The Puget Sound region is at a historic crossroads. What stands before us is an opportunity that comes once in a generation and the choice...
The Puget Sound region is at a historic crossroads. What stands before us is an opportunity that comes once in a generation and the choice is clear: We can invest in much-needed and long-overdue transportation improvements that will protect and enhance our quality of life for decades to come, or we can pass a worse problem on to our children.
This November, voters have a chance to adopt a comprehensive, balanced transportation plan, one that includes the entire region and integrates road and bridge improvements with transit investments. Five years in the making, the roads-and-transit plan is designed to provide more choices and reduce congestion in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
While some may waffle and opine for more debate and studies, we ask: to what end? We’ve been waiting for the perfect plan for 40 years. It is past time to move forward; we’ve been waiting far too long.
The last time we were at a tipping point like this, we heard the same arguments about cost, the effectiveness of transit, and that if we rejected this plan another and more perfect plan would re-emerge quickly. It never did. Now, 40 years later, here we are again.
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In 1968, an earlier generation missed the opportunity to transform for the better the face of how this region would look today, despite the fact that the federal government was going to pay the lion’s share. We know from experience that these projects will only get more expensive the longer we wait. Each year of delay will add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of this plan.
Business, labor and environmental leaders from throughout the region sat down at the table with elected officials and transportation experts to develop a comprehensive roads-and-transit plan. After much refinement, we are ready to address crumbling, unsafe bridges like the Highway 520 floating bridge or the South Park Bridge, improve the worst choke points and congested corridors on our highways, expand bike lanes and pedestrian paths and complete the HOV system.
The roads-and-transit plan is a balanced, bipartisan plan that has brought together leaders from Snohomish, Pierce and King counties. It is not just about moving freight and keeping jobs here in Washington — though it will do both; it is about moving people.
At the core of the plan is a regional commitment to a 50-mile light-rail extension connecting major urban centers: Tacoma in the south, Lynnwood in the north and east to downtown Bellevue and the Overlake area in Redmond. The roads-and-transit measure also builds 12,000 new park-and-ride slots, adds express regional bus service and makes the largest investment in bike lanes and pedestrian paths in our region’s history.
The roads-and-transit plan will shape the way our region absorbs the projected 1 million more people we can expect here in the next 20 years. By building an integrated mass-transit system, we can shift land-use patterns around light-rail and bus-rapid-transit stations and create mixed-use,walkable, green communities throughout the region — just like those that are being developed today along the initial light-rail segment.
In order to preserve our precious open spaces, farmland and the environment, we must continue our commitment to concentrate jobs and housing in urbanized areas by building and maintaining roads, bridges and transit in urban areas.
The roads-and-transit plan ensures we are prepared to handle this growth and remain an international trade leader. The plan completes the missing link on Highway 509 from Sea-Tac Airport to Interstate 5 and extends Highway 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma in Pierce County. These are long-planned projects that will help keep freight moving in our region — and foster family-wage jobs. Without these projects, our economy will be slowly choked in congestion; jobs and employers will move elsewhere.
Some may argue about the importance of maintaining our competitive balance. There are a few things that no one can argue: Each year we delay, we fall further behind, traffic gets worse and the costs of getting started skyrocket.
While we missed our shot at having the federal government pick up the tab 40 years ago, today we still have the opportunity to acquire substantial federal funding — if we get building and stop talking. Sound Transit’s strong track record and AAA bond rating make it an exemplary candidate for federal funding for light-rail construction.
One thing is for certain, the status quo cannot go on. Voters will have a choice on Election Day and that choice will shape the face of our region over the next 40 years.
Daniel J. Evans, is Washington state’s former governor and U.S. senator. Judith Runstad is an environmental and land-use attorney at Foster Pepper and former chairwoman of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.