position Washington state to be a premier international logistics hub.
Puget Sound manufacturers and farmers in Eastern Washington benefit from the access to international markets that our ports provide. We have an advantage. We’re closer to Asia than any other major seaport in the United States.
In addition to global markets, our region is also a logistics center for goods headed to Alaska and Hawaii. Washington state is the most trade-dependent state in the nation, and one out of three jobs in the state is related to international trade. We can’t afford to lose this advantage.
There is time for us yet to forge a partnership to secure our future but we need to come together at the local, county, state and federal levels if we want a 21st-century port system. We have no time to waste.
Let’s pass a comprehensive state transportation funding package this year that includes the completion of Highway 167 and Highway 509.
Pete Lewis is mayor of Auburn.