Transportation projects drive local economy

Benefits will wane without funding solutions

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2012 OUTLOOK

• An estimated 700 people will work on Clark County highway projects.

• Gas tax collections will continue to decline as people drive less and choose fuel-efficient cars.

• The pipeline for starting new projects will start to dry up, due to funding shortfalls.

The Washington State Department of Transportation continues to have record-breaking construction seasons here in Southwest Washington. In 2011, we built more than $75 million in highway improvements in Clark County, and we anticipate nearly $114 million in existing or new contracts in 2012.

About 80 percent of the construction dollars from these projects is paid out to private firms, which are predominately local. We currently have a number of projects under contract with Tapani Underground of Battle Ground and Rotschy Inc. of Yacolt: the Salmon Creek Interchange Project, the state Highway 500 at St. Johns Boulevard Interchange project and the state Highway 14 Camas-Washougal Widening and Interchange project.

Tapani Underground is constructing the Highway 14 and Highway 500 projects through two major contracts that add up to about $56 million. Rotschy is constructing the current stage of the Salmon Creek interchange at a contract cost of nearly $20 million.

In addition to payments to the contractor, we also pay sales tax on our contracts, a portion of which goes to the jurisdiction in which we’re working. Large contracts like these can bring a significant amount of revenue to the local economy.

Perhaps a more visible benefit is the jobs our contracts generate. In 2012, we estimate about 700 people will work on these contracts. These are direct jobs held by construction employees working directly on the project. The number doesn’t take into account the indirect, or “induced,” jobs brought about by these workers’ employment and continued ability to contribute to the economy.

These projects enhance our economic vitality by connecting communities, improving safety and increasing mobility. Industries from agriculture and manufacturing to retail and tourism rely on our transportation system, and a balanced, efficient and reliable transportation system can meet our increasing population needs and allow us to stay competitive in a global economy for the years to come.

So this is the good news.

The bad news is that the bulk of the work takes place between 2012 and 2013. In 2014, we will be finishing construction on one project — the widening of the state Highway 502 corridor — and starting one remaining project on Interstate 205, but then we reach the end of the planned investments. We will be left with a lot of needs but no funding to address them.

The way transportation projects are funded needs to change. Gas tax collections continue to decline as a viable source of revenue as people drive less and as more fuel-efficient cars become the norm.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has organized the Connecting Washington task force to examine how we continue to address transportation needs for the future.

Effective transportation is critical to maintaining our economy, environment and quality of life. A solid transportation program has been a large contributor to our economy in the past, and will continue for the next few years. But if we want to assure a vibrant future, this country will have to solve its transportation funding problem and figure out how to keep Washington’s residents, businesses and economy moving in the right direction.