Other Views: Let Federal Infrastructure Funds Be a Lesson to Legislature and Gov. Inslee


The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act President Joe Biden signed this week will bring much needed attention and funds to everything from roads and bridges to broadband and salmon recovery. Passed with bipartisan support, the $1.2 trillion spending measure is a critical investment in America's future.

Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington lawmakers must see this as an example to follow, not yet another excuse to keep kicking the state's own responsibility for a transportation infrastructure package down the road.

While the Legislature idles, some congressional praise is due. The money coming to Washington will be transformational, with the state set to receive almost $8.6 billion in dedicated funds and access to billions more through additional grants. That includes about $4.7 billion in highway funding and $605 million for bridge replacement and repairs.

The state spends less than half of the $2 billion required annually for maintenance, according to the Washington Department of Transportation. There are 416 bridges and more than 5,400 miles of highway rated as being in "poor" condition.

Also vital will be access to $1 billion going to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a new program created to remove, replace or restore culverts. The funds will help blunt the more than $3 billion cost of the court-mandated fix to hundreds of fish passages beneath roads by 2030.

Other essential and long-delayed projects such as the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River and the U.S. Highway 2 trestle replacement near Everett are expected to receive a boost from a $5 billion Megaprojects Grant Program included in the bill.

Additional funding includes almost $2 billion for public transportation, $882 million for improved drinking water and $384.7 million in airport infrastructure grants, with $228 going to Sea-Tac International Airport. Washington will also receive $71 million to expand its electric vehicle charging network and $100 million for broadband service in rural and underserved communities.

After Biden signed the bill, fulfilling one of his campaign promises, more than one headline mentioned the Trump administration's "Infrastructure Week." The long-running joke referenced a much-touted, but never-materialized, infrastructure proposal first mentioned in 2017. Washingtonians would be laughing except we've waited longer for it to be "infrastructure anything" in Olympia.

The Legislature once again failed to produce a new transportation revenue package this last session, and Gov. Inslee killed any incentive to act when he vetoed provisions in climate legislation meant to force the issue. Lawmakers are avoiding some hard choices that will likely raise taxes. This will not get any easier in 2022, with a shorter session and election-year concerns.

True, the money coming from the federal government will have a significant impact on Washington and help with shortfalls, but it's no substitute for addressing the state's long-term needs.Congress has done its job; state lawmakers need to do theirs.