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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Legislature has to act this week on transportation

The Columbian
Published: April 20, 2021, 6:03am

Washington lawmakers have little time remaining to invest in our state and prepare for a prosperous post-pandemic future. The end of the 105-day legislative session is Sunday, setting the stage for a busy week of defining the priorities of the state’s residents.

Of course, a special session is possible; but whether the end arrives this week or during an overtime session, legislators should deliver a comprehensive transportation package. They should adopt a plan that would invest $17.8 billion over 16 years to boost mobility while also making progress in reducing carbon emissions.

Clark County residents know all too well the impact of infrastructure investment— and the lack of such investment. For years, we have needed a new Interstate 5 Bridge that is seismically sound and that keeps the local economy moving. The cost of an outdated bridge is evident with every minute sat idling in traffic; the price is paid by individuals as well as companies that rely on the transportation of goods and services.

As The Seattle Times writes editorially: “A diverse coalition of business, union, environment and government interests have urged lawmakers to get a transportation deal done, now: from Amazon, Microsoft and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to Climate Solutions and the Washington State Labor Council. This package would make crucial infrastructure improvements while leveraging a cap-and-trade mechanism to cut the state’s greenhouse gas pollution, an achievement that has long eluded Gov. Jay Inslee.”

Climate initiatives long have been a political football, even in our environmentally conscious state. But corporations are increasingly recognizing the need for quick and robust climate action, belying the well-worn trope that reducing carbon emissions will have a negative impact on the economy.

The need for investment is self-evident. According to the federal Bureau of Transportation, only 72 percent of Washington highways were in acceptable condition as of 2019; and according to the Washington State Department of Transportation, deferred repairs costing $14.8 billion over the next decade will be required to sustain “minimally acceptable condition” for the state’s infrastructure.

While President Joe Biden’s proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure investment over the next 10 years has received much attention, the plan before the Legislature is a reminder that all politics is local. Investment here will put people to work in our state on projects that will directly benefit Washington residents and businesses.

More than $5 billion for the construction plan would come from a carbon pricing bill that already has passed the Senate; it would reduce emissions while investing in cleaner transportation. Additional funding would come from a gas-tax increase of 9.8 cents per gallon, fee increases and new debt.

Any proposed increase to the state gas tax, which already is the fourth-highest in the nation, understandably will grab the attention of voters. Nobody likes paying higher taxes.

But the primary argument in favor of a gas-tax increase is that it is a user fee; unlike many other taxes, revenue directly benefits those who pay the tax — people using the roads. If we can agree that roads and bridges are a wise investment, it makes sense for the people and businesses who use them to pay for the bulk of that investment.

Regarding infrastructure and climate initiatives, Washington is at a crossroads. Lawmakers should invest in the future, focusing on the long-term benefits.