We are facing serious challenges in Washington state. The pandemic didn’t just make people sick; it made our whole economy sick.
The health effects of COVID-19 and the temporary and permanent closure of so many businesses is impacting every family, every region and every industry. And low-income communities and communities of color are hurting even more from illness and job loss.
As bad as things feel, there is a road to a healthy, equitable economic recovery.
As our state Legislature moves forward in resolving difficult spending choices, it is essential that lawmakers prioritize investments that will get people back to work and support economic growth into the future.
Washington’s transportation system is vital to that recovery.
Our roads, bridges, ferries, ports and transit systems serve as the lifeblood of commerce and daily life. But, like so many businesses, families and communities across Washington, our transportation system has been pummeled by the pandemic.
Transportation revenues — gas-tax collections, tolls, fares and other fees — have taken a nosedive. Vital projects have been stopped or postponed. Transit service has been reduced or cut. Communities are struggling with roads and bridges in serious decline amid budget shortfalls.
To recover — better yet to thrive — our communities will need better transportation solutions.
There is broad support for action by the Legislature to address these problems. Our coalition — business leaders, labor unions, local governments, and environmental and transit advocates — has worked together for more than 15 years. We know a healthy transportation system is essential to economic activity, jobs and opportunity, healthy communities, equity and quality of life.
Six years ago, we supported state lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — in coming together to pass a $16 billion transportation plan. The Connecting Washington package sought to complete projects in key economic corridors, support preservation and maintenance of roads and bridges, and make important multi-model investments. It was the first statewide transportation investment in more than a decade, and it was overdue. But many of those investments are now in jeopardy as revenues come up short and the list of additional needs grows.
It is again time to act.
By working together to pass a new comprehensive transportation investment package, we can build the foundation for a fair and prosperous recovery.
Fulfilling commitments made in Connecting Washington is critical. Addressing previously identified maintenance and preservation projects will make our roads safer and get people back to work, stabilizing families and local economies. Multimodal investments in communities that have been underinvested in and bear a disproportional burden of transportation pollution will build a more equitable, sustainable future for us all.
Many larger projects, such as a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River, an improved Highway 2 trestle in Snohomish County and repairing the West Seattle Bridge are also essential to congestion relief, safety and commerce.
Our state has a legal obligation to remove fish passage barriers that exist under our state roadways as mandated by a federal court order. This work is essential to restoring fish runs and honoring treaties with sovereign tribes.
Washingtonians, particularly our essential workers and vulnerable populations, continue to rely on transit during the pandemic and need more travel options. Multimodal investments — transit service, bike lanes and pedestrian walkways — are critical for a healthy, equitable economy and help reduce carbon emissions in our efforts to address climate change.
We are all feeling knocked down by the pandemic. But we are not knocked out. This legislative session, we have an opportunity to get started on fixing big problems — not just of transportation, but of equity and economic stability for our communities. Already we have seen two proposals, a 16-year $27 billion package from House Democrats and a 16-year $18 billion to $19 billion package from the Senate Transportation chair, Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens. There is also debate about a carbon-reduction measure that may become part of a transportation investment package. We welcome these proposals as the starting point to a vital conversation.
Washingtonians deserve jobs that allow them to support themselves and their families. They deserve safe and reliable options for getting to and from work, school and recreation. They deserve to live in neighborhoods free from pollution and preventable traffic fatalities. They deserve a chance to get back up and rebuild, together. We look forward to working with legislators to push forward on new transportation investments and build the road to that recovery.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.