Reforms, efficiencies are starting points to reach state’s transportation goals
Our roads, bridges and highways are essential to getting us to work, play and home. They are also vital to our economy. Perhaps one of their most critical functions is connecting our ports to our warehouses in the Kent and Auburn valley and to markets to the east.
The Canadians and Californians are investing heavily in their ports. In addition, ports in the eastern United States are increasing their capacity in anticipation of the Panama Canal reopening soon. They hope to take business from our ports in Seattle and Tacoma.
This is why I believe our main transportation goals should be the completion of Highways 167 and 509 to connect with our Puget Sound ports and Interstate 5. The Port of Tacoma estimates as many as 79,000 jobs could be created if Highway 167 is completed to accommodate both commuter and freight needs.
Additionally, and perhaps having the greater impact on our daily lives, the Interstate 405-Highway 167 interchange, must be streamlined. It is the most congested interchange in the state. While we recognize the significance of restructuring this highway intersection due to the daily traffic jams, fixing this chokepoint would cut commute times and keep our freight trucks moving goods more efficiently to and from our ports in Seattle and Tacoma.
To pay for the completion of these necessary projects and others on their list, House Democrats recently proposed a transportation tax package that included new and higher fees and taxes, including a 10-cent per gallon gas tax increase and reinstatement of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET). While I appreciate the work that went into their plan, I cannot support asking taxpayers for more of their hard-earned money before we institute serious cost-saving reforms. I know this can be done because, when large transportation projects are compared with similar projects in other states, the cost in Washington is roughly double.
To put this into perspective, let's consider your personal transportation system – your car. If your family grows, you might need a bigger car. But if you discover the new car is going to cost you double what it cost your neighbors, would you happily go out and get a second job to pay the higher price? I don't think so. But this is what we're doing if we continue to unjustifiably pay more than necessary, then add more taxes to pay for it.
I am working with other legislators on several cost-saving reforms that we will propose to the Legislature. Here are a few of those:
Last year, the Legislature authorized an exemption to the Shoreline Management Act for the 520 Bridge project, which saved taxpayers $165 million. I understand the same waiver on the proposed Columbia River Crossing in southwest Washington could save taxpayers $500 million. Legislation we will offer would authorize this cost-saving exemption for projects all across the state.
Currently, for each acre of wetlands disturbed by transportation projects, an average of three acres is newly designated, and sometimes as many as ten. This results in mitigation costs averaging 17 percent of the project cost. We will present legislation to limit wetland mitigation to a one-for-one exchange to significantly lower project costs.
Finally, the state charges itself sales tax on transportation projects, including the labor. This effectively moves money designated for transportation purposes to the state general fund budget. To keep money earmarked for transportation actually paying for transportation, we will introduce legislation to exempt transportation projects from sales tax.
These are just three ways to bring down the cost of our transportation projects, but there are additional measures I will also be supporting. When we are no longer paying double to build roads, we won't have to ask taxpayers for more of their paychecks to get Washington moving!
Rep. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington, represents the 47th Legislative District and is the assistant lead Republican on the House Transportation Committee.