Failing to fund transportation jeopardizes safety, mobility, and economic vitality

When the special legislative session begins Wednesday, transportation investment will be one of the few must-do items on the agenda. The Associated Press reports lawmakers agree on the priority, if not the details. 

Lawmakers don’t face the same mandate to get a transportation deal done that the Supreme Court’s contempt order puts behind education spending or the threat of government shutdown gives the overall operating budget, but leaders have spoken of the urgency of passing a package.

The AP story compares and contrasts the House and Senate packages, noting that while lawmakers disagree on some critical issues, legislative leaders believe they can bridge their differences.

There’s a lot at stake. The Spokesman-Review reports on last week’s important transportation study and its release in Spokane. 

“They’re huge economic drivers. We certainly support all of them,” [executive director of the Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors Cheryl] Stewart said of the projects in the competing packages. “Transportation is such a hot topic. It’s on everyone’s minds. The governor said yesterday he hoped to sign in. So I think there’s a very good chance it will pass, and we think Eastern Washington will be well represented.”

So too on the west side, where Don Anderson, mayor of Lakewood, writes in an op-ed in The News Tribune about the serious congestion problems on I-5. 

Eroding and inadequate infrastructure along this corridor threatens our state’s economic competitiveness, safety and quality of life.

Contributing to the investment deficit is the Congressional failure to provide stable, ongoing funding for the Highway Trust Fund. We flagged this issue last year. 

Historically, the federal government has played a significant role in funding maintenance and preservation of state roads and bridges; however, federal funding has become less certain in recent years.

The ongoing uncertainty makes planning difficult and further delays vital investment. The federal-state transportation partnership must be made more secure. Washington’s congressional delegation must come together to promote federal action that would provide permanent funding of the Highway Trust Fund at current levels.

The Wenatchee World editorial board urges federal swift action, noting …

Our national net infrastructure investment, adjusting for inflation and depreciation, is somewhere near zero, said former Treasury secretary and Harvard President Lawrence Summers.

It’s true that the federal-state partnership in transportation funding has broken down. While we wait for the feds to step up, it’s critical that state lawmakers do their part by passing a comprehensive transportation package now.