Snohomish County officials get the link between comprehensive transportation plans, attracting investments and creating jobs.

Share story

The direct link between transportation improvements and the economic vitality of their communities is not lost on dozens of local officials in Snohomish County.

Call it coherent optimism or a reality-based vision. They see how the future works and they are willing to say it out loud.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon convened a meeting Tuesday that attracted more than 125 people to the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Everett’s Comcast Arena. For three hours, the ebullient talk was of the dynamic connections between road improvements, rail service and bicycle trails and their impact on employment and livable communities.

Reardon and others make it clear landing the jobs associated with Boeing’s next generation of 737s is a priority for the county. Moving people and products is key.

Identifying and promoting a site — at Paine Field, along I-5 or near Marysville and Arlington — also means having the infrastructure planning to be competitive. As Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, noted, investment creates jobs, not blame or finger-pointing.

Talk is already burbling about a big push on transportation in the 2012 Legislature. Reardon argues the discussion needs to move beyond gas taxes to updating public-private partnerships and deciding how investments get done.

Larsen emphasized the importance of a forward-thinking plan that nurtures skills, knowledge and, again, investment in infrastructure.

Seeing the big picture especially applies to rail, a term that begs definition. Opportunities abound with high-speed rail, which Larsen reminded the audience is a contentious component in the next six-year federal transportation plan.

Freight mobility is fundamental, the core function of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe system. Since 1998, a Freight Action Strategy has bolstered the movement of goods via the Tacoma-Seattle-Everett corridor.

Bruce Agnew, of Seattle’s Discovery Institute Cascadia Center, long a proponent of expanded passenger-rail service, touted a new FAST North Corridor to knit together complementary regional economic-development efforts.

Amtrak rail, Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter service and ST’s Link light rail are all attracting customers who seek options and alternatives. Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak wants to establish commuter-rail links to Everett and Eastside communities. She sees bicycle trails as basic to any package of contemporary transportation improvements.

Steve Schweigerdt, Western representative of the Washington, D.C.,-based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, described a successful national movement to convert rail corridors to accommodate bicycle paths. Locally, the former 42-mile BNSF route on the Eastside is an extraordinary opportunity and a bureaucratic muddle.

As commuter options appear, they get used. Joni Earl, executive director of Sound Transit, made the point, noting her agency needs more park-and-ride spaces to meet demand. Roland Behee, strategic planning manager for Community Transit, said his agency’s SWIFT commuter express-bus service is four years ahead of ridership projections.

These community leaders know suburb-to-suburb commuting is growing, bike riders are not alien creatures, and promoting buses, rail and bikes is not an attack on automobiles. Refreshing public discourse.

Thoughtful, responsive transportation planning is about moving freight, people and attracting investment. Reardon’s savvy session was stripped of clichés and petty squabbles.

Lance Dickie’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is