On May 13th, less than two weeks ago, I, along with Steve Marshall, Executive Director of the Center for Advanced Transportation and Energy Solutions (CATES), Jan Greylorn associated with the Washington Clean Technology Alliance, and Jeff Esfeld of VIA Motors, were in the Rotunda Room of the Washington State Capitol Building for a transportation “rally” as part of the kick off for the special legislative session. It was a packed room filled with legislators, Governor Jay Inslee, WSDOT Secretary Lynn Peterson, government officials, lobbyists, and interested parties.

No one in that room doubted the need for a transportation package being passed in this special legislative session. The package is not ambitious—rather it is trying to finish up the commitments on five major projects (520 bridge, SR99 tunnel, I-5 Colombia River Bridge, SR-167, and SR-509) and address our aging and weakened transportation infrastructure. In his remarks, Governor Inslee noted the sad state of our transportation infrastructure. It is both a public safety issue as well as an economic development issue. Our transportation helps (or hurts) all of us in the state—we all need to be able to get to and from work safely. We need food, clothing, and other necessities transported across our state highways. Good transportation systems equal good economic climate to attract new businesses and jobs. Conversely, bad transportation systems equate to barriers to start-ups, disincentives regarding business expansion here in our state, and misery for all commuters, vacationers, and deliverers of any service or good.

Last night, the I-5 Skagit River Bridge collapse was a huge wake-up call for our state. An aging mid-1950’s bridge collapsed in a matter of minutes when an oversize truck hit one of the bridge truss elements. The good news is that there were no fatalities or even serious injuries. However, it was a huge scare to those affected. Two cars were submerged in the Skagit River, and thousands were and will be affected by the bridge closure. According to the Seattle Times, government officials did not believe that this bridge was particularly worrisome when the state received an overall “C-“ for bridge safety.

The state’s number one goal is public safety. Economic development (for all) is goal number two. Taking care of our aging and decaying transportation infrastructure needs to be given the high priority that it deserves. The legislators and Governor are eager to get a transportation bill passed. It’s now time for the public to set aside tax aversion and do its civic duty.