OLYMPIA — Members of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s transportation task force have set out to inform the public on how transportation affects the local workforce.
The Connecting Washington task force began narrowing its priorities to benefit the economy and start educating the public at a meeting last Friday in Olympia.
The committee received a draft of priorities, put together after the last meeting on July 19. Included in the priorities were transportation’s effect on public health and the environment, transportation for the elderly, pedestrian and bicycle paths, and preservation and maintenance. However, Gregoire knew where she wants to see the focus.
“There are only two things that brought me here: jobs, and the future economy of the state of Washington, period,” Gregoire said. “So no matter what you do … to me that goes at the very top.”
Tim Schauer, chairman-elect of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Gregoire that the economy should be priority No. 1.
“I think even people who disagree widely on all kinds of things agree that if we don’t find solutions that generate revenue … the rest of it doesn’t matter,” Schauer said.
The next step for the task force is to educate the public and get feedback for its Oct. 4 meeting. Schauer voiced his concerns about educating residents and organizations.
“You can’t just flood them with statistics, because it just doesn’t work. You have to connect it to them individually,” Schauer said.
Schauer’s challenge is showing citizens how their lives are affected by the transportation system. He believes the issue that will resonate best in Clark County is job creation. The county has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
“So many people don’t recognize how reliant they are on the health of the transportation system,” Schauer said. He cited the Columbia River channel-deepening project, which was a transportation investment very few people actually worked on but increased the number of jobs in the area.
The Clark County Transportation Alliance is depending on the task force to design a revenue package substantial enough to help fund a list of projects it’s submitting to the Legislature for the 2011-2012 session.
Last year the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council submitted a similar list of top 20 projects for Clark, Skamania and Klickitat counties. The cost for the projects totaled more than $1.4 billion.
“It’s a list of high-priority programs across the transportation spectrum, and at the very top of the list is preservation and maintenance dollars,” said Dean Lookingbill, transportation director for the Regional Transportation Council.
This year’s proposal from Clark County asks legislators to support transportation needs critical to the economic health and job development in Clark County and Southwest Washington. Which falls in line with Gregoire’s expectations from the task force.
“We need jobs and we need them yesterday. We need them in a critical industry that really is kind of the lifeblood of our economic recovery,” Gregoire said.
Schauer believes residents of Clark County will understand the important relevance transportation has to the area.
“If we have 50 things to do, the first 10 better make more money. It’s not that those other things aren’t good, but they can’t be first. I think most people in Clark County will understand that,” Schauer said.