By Randi Becker
During the 2013 legislative session, there was debate in Olympia about whether to raise the gas tax to build new transportation projects. I took the opportunity to poll those on my e-newsletter list to ask them about their priorities for regional projects and whether new taxes were needed. The message I received was that it was not the time for new taxes.
In all honesty, I’m not surprised by that response. There’s no doubt that our region has transportation needs that must be addressed – such as completing the Cross-Base Highway or State Route 167 – but the level of public distrust of our state’s transportation system is simply too high.
It seems that every time we turn around there’s another story about a mistake in the construction of a road or bridge, or a project that’s going to be more expensive than planned. We all remember the misaligned on-ramp on State Route 16, the pontoons that don’t float on the SR-520 bridge, and the I-5 bridge over the Columbia between Vancouver and Portland that was designed too short to accommodate marine freight.
The public can’t be asked to pay higher gas taxes at a time when so much money is going to waste. We need to fix our transportation system before we consider new funding sources.
In the Senate, my caucus held a meeting last spring about how we can make our transportation system more efficient and ensure your tax dollars are being used wisely. We went around the room, and each of our 25 members provided ideas, such as simplifying the state’s environmental permitting system and making broader use of public-private partnerships in construction projects.
But the most important development that came out of the meeting was a consensus that the first step needs to be listening to the public. That’s why we developed a statewide “listening tour” to gather your input our region’s transportation system.
Do you feel that completing the Yelm Bypass is our region’s greatest need? Or the Cross-Base Highway? Widening SR-162 between Sumner and Orting? This is your opportunity to make your voice heard.
We’ll be holding a meeting in Tacoma on Oct. 9 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Lyceum Hall on Evergreen’s Tacoma campus. After a brief presentation from regional transportation officials, we’ll open the floor to public comment. I encourage anyone interested to attend and to share your thoughts about our area’s roads, bridges and transit systems with lawmakers of both parties and the state Department of Transportation.
Ensuring that everyone’s input has been received will be essential in successfully setting a direction for future action. After all, in all likelihood, any new transportation package would require voter approval. That’s why it’s so important that everyone make their voice heard.
State Sen. Randi Becker, a Republican from Eatonville, represents Washington’s Second Legislative District, which includes parts of Pierce and Thurston counties.