Listening sessions reach half-way point

The Senate Transportation Committee took its roadshow to central Washington this week with listening sessions held in Wenatchee, Yakima, and the Tri-Cities.  Each listening session has been a bit different, with constituents speaking out on the importance of local projects.

One common theme, however, is the importance of supporting the state's ports, whether through the Puget Sound Gateway project or the completion of State Route 167, specifically. As Dave Kirby of the Associated General Contractors noted at the Yakima hearing, "We need to act soon. One need only look at our local agriculture sector to see the importance of supporting our ports."

Senator Tracey Eide agreed.  "I live between two ports and while driving here I saw quite a few apple trucks," she observed.  "This is why freight mobility is so important."

John DeVaney, executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers Shippers Association elaborated on the connection between his members, the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, and transportation investments:

Washington's tree fruit industry generates billions of dollars in economic activity and tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs in our
state.  A reliable transportation system is vital to our industry not only to get fruit from the orchard to the packing house, but also to move these fresh and perishable products to market.  Only about 3% of these crops are consumed within the State of Washington...   [O]nce trucks carrying fruit make it over the pass they still encounter significant traffic congestion and capacity issues in moving to the deep water ports of Seattle and Tacoma, and to SeaTac Airport during cherry season when this fruit is being shipped by air.  In addition to general congestion reduction projects in these corridors, completion of the final segment of SR 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma and of SR 509 to facilitate access to the Port of Seattle's air and sea terminals would significantly improve the movement of
export shipments.

Larry Pursley, speaking on the behalf of the Washington Truckers Association, also argued that freight mobility investments ought to be a key priority in the next transportation package. "Revenue should be used to relieve congestion and freight mobility," he said.

Meanwhile, representatives of the Port of Tacoma reminded lawmakers of the numerous companies located in Eastern Washington that ship products through the Port of Tacoma, for whom a completed State Route 167 will serve as the first or last mile for their product to get to market.  Here are just a few examples:

Last mile Central WA_Page_1

The Port also emphasized that investing in our ports is something that central Washington communities have talked about for years, reminding them of an August 12, 2011 editorial in the Wenatchee World that discussed the importance of completing SR-167.   "We often hear derisive comments about our neighbors west of the Cascades, but at the end of the day, we are part of one state and North Central Washington has a huge stake in the transportation system that gets our products to market," wrote Rufus Woods.  "It’s not their transportation system, it’s ours as well."

With five of the ten scheduled listening sessions now in the bag, what have we learned?  First, there appears the be broad support for a revenue package.  While a handful of individuals have spoken against a package at the sessions so far, the vast majority appear to believe that investing in our state's transportation system is a priority.   Second, while each listening session has focused on local priorities, there appears to be a degree of consensus in each community about what is important to them.  Third, SR-167 completion is the one project that has been mentioned at every listening session to date; whether it be from committed supporters willing to drive hundreds of miles to make their point or local members of the community, constituents are making their support for the highway known to lawmakers. Finally, while some agree with the need for policy reforms, there remains a strong sense of urgency, with constituents from King County to Yakima County urging lawmakers to resolve their differences in time for a special session this November.

With this sense of urgency in mind, it is our hope that senate transportation leaders have heard enough to begin putting pen to paper and begin outlining what a transportation revenue package ought to look like.  We certainly would expect them to keep an open mind and not make any final decision until completing all of the listening sessions, but we also hope that they do not wait until mid-October to begin fleshing out some draft comments.  Coming to consensus will take time, of which there will be precious little between the last listening session scheduled for October 15 and the proposed special session on November 20.  Time is of essence.

That urgency was eloquently expressed this last week in the Federal Way Mirror which asked:

Washington state now faces a crucial decision, and to all of us, this should be considered an issue of urgency. Do we endorse legislation that secures our state’s ability to keep Washington state on the leading edge — or let Washington state take a second seat (or third, or fourth) in terms of our ability to attract business and investments?

In the meantime, organizations around the state continue to step up and call for the completion of SR-167.  These include Norvanco International and the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce.  Our thanks to them and all of the other companies, labor organizations, environmental groups, local governments and regular citizens who have expressed support for the largest economic development project in Washington.