Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Kittitas Valley Farmers Luncheon
October 7, 2002
Thank you for this opportunity to visit with you today. And thank you for your presentations on your work in Kittitas County.
You’ve shown that if we work together, and if we use the knowledge of those who have worked the land all their lives, we can achieve our environmental goals. We can protect our water and restore our salmon while retaining a vigorous agricultural economy.
I am committed to achieving this balance. I believe that we can achieve it by working together.
I am also committed to our state’s agricultural economy. I have led trade missions to Korea, Taiwan and Japan promoting our crops. We created the From the Heart of Washington program to promote Washington products here at home. We want consumers all across the state to choose Washington-grown products. And I have endorsed a transportation package that will improve your ability to get your goods to market.
The various parts of our state’s economy are interdependent. The recent port lockout shows just how interdependent. When your products are not shipped from western Washington ports, you lose money and, potentially, customers. We need to educate our state about the importance of these economic connections. If we lose one link, we jeopardize the economy of our state. The argument “that problem is over there, let them pay for it” just won’t fly. We are one state – one economy. We share in problems, and we share in prosperity.
Today, our economy is threatened by an overwhelmed transportation system. And it’s not hard to figure out how it got this way. All you have to do is look at what’s happened in the past twenty years. The burden on our state’s transportation system has increased—dramatically.
And how have we responded? Well, unfortunately, not very well. We haven’t kept up with the growth. And failing to keep up has been a recipe for disaster. Our state loses $2 billion every year due to congestion. Two billion dollars every year. The congestion interferes with travel over our roads, with freight mobility between sea and rail ports and distribution centers, and with access to our airports. These losses increase costs for growers, for manufacturers, for merchants, and, ultimately, for all of us—the consumers. Our transportation infrastructure is staggering under the burden of growth, and it’s costing us. It’s costing us all, every day.
There are those who believe that only Seattle and the I-5 corridor will benefit from transportation improvements. That’s just not true. Ken Casavant, a WSU agricultural economics professor who is here at the conference, made a great argument I’d like to repeat. A farmer’s profit is based on the price of the product minus the transportation costs to get it to market. Imagine that the average farmer saves 2-cents per bushel as a result of improved transportation. That’s a very conservative estimate of how much difference an improved transportation system would make. At that rate, the average annual savings would be $1,600 per year. Compare that to the cost of R-51 on the average farm, which is $85 per year. Pay $85 to get $1,600 in savings! That’s a return on investment any accountant would love! That's just one illustration of how additional investment in our transportation system is beneficial to Eastern Washington as well as Western Washington. It's about freight mobility and getting crops to market.
Another critical consideration is safety. Consider the following projects which will make us safer:
· Building a divided highway from Pullman to the Idaho border. This stretch of road has been subject to terrible traffic fatalities. It has higher than twice the state average in serious car accidents;
· Getting started on a North Spokane Freeway—I know many of you in Spokane are anxiously awaiting this project;
· Adding additional lanes to I-90 from Hyak to Easton, east of Snoqualmie Pass and in the Spokane Valley, and building a truck-climbing lane from Vantage to Rye Grass Summit. These additions will improve traffic flow and the movement of freight;
· Making major improvements on SR 240 from Richland to Kennewick;
· Adding lanes and other safety improvements to SR 12, west of Yakima and from east of Pasco toward Walla Walla.
I could go on all afternoon. There are many additional improvements to freight mobility and other crucial projects, here and across the state. Many benefits to cities, counties, and transit operators.
I am impressed by your hard work here in the Kittitas Valley. You have shown that we can improve and protect our environment while maintaining our agriculture economy.
We must continue this hard work and cooperation. And we must focus on transportation, and getting our products to market safely and as efficiently as possible.
An improved statewide transportation system benefits every Washington citizen. And it ensures that we will leave our children a healthy economy and the same high quality of life that we enjoy today. Thank you for all your hard work, and let’s keep working together for a better Washington.