Opinion

Viewpoint

"After Jan. 1, Initiative 695 will be law.Almost a year to the day after voters authorized the largest highway building program in state history, they decided to reverse course.In the wake of I-695 and as the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, I have developed a set of principles that I hope will provide the framework for decisions that will ensure that our most pressing needs are met, and that our roads are kept safe.One thing is certain: Cuts will happen and our choices will be difficult.The principles I’ve developed are:* Everything is on the table -- every item in the transportation budget will be reviewed.* Projects approved through Referendum 49 that haven’t begun construction will be delayed -- indefinitely.* All transportation agencies -- the state Department of Transportation, the state ferry system, the Washington State Patrol, the state Department of Licensing and others -- will share the cuts.* We will not count on -- or expect -- additional transportation money to come from new taxes or from the state’s reserve account.Within those parameters, this is what I hope we can do: * Operate and ensure the safety of our existing transportation systems.* Maintain and preserve our existing roads and transportation infrastructures.* Complete projects already under way (no new projects will be started).* Work with federal and local governments, and the private sector, to decide which non-Ref. 49 projects, if any, we can continue or begin during this crisis.The fact is that instead of moving ahead with the $2.4 billion in improvements demanded by voters a year ago and agreed to by Republicans and Democrats last spring, we now must make do with a transportation budget that is $540 million LESS than what we spent in 1997 and 1998.In 2001, the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation appointed by Gov. Locke is to report on ways we can meet our transportation needs in the new century. Hopefully, we can once again develop a plan to ease the flow of commuter traffic in our state’s urban areas, create new economic development opportunities in our rural areas, and see that freight moves quickly and efficiently from our ports to market -- and from our fields and apple orchards to ports.But that is in the future. Between now and then, our transportation crisis will deepen and our booming economy will come under increasing threat.Instead of spending more time at home with their families, Washingtonians will instead remain stuck in traffic jams. Those of us who depend on state ferries to get to work will be forced to endure even longer waits at the docks as service is cut. Come summer, the long weekends our citizens look forward to as an opportunity to get away to the Olympic mountains or the San Juan Islands will likely be long on ferry-line waiting and short on relaxation. As we sit down to map out our near-term transportation future, I hope the guiding principles I’ve outlined will allow us to make the most of what little money we have left at our disposal.Our state’s economic health depends on our success in this challenge. We have to find ways to make the improvements necessary that will keep our transportation system from falling further into disrepair, and we must adequately maintain what we have.As any homeowner knows, when the roof starts leaking, you have to fix it or it’s going to cost a lot more when the dry rot sets in.Our challenge is clear.We will survive, but we will all be asked to sacrifice -- something that didn’t make the fine print on I-695.Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairs the Senate Transportation Committee responsible for crafting the state’s transportation budget. She represents the people of the 10th Legislative District."

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