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Puget Sound Transportation 2002

September 5, 2002

Engineers support Referendum 51

  • Transportation package would improve roads, business climate
  • By BILL GARRITY and PAUL MASTEN
    ACEC Washington

    Engineering professionals in Washington state wholeheartedly endorse a “yes” vote on Referendum 51.


    Major Referendum 51 projects
    The statewide Referendum 51 transportation package, if approved on Nov. 5, would raise $7.8 billion for a variety of major projects. Most of the funds would be generated from a 9-cent gas tax and a 1 percent sales tax on new and used vehicles.
    Major regional projects include:
    • Highway 18: Additional lanes from Maple Valley to I-90 ($50 million)

    • I-90: A 15-mile corridor project would include rebuilding portions of the roadway ($100 million)

    • Highway 99: Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement ($450 million)

    • Highway 167: A new freeway would be built from Highway 509 at the Port of Tacoma to Highway 167 in Puyallup ($344 million)

    • I-405: Two additional lanes would be added in each direction for its entire 30-mile length ($1.8 billion)

    • I-5/Highway 509: A new six-lane freeway planned from South 188th Street to I-5 in SeaTac ($500 million)

    • Highway 520: Replace Lake Washington bridge ($100 million)
    Note: Dollar amounts above refer to R-51 funding. Additional funds will be necessary to complete the projects.

    Source: Washington State Department of Transportation

    Passing Referendum 51 on Nov. 5 will be a vital first step toward building safer roads, implementing congestion relief, improving accountability for transportation spending, and creating a more competitive business climate.

    The members of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Washington (ACEC) represent some 200 engineering firms with more than 6,000 employees — all concerned citizens of our state. We live and work here, and understand clearly the need for a strong and vibrant economic climate that provides high quality jobs for all our citizens.

    For our businesses to succeed and grow, we need to be part of an economically successful state, and repeated studies, including the recent efforts of the governor’s Competitiveness Council, have clearly demonstrated that improvements to all aspects of our transportation system are vital to our economic strength.

    As design professionals working in the built environment, all of us, whether or not we work directly in transportation and infrastructure design, understand the significance of maintaining our investment in our transportation system. The existing transportation system in our state represents years of investment of taxpayer dollars, but has recently been deteriorating due to lack of funding.

    To allow this system to further decline is the height of foolishness — one has only to visit some of the older communities in the East to understand the enormity of the task, not to mention the expense, once a community’s infrastructure begins to crumble. Surely it makes more sense to preserve our investment than to allow it to completely fail and then try to start over.

    R-51 is an excellent start on solving our problems. Every day we read or hear about tragic accidents on our highway system. Safer roads represent a real, tangible value to every person in this state. And in many cases our streets and highways are unsafe simply because they cannot accommodate the very real growth that has already occurred in our state.

    In many parts of our state, particularly within the Puget Sound region, the capacity of our streets and highways has failed to keep pace with growth due to inadequate investment. Unsafe and overcrowded roadways reflect a breach of responsibility on the part of our government to the citizens already living here.

    R-51 is specific in the projects proposed for funding. Voters can see what they will get for their money — and they will get a lot!

    In Snohomish County funding is provided for critical safety improvements and congestion relief in numerous corridors. Perhaps most notably, long-needed capacity and safety improvements in much of the Highway 9 corridor will move forward after more than 10 years of waiting, as will similar improvements on the Highway 522 corridor between Woodinville and Lake Stevens, scene of yet another tragic, fatality accident just last month.

    For too many years, the standard response of the state Department of Transportation spokespeople following tragic accidents in these corridors has been words to the effect of “ ... we have safety and capacity improvements planned, but funding won’t be available for many years ... “ It’s high time we provide the funding to fix our killer highways.

    Funds are also earmarked to address the massive bottleneck on Interstate 5 entering Everett that I see out my window every work day — a bottleneck that delays thousands of commuters, thousands of tons of freight and untold businesses attempting to serve their customers.

    Similar, specific projects, which focus mainly on fixing dangerous roads and bridges, relieving choke points, improving street safety near schools and public transportation, are identified throughout the state. Unlike the alternative, Initiative 776, R-51 gives us the specifics and lets us know what we are getting for our tax dollars!

    Beyond simply providing funding for much needed improvements, R-51 creates new measures to assure that projects will actually be delivered. It starts with a specific project list, rather than mere policy direction to the legislature. It’s backed by the state constitution, which prohibits use of gas-tax revenues for anything except highways.

    In addition, it’s reinforced by new accountability and oversight, including mandatory quarterly audits and reports to taxpayers with a full accounting of the revenues, progress on improvements and expected completion dates.

    On Nov. 5, there will be other measures on the ballot that purport to address our transportation needs. When making your decision please consider this simple fact: The gasoline tax proposed in R-51 meets many of the state’s objectives in maintaining our current infrastructure, encouraging alternatives to auto transportation and placing the cost of driving on drivers.

    That said, it is also important to note that a typical commuter who drives 12,000 miles per year in a car that averages 24 miles per gallon will pay less than 11 cents per trip to and from their workplace — a small price to pay for a safer and perhaps shorter commute and more quality time with family.

    R-51 will not solve our transportation problems. However, it is the best alternative to allow us to begin to solve our problems, through a well-defined, specific program of projects to bring safer roads, traffic relief and accountability.


    Bill Garrity is the executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Washington. Paul Masten, the chair and managing principal of Reid Middleton, Inc., is the council’s current president.


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