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Governor, lawmakers celebrate start of roads construction

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The $16 billion transportation package signed into law earlier this year passed a milestone this week with the ceremonial unveiling of road signs that will dot Pierce County as construction crews start their work to widen roadways, improve overpasses, replace bridges and finally finish State Route 167. That roadway had been first envisioned decades ago.

Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled the signs Tuesday at Port of Tacoma because the rally for a statewide transportation funding package started on the tideflats with a group of policy makers gathering at the port in April of 2013 to finally get the last section of SR 167 done so freight could travel more easily between the shipping terminals and the distribution center in East Pierce and South King counties.

“I recall saying something that I believed then that I believe now ‘If you want to get to heaven, build 167,’” Inslee said. “We may not be in heaven, but we are headed in the right direction.”

The completion of the final leg of SR 167 would create a more streamlined drive for freight in and out of the shipping terminals, but also help unclog Interstate 5 and other major roadways by removing 18-wheelers from the mix. The statewide transportation package includes funding for construction of the final road section leading into the tideflats, as well as a host of other projects, including improvement on I-5 along Joint Base Lewis McChord, a new interchange at Port of Tacoma Road and trail projects along Schuster Parkway.

The “Connecting Washington” package represents the largest single investment in transportation in state history and covers projects around the state for the coming decades.

“This is a big deal for the whole state,” Inslee said. “This is our first victory celebration.”

Coupled with the $16 billion in state transportation dollars, lawmakers greenlighted Sound Transit’s plan for $15 billion in taxing authority to expand light rail service if a package gets nods from voters next year. Those sorts of construction pricetags are projected to support some 200,000 jobs around the state. But more important than the construction jobs born from the transportation package is the trade-related jobs the uncongested freight routes create.

Pierce County is the most trade-dependent county in Washington, which is the most trade-dependent state in the nation.

“If I have said it once, I have said it a 100 times, Pierce County had the most to gain and the most to lose by not passing a transportation package. We needed this transportation package,” Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy said, noting that work to complete SR 167 flowing between Pierce and King County, as well as widening of I-5 by JBLM between the Pierce-Thurston county line put this corridor at the center of a statewide transportation system. “I would say Pierce County is the heart of the I-5 corridor.”

Money for the transportation projects will come from bond sales and a host of higher taxes, most notably an increase to 11.9 cents per gallon of gas.