“Should Washington stop building roads? Some think so.” That’s the headline the Union-Bulletin put up over a story by Seattle Times reporter Mike Lindblom. It’s an odd question. An affirmative response is even more perplexing. Of course, road building–new roads, maintenance, preservation, the whole thing–must be a part of this state’s transportation future.
Washington state legislators are considering whether to remove “congestion relief” and “improved freight mobility” from their transportation goals, a departure from the American passion to expand highways…
“Instead of continuing to build our roads where individual members come up with projects because there’s a congestion in their district, what we need to be doing is we need to be looking at this more holistically,” sponsor Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, testified in committee. “Accessibility is really what we want to get at.”
No argument. And it’s perhaps a stretch to interpret her comments as entirely anti-road. But…
Driver advocates say ditching “congestion relief” and “improved freight mobility,” which now appear under a “mobility” goal, might hamper road building.
“We can’t afford to minimize the importance of freight mobility for our roadways,” Washington Trucking Association Executive Vice President Sheri Call told a Senate committee recently. “Washington must continue to deliver projects that provide quality of life benefits for all users of the highways in Washington, and keep our economy moving forward.”
As Lindblom reports, the state transportation department recognizes significant deficiencies in maintenance and preservation. And WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar acknowledges both the need for transportation alternatives and increasing capacity.
“We are not against adding capacity. There are places where adding capacity makes perfectly good sense,” Millar said in an interview,,,
In an editorial, The Seattle Times tackles the legislation aiming to reduce the emphasis on congestion relief and freight mobility.
One of the most insidious proposals would radically alter the way state transportation projects are funded, potentially undermining jobs and the economy. Legislators should reject this scheme, in House Bill 2688 and Senate Bill 6398.
Unbelievably, the bills seek to remove “congestion” and “freight mobility” from the list of criteria used to allocate transportation funding. They would substitute more ambiguous, subjective criteria like “accessibility” and “healthy communities.” Of course, such things are important, but they make this a honey trap for gullible legislators.
The editorial addresses the toll congestion takes on working people.
If lawmakers care about the environment and disadvantaged residents, they should keep prioritizing congestion and freight mobility.
Vehicles idling in congestion are a major cause of pollution. Seattle area drivers wasted 62.7 million gallons of fuel in 2017, according to the latest Urban Mobility Report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Excess fuel consumption and time lost in Seattle congestion cost drivers $3.4 billion that year, an average of $1,541 apiece.
The poor and working-class suffer most, because they drive more and can least afford congestion costs. About 80% of single-occupant vehicle trips are made by households earning less than $125,000, according to federal statistics. The most frequent drivers are in households earning $50,000 to $75,000.
Regarding freight mobility.
De-prioritizing freight mobility throttles economic activity, adding costs and delays for small and large businesses. If congestion is allowed to fester, the Port of Seattle, a core of a state with 40% of jobs related to trade, would lose its advantage over other West Coast ports. It hurts workers and those seeking to improve their situation. Higher freight costs limit wage and job growth, reducing opportunity and increasing the cost of food and goods.
While the bills the editorial addresses may go nowhere this year, the discussion will continue. As the ST editorial points out, there’s already a lot of money being spent on transit. Congestion relief and freight mobility must remain top transportation priorities.