Opinion editorial by Hans Zeiger: Invest in more efficient transportation system
Transportation is one of the biggest issues facing the legislature today. Our streets and highways are in need of maintenance and preservation, our Puget Sound roadways are congested, our bridges are aging, and our state's economy faces serious competitive threats if we don't invest in freight mobility.
We urgently need to complete Highway 167 from where it dead-ends in my hometown of Puyallup to I-5 and the Port of Tacoma. After years of delay, we simply cannot wait to finish Highway 167. We also need to complete Highway 509 from the Port of Seattle to I-5. This is a critical trade corridor for our state's agricultural and manufactured products. I believe that the 167/509 “Puget Sound Gateway” is the top economic development project in Washington State.
No less important than project funding is the need for greater efficiency in the planning and operation of our transportation system. Taxpayers and drivers deserve better, faster, and less- expensive results from the Washington State Department of Transportation.
House Republicans and the Senate Majority Coalition are proposing a number of reforms, from accountability for construction errors to the use of the sales tax revenues on future transportation projects for transportation itself—not prisons or welfare programs.
I am proposing three additional reforms that I hope the House and Senate will pass on to the governor's desk in the 2014 session.
First, we need to streamline the transportation permitting process. Permitting is a massive cost driver and it results in lengthy project delays. House Bill 1978 would speed up the building cycle and bring down costs by adopting a seven-step permitting process recommended by the Transportation Permit Efficiency and Accountability Committee, which met from 2001 to 2006. The bill codifies collaborative Multi-Agency Permitting Teams. Before this bill passed the House earlier this year, both parties worked to ensure that this reform balanced the need for efficiency and the need for environmental stewardship.
Second, we need to expedite the permitting and construction process for repair or replacement work on our state's aging bridges. WSDOT has classified 135 Washington bridges as “structurally deficient.”
An example of a structurally deficient bridge is the Meridian Street Puyallup River Bridge, built in 1925 and rated 2 out of 100 on the sufficiency scale. Carrying some 17,000 cars a day, this bridge was closed to truck traffic in the northbound right lane in early 2011. Even so, with various regulations and lengthy permitting processes, the bridge will not be replaced until the end of 2015. Can we wait that long?
The quick progress that has been made on the I-5 Skagit River Bridge demonstrates what WSDOT can accomplish under existing emergency bridge repair provisions. We need to extend an expedited process to all structurally deficient bridges. When it comes to replacing or repairing structurally deficient bridges across the state, we need to bypass much of the permitting process and allow a speedier design-build contracting process. House Bill 2071 would do just that. We need to pass this bill and protect Washington drivers.
Finally, we need to allow limited public-private partnerships to finance and build transportation infrastructure. We need fresh options for transportation funding and economic development. We can start with House Bill 1979, which creates a process for small non-toll projects such as park and rides and ferry terminals. House Bill 1979 passed the House Transportation Committee unanimously earlier this year.
We can fund congestion relief, freight mobility, bridge repair, road maintenance and preservation, provide ferry and transit service—and reform the way we plan and manage our transportation infrastructure at the same time. We need a transportation system that is more accountable, more flexible, and more efficient.
State Rep. Hans Zeiger (R-Puyallup) serves on the House Transportation Committee.
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