South Sound needs a transportation package | Chamber commentary

Washington state’s economy may be getting back on track but it will jump off again quickly if our state legislators cannot put aside their differences and put together a transportation package fully funding major projects in our South Sound region.

Washington state’s economy may be getting back on track but it will jump off again quickly if our state legislators cannot put aside their differences and put together a transportation package fully funding major projects in our South Sound region, such as the completion of both State Route 509 and State Route 167, the Federal Way Triangle and the enhancements to the southern part of Interstate 405. Thousands of short-term jobs and 10s of thousands of long-term jobs are at risk if we do not complete projects that have been in the pipeline for nearly 40 years designed to reduce the regional congestion that frustrates citizens, delays the moving of goods and services through our ports, and forces businesses out of the area.

The Southwest King County Chamber of Commerce is a member of the South Sound Chamber of Commerce Legislative Coalition (SSCCLC) and understands the importance of thinking broadly about our transportation solutions. The SSCCLC came together several years ago to force this broader discussion.  After seeing transportation dollars going all over the state with no thought to overall economic benefit, we wanted to highlight how investments in our region impact the economy of the entire state. The impact is backed up by statistics out of the Connecting Washington Transportation Task Force clearly showing the South King County and Pierce County regions as an area for significant potential job growth and business location. The completion of SR 167, as an example, is estimated to create 80,000 long-term permanent jobs according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. Studies show that completing SR 509 will generate $700 million new construction, and nearly $34 million in new state and local tax revenues.  In addition, our region includes both major seaports and an international airport that handle cargo and passengers from all across the state.

However, our region is also home to some of the most frustrating traffic congestion — congestion that puts Washington at a competitive disadvantage compared to the rest of North America. With other states and Canada putting more money into their ports, along with the improvements to the Panama Canal, our state’s ports are at risk of losing business if we don’t improve freight mobility.  With 40 percent of the state’s jobs – in both Eastern and Western Washington – tied to port-related activity, harming our ports’ competitiveness would be devastating.

This past legislative session, legislators came closer than ever to developing a package that put more focus on transportation projects that would have a significant benefit to the entire state. This meant the South Sound region was finally given the attention it deserves because of the overall statewide economic impact. We appreciate all of the work that was done this session and were frustrated that agreement could not be reached. However, we are hopeful that our legislators and those from around the state will come together and put together a plan that works to build our state’s economy.

The transportation plan, as it currently stands, still needs some work.  We need to make sure the public is assured their dollars are being spent wisely and funded projects will have tangible benefit for the state. In addition, we need to make sure we do not partially fund projects with the promise of “completion later.”  The SR 509, SR 167, Federal Way Triangle and I-405 projects have been identified as necessary for the state’s economy, but the economic benefit can only be realized with completion. Our state’s businesses and citizens need to be able to count on the reduced congestion and freight mobility in order to plan for the future.

Carol Kolson is president and CEO of the Southwest King County Chamber of Commerce, which includes Tukwila, Burien, Des Moines and SeaTac.

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