Spring is a time for hope and renewal, and there is cause for optimism as businesses across the Puget Sound region reopen. All of us are ready to get moving again. A new state investment in transportation will help accelerate the region’s economic recovery, by providing near-term construction jobs and long-term economic benefits that come from improved infrastructure.
Washington lawmakers are considering a “Grand Bargain” for improvements to our transportation system that could help fix old bridges, patch our roads, clean our air and water, invest in transit and create jobs. The economic benefits of such actions are clear. In fact, a study by the Washington Roundtable found that transportation investments save businesses hundreds of millions of dollars per year in supply-chain costs, increase productivity and enable freight mobility and port expansion that allow businesses to grow exports and international trade, and create new jobs.
One of the bright spots for our economic recovery is the high-tech job growth happening in the “Innovation Triangle” on the Interstate 405 corridor between Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond, where we plan to bring 25,000 jobs over the next few years. As the Puget Sound region continues to attract new businesses over the next two decades, state and local governments must work hand-in-hand with employers to ensure this growth is responsible, sustainable and positive for the broader community.
We are committed to ensuring this job growth is inclusive and creates opportunity for everybody. For example, we recently launched our $2 billion Housing Equity Fund, which includes an initial investment of 1,000 affordable units in the Puget Sound area and $125 million in grants to support housing for people of color. We’re also working hard to provide commute options by building offices adjacent to light-rail stations in Bellevue, supporting bus rapid transit on I-405, promoting bike and pedestrian trails like Eastrail and the Mountains to Sound Greenway, and developing flexible policies to continue work-from-home and remote-work options. We also have spent more than $80 million to provide our employees with free Orca transit cards, and about 55% of Amazon’s Seattle employees use public transportation, walk or bike to work.
To support this job creation, further investment from the state is needed in the I-405 corridor. Across the state, other key projects are needed. The West Seattle Bridge is critical to the Port of Seattle and freight jobs, the Highway 2 Trestle in Snohomish County carries commuters and trucks to regional job centers and the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River in Clark County connects our state’s economy to the rest of the West Coast.
Passing a transportation investment package is unfinished business in Olympia, and state legislators still have an opportunity to get this across the finish line before the legislative session ends. We applaud Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, for his work over several years to deliver the “Forward WA” transportation proposal. We appreciate Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, for conducting an extensive transportation listening tour to hear from a broad range of stakeholders in 2020. And we thank Gov. Jay Inslee for convening the transportation committee chairs and for his longstanding leadership on infrastructure investments.
Without action, we will face the harsh reality of possible cuts to badly needed infrastructure programs, projects and services. Valuable public assets like roads, bridges, ferries and buses will deteriorate because of insufficient investment in maintenance and preservation. Our endangered salmon will continue to suffer as culverts and storm-water projects languish. Local governments will face similar challenges with their streets, bike lanes and sidewalks. And important investments in clean transportation like electric vehicles and ferries, high-speed rail and transit will face further delays, creating disproportionate impacts on low-income groups and communities of color.
Fortunately, a broad coalition of business, labor, environmental groups and local governments are continuing to advance the conversation as a unified voice in support of transportation investments. It is also encouraging to see everyday citizens who have taken time out of their day to make their voice heard in numerous transportation forums, hearings and surveys.
Over the past year, our state has learned a lot about community resilience in the face of adversity, and about teamwork and innovation under pressure. Now we have a chance to build back better. It’s time to get moving on a state transportation package.