One of the greatest issues facing our state is the balance between security and economics. We are challenged to increase security at our...

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One of the greatest issues facing our state is the balance between security and economics. We are challenged to increase security at our ports in Tacoma and Seattle while increasing capacity at ports and along highways and rail lines to meet expanding trade needs.

The volume of trade into these ports is enormous and expanding each year. In 2007 alone, Washington’s ports were responsible for more than $84 billion in combined import and export trade. With one in six jobs in Washington state tied to international trade, it is clearly critical to the region’s and the state’s economy.

Yet transportation and inspection infrastructure have not kept pace with the explosion in trade volume. Delays at the ports are getting longer and more frequent. These delays increase costs up and down the transportation chain — for shippers, railroads, truckers, citizens and public agencies. Inadequate connections, where roads and railways connect, cause additional traffic congestion.

Ports originally developed to ship goods out of the United States are now primarily used to bring goods into the country. Today, more than 90 percent of the trade at the Tacoma and Seattle ports is made up of import traffic. This means the other transportation infrastructure within the state also should be expanding to support the influx and transit of these goods into the rest of the state, and across the nation.

Major choke points at our ports and on our highways and rail lines that move goods to and from these ports pose a significant threat to security and trade.

Washington state has not been idle. The state Legislature, business leaders and especially Gov. Christine Gregoire should be commended for adopting two recent increases in the gas tax, which voters across the state validated. The state Department of Transportation is producing an enviable record of project performance, with nearly 80 percent of its projects being delivered on time and on budget.

The Port of Seattle is finishing a third runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport while the Port of Tacoma is in the midst of a major modernization and expansion program.

These and other signs — the Seattle Department of Transportation’s “Bridging the Gap” program, King County’s “Transit Now” initiative, and Sound Transit’s construction program leading to a light-rail line opening next year — are all impressive signs of progress.

Projects like these require money, they require public support, and above all they require political leadership. Such big investments are needed to modernize our transportation infrastructure, further expand international trade, grow our economy and improve our quality of life.

By increasing its investment in our ports and major transportation corridors, Washington state is demonstrating that America can enhance trade, improve its security and expand its economy.

Retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who maintains a residence in Seattle, spoke at the Pacific Maritime Magazine Maritime and Port Security Conference June 12. McCaffrey serves as a military analyst for NBC News and is chairman of HNTB Federal Services.