Face it. We in Wenatchee get a lot of satisfaction from complaining about them. Those people over there, the 206ers, divide their time between banning styrofoam cups and inhaling billions in public funds. We know there is a black hole somewhere near Fourth and Westlake where two-thirds of the state’s public funds are locked in a vortex, spiraling, spinning inescapably toward the center, where they will be compressed into an infinitely small space by the power of 206 municipal finance. Then it all disappears, and we have nothing. Or, at best, something really useful, like a waterfront trolley.
We’ve spent recent years reading about the "megaprojects" — the floating bridges and the freeways with widths measured in football fields — and how many hundreds of millions they might inhale and take away from our little two-lane world. And we were bewildered, and complained that those people couldn’t do anything but spend money, and we wondered why our gasoline taxes are flowing toward the 206 vortex. But what if you knew this: Spending $2.8 billion in state funds to dig a tunnel under Seattle might improve profits for an orchardist near Pateros?
It just might. We’re that connected. We’re part of the same system, like it or not. This state’s economy is based on trade with the wider world, and that trade depends in large part on the ports in Seattle and Tacoma and on the big airport in between. The success and efficiency of those facilities depend on how much freight can move in and out, and how much it costs to do that. That impacts plenty of people outside 206, especially in export-dependent industries, like growing fruit.
Considering this, it shouldn’t be unusual for the Port of Seattle to send people to Wenatchee to, you know, kind of scope it out. Yet no one could remember when that happened before — until it happened Monday. Bill Bryant, the president of the Seattle Port Commission; Tay Yoshitani, the Port CEO; and Kurt Beckett, the Port external affairs director, were in Wenatchee to meet with people from industry and government and see about this connectivity. Bryant himself was no stranger — he once lived in Yakima and advised the fruit industry on export issues. Now he’s at Pier 69 thinking about freight mobility.
Talking about freight, it didn’t take long before the tunnel became the topic. Rehabbing the Alaskan Way Viaduct as an elevated freeway would have been a nightmare for the entire state, said Bryant. It would have cut off Seattle’s maritime industries from the rest of us for maybe seven years. The cut-and-cover option — sticking the highway in a trench with a lid — would have been as bad or worse. Tearing down the Viaduct and replacing it with nothing, turning the approaches to the Port into a truckers’ free-for-all, would have been insane.
So, digging a deep tunnel is not extravagance. It’s the cheapest solution. It’s best for everyone, from Pier 69 to Ritzville, because freight can flow in and out of the Port during construction. We here in Wenatchee will chip in for the $2.8 billion state share, and our trucks can get their containers to those ships. With ours and others there are 8,000 trucks going in and out of Seattle’s port on any given day. Traffic jams don’t pay.
There will be other projects where freight mobility is a major issue. The pending rebuild of Snoqualmie Pass, $1.3 billion for 15 miles, is part of it. The double-decking of the Stampede Pass rail tunnel, with a $28 million state contribution, is another. Taxes don’t always get caught in the 206 vortex. In fact, they more often flow the other way, and the vortex is more of a fountain. But whichever way the flow goes, we’re all in it together.
This column is reprinted, with permission, from the Wenatchee 'World.'
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