Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Eastern Washington Transportation Summit
March 20, 2001
Thank you for that kind introduction.
You know, we have gone through an earthquake and we're in the middle of an energy crisis and a drought.
At this point I can't promise that another calamity won't occur at any moment in these trying times.
But I can promise you that despite all these crises and whatever comes, I'm not for a minute forgetting Washington has a transportation crisis -- recently exacerbated by that earthquake.
And I'm not forgetting Eastern Washington has some very real transportation issues. The transportation crisis is NOT just about central Puget Sound. Transportation is the circulatory system through which the very lifeblood of our economy flows. Any hardening of the arteries in that system causes products and goods to stall on the way to market, and major competitive disadvantages in this era of just-in-time inventories.
Transportation is about saving and creating jobs.
It's about sustaining the quality of life we treasure in Washington.
Washington residents suffer through some of the worst congestion in the nation, resulting in $2 billion in lost productivity each year.
Here are two reasons why.
The Tri-Cities area has its share of choke points, including:
State Route 240 near State Route 182, at the border of Kennewick and Richland, with the highest traffic volumes in the area.
The Blue Bridge on State Route 395 that connects Pasco and Kennewick.
And if one region is hit by the $2 billion loss in productivity, we all are.
It's just as important for Eastern Washington farmers to get their goods to the ports on time as it is for the high-tech manufacturers. Ships and cargo planes don't wait for trucks or trains stalled in traffic.
While economic and population growth have increased at differing rates throughout the state, as a whole, growth has been dramatic -- in population, jobs and vehicle traffic.
In spite of that, when you factor in inflation, we now have less state revenue for transportation than we did 10 years ago.
That's a recipe for gridlock as well as more potholes and other symptoms of road deterioration -- and ultimately, lost jobs.
We have a straightforward plan to turn this state around and Get Washington Moving Again.
I intend to keep the Legislature in Olympia this year until we get a transportation package that serves commuters, businesses, farmers and shippers.
First, we will reform our existing transportation system to make it work better, faster and at lower cost.
While progress in the Legislature is always slow, I think we'll get there. The House and Senate are close to approving about a dozen key reforms recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation. Those reforms include permit streamlining, allowing one firm to do the design work as well as construction and common sense preservation and maintenance techniques. These should pass both chambers quickly.
Second, we must agree on the investments that will best meet our top transportation needs. Those are the top priority projects that will be started, constructed and completed within the next six years.
In Eastern Washington, this list includes:
State Route 240 lane widening between Interstate 182 and the Columbia Center interchange -- the Tri-Cities NUMBER ONE choke point.
Separating rail and roadway traffic in the center of Yakima.
Widening State Route 17 through Moses Lake.
Adding a truck climbing lane on Interstate 90 from Vantage to Ryegrass Summit.
Widening SR12 from the Tri-Cities to Walla Walla.
Of course key projects that must be done in Eastern Washington but will take longer than 6 years include:
Widening I90 from the Spokane Valley to the Idaho Border.
And the North Spokane Freeway.
The third and final step in this three-stage process is figuring out how to pay for all these additional investments.
I want to stress two key points here.
One, I am absolutely committed to strengthening our statewide system -- from Forks to Asotin, and Long Beach to Colville.
And, two, as the Blue Ribbon Commission recommended, 85% of state revenue raised within a region stays within that region.
That means 85% of new money raised in the Tri-Cities area stays here for transportation projects. And the projects and improvements I've outlined adhere to that principle.
Remember, none of these crucial investments will happen unless we work together to get the Legislature to act.
We need your help as business and civic leaders or it just won't happen.
Remember, this is about saving our economy and saving jobs.
Let me touch on two other critical issues facing the state -- the energy crisis and drought.
Like transportation, these issues affect our economy and every single one of us who lives here.
We could be facing the worst drought since record-keeping began in 1929. Precipitation is at or near record lows throughout Washington. The mountain snowpack is running at about 50 percent of normal. Record low flows are being set daily in our rivers. The drought is having severe impacts on agriculture, especially in the Columbia and Snake River basins.
Last week members of my cabinet and water team met with irrigators, farmers and ag commodity representatives, the Yakama Indian Nation, the mayors and city managers from the Tri-Cities, and private landowners on how we can find solutions that meet the essential needs of agriculture, fish, and municipal users during the drought.
My administration is working on decisions to meet these essential needs by the end of next week.
Meanwhile, the drought emergency I declared last Wednesday activates $5 million to assist farms, communities and fish. We expect to supplement that amount with federal dollars.
Where someone may have excess water to share with someone who needs water, the emergency declaration allows for the transfer of water from one use to another -- from one farmer to another and one town to another.
And it authorizes emergency water permits -- where available water exists.
Let me emphasize that state government cannot erase the effects of a drought. We need to manage this crisis together -- neighbors helping neighbors, towns helping towns, and farmers helping farmers.
My proposed water legislation will help manage this year's drought, if we can get it passed fast enough.
Meanwhile, water conservation has become as important as energy conservation.
These two issues are interconnected -- water and electricity.
Which leads me to our other state crisis -- the price of electricity.
Last week I flew to Washington D.C. to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I emphasized to them that the so-called "California energy crisis" is in fact a Western states energy crisis. I explained how soaring prices are threatening industries across the board in Washington.
California's problems are effecting all Western states. And high energy costs are making it very expensive to process agriculture products -- which means we can't be competitive on the world market.
I also told the Senate committee that the Western states need the federal government to impose short-term, temporary wholesale price caps to help us out of this crisis.
Electricity that cost $20-40 a megawatt last year is now selling for $250 and $400 a megawatt, with prices going as high as $3-4,000 a megawatt.
The Bush Administration, unfortunately, doesn't support even temporary wholesale pricecaps.
The administration wants more oil and gas exploration but that will take 5-10 years. We cant wait 5-10 years and even Republicans in the U.S. Senate are demanding relief now.
At the state level I've used emergency powers to allow utilities and industries to operate diesel and other generators on a temporary basis. I've reached agreements that allow operators of older "peaking plants" that used to run a few hours a day, to run continuously.
Let me dispel a myth. Some people are saying there's little point in conserving in Washington because BPA will send that electricity to California.
The truth: California did receive BPA power. And California has paid us back at a ratio of 2 to 1.
Meanwhile, I want to emphasize, before this energy crisis began, the state DID approve six new gas-fired projects for private companies that could have provided 2,786 megawatts of power -- enough for more than two cities the size of Seattle - had they been built.
The state did its part. It was not WE who decided not to build the plants, it was the companies, for business reasons.
Many more plants are in the siting process or have been proposed -- enough, in fact, to produce another 4,000 megawatts that would run an awful lot of irrigation pumps and food processing and storage facilities or 4 million households.
We began by talking about transportation and that's where we'll wrap up.
There's something else you can do. Contact your state senators and representatives. Tell them we need to get this transportation package passed and get transportaion going again. The delay in getting products to market offers us no better time than right now to fix the transportation problem.
The drought offers no better time than now to restructure our ancient water laws.
I hope you'll join with me in solving these difficult problems.
Can I answer any questions?