By Dean Lookingbill
For the Vancouver (WA.) Columbian
In a word, the 2004 transportation forecast for our region,
our state is WOW! What a difference one Washington state legislative
session can make: from $0 to $4.2 billion in 105 days!
Congratulations to the Washington State Legislature, the
governor, local elected officials, community leaders, business
leaders and citizens who helped support the "Nickel Package,"
which raised the state gasoline tax by 5 cents a gallon.
As a result, our Clark County region is in the process of
investing more than $210 million on state highways and freight-rail
improvements. This investment will make significant improvements
on Interstate 5 at 134th Street, and 219th Street; on Interstate
205 at Mill Plain Boulevard; on state Highway 500 at 112th
Avenue; on state Highway 502; and at the new 39th Street crossing
over the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks.
The $210 million spells J-O-B-S and is a green light for
What lies ahead for 2004? Surely the glow of $4.2 billion
cannot dim in one year.
I know that our regional Washington State Department of Transportation
office will be busy delivering the nickel projects.
We can already see the use of the "nickel" funds
as WSDOT began construction to widen I-5 between 99th and
134th streets and to build a new interchange on state Highway
500 at 112th Avenue.
The momentum that has started in 2003 to invest in our region's
transportation infrastructure will continue into 2004.
However, the first nickel has been spent and its list of
projects has been put into law. While that is good, our region
still faces significant transportation challenges.
Five cents makes a difference, but it doesn't meet all of
our region's transportation needs.
A huge decision lies ahead on what to do to improve the I-5
southbound Columbia River bottleneck.
We also have unmet state highway capacity improvement needs
that are critical to addressing pressing traffic congestion
problems on I-5, I-205 and Highways 14 and 502 and 503.
These state highway needs are in addition to a host of local
street arterial improvements that are being boldly discussed
by the city of Vancouver and are being quietly discussed by
nearly all other local governments.
This will be a defining year for C-TRAN. In early 2004, C-TRAN
will complete its 20-Year Transit Development Plan.
Remember Initiative 695? While many celebrated the 1999 repeal
of the motor vehicle excise tax, C-TRAN experienced a 40 percent
loss in transit operating revenues, and since then C-TRAN
has maintained service levels by drawing on its reserve funds.
Money that was saved to pay for major capital expenses such
as new buses, Park & Rides and improvements to transit
centers is now being spent on day-to-day operations. At the
current rate of spending, C-TRAN will exhaust its available
reserves in 2005.
Because of our slowed economy, a high priority has been placed
on new economic development and job creation. Yet at the same
time, growth brings with it increased levels of traffic congestion.
Our region's limited transportation funding sets up a difficult
trade-off between enticing new development and paying for
its transportation impacts.
I believe that a fundamental shift in financing regional transportation
improvements has occurred from what was once a state and federal
transportation-funding responsibility to a shared responsibility
that now includes local governments.
If our region is to meet its transportation needs, a higher
level of transportation system investment is needed at the
local and regional level. One of the key regional transportation
issues to address in 2004 is how to respond to this need.
The flashing neon message scrolling across my 2004 crystal
ball reads, "Build on your success." This means
now is the time to list and prioritize the next set of our
region's most critical transportation projects.
We must take a moment to identify the new transportation
revenues that are critical to our region's future. In addition
to the response of local governments, a citizen-led effort
is being organized to inform and educate citizens on how to
do just that.
Starting this month, the Transportation Priorities II Project
(TPP II) will be asking for your participation. If you want
to know more, go to its Web site at
So given the message in my crystal ball, "Build on your
success," my watch list of transportation actions in
2004 includes the following: new legislative authority for
cities to levy a street utility, new legislative authority
to allow a region the authority to raise transportation revenues,
a possible ballot measure to raise transit revenues, and the
continued dialog about replacing the Interstate 5 bridge.
Lets build on the success of the statewide $4.2 billion "Nickel"
package of projects by completing these projects and by working
together to identify funding for the next set of our region's
transportation system needs.