Maybe it's that time of summer that has me longing for a little discipline. Maybe I'm worried about Washington's transportation challenges...

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Maybe it’s that time of summer that has me longing for a little discipline. Maybe I’m worried about Washington’s transportation challenges.

School has been out a little too long. My son fully expects to go swimming at least twice a day and he’s still bouncing off the walls after 9 p.m.

Whatever the reason, I was thrilled with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s message to the region last week. With the firmness of the preschool teacher she once was, Murray took the region not only to school but to the woodshed for its splintered approach to transportation policy.

“We really need to sit down and be realistic,” she said in a meeting at The Times. “… We need to stop throwing out new projects. ‘This is something we can do. This is something else we can do.’

“When are they going to stop?”

The senator is right. One of the biggest challenges to the region’s economic future is rational, focused solutions to its transportation problems. But we can’t seem to pull it together. The three-county Regional Transportation Investment District has yet to offer a plan to voters. Sound Transit finally is on better footing, but the Seattle Monorail Project is foundering under bad revenue projections and disingenuous management. (Thank state Treasurer Mike Murphy for his own stern lecture about the disastrous financial plan, which the monorail board since abandoned.)

We’ve got a state Legislature, which bravely rose above partisan divisions to raise the state gas tax — because the need is indisputable. But the Democrat-controlled body and governor, who suggested she would not raise taxes during her campaign, went too far and also raised general taxes.

Then a couple of conservative talk-radio-show hosts hatched an initiative to repeal the gas tax, and it’s on the November ballot. And just as Sea-Tac Airport’s expansion is in full swing, the King County executive bucks the 10-year-old regional consensus that resources should go to Sea-Tac and colludes with one airline to move it to Boeing Field.

When will they stop?

Maybe when more people speak up like Murray and Murphy. Some argue the senator’s federal role is not to tell the state what to do, and the state treasurer’s role is not to tell local government what to do.

Role, schmole. I call it leadership. They’re citizens, taxpayers and thinking people. Too often, our region is hamstrung by political politeness — the strained smiles that squelch reasonable debate and hope for the best. Why else were Murphy’s “the-monorail-wears-no-clothes” revelations so startling? Without clear, common-sense leadership, the yammering of the not-so-common-sensical fills the void.

So on the issue of what to do about Washington’s transportation quagmire, who better than a U.S. senator, easily re-elected to her third term, to talk some sense into a region that needs some discipline?

Listen up.

In the case of Southwest Airlines’ surprising proposal to leave Sea-Tac and move to Boeing Field, Murray neared exasperation. As the ranking minority member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, she has helped funnel federal money to make needed improvements to Sea-Tac Airport.

Southwest Airlines proposed building a $130 million terminal at Boeing Field, but the Dallas-based airline won’t be making other improvements to support the endeavor.

“Unless King County has a transportation fund I’m not aware of, they’ll be looking to the federal government,” Murray said. And there’s no money.

And here’s advice for Seattle as it prepares to replace its rickety viaduct. Don’t expect any more federal money than the hard-won $220 million just approved in a five-year spending authority budget.

“If Seattle wants a tunnel (to replace the viaduct), they will have to figure out how to do that from the local tax base,” the senator said.

Boy, that took me back to another hot August day several years ago. Before we got out of the car at Bellevue Square for back-to-school shopping, Mom stated: “I will give you enough money for Levis. If you want the Calvin Kleins, you have to pay the difference.”

I dipped into my babysitting money. But as I realized how little variety I had in my wardrobe and how often I was washing my jeans, I wished I’d listened to my mother.

Now, we should listen to Sen. Murray as she tells the region: Straighten up!

Kate Riley’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is