Four-laning the 40-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 12 between Burbank and Walla Walla has been our community’s highest transportation priority for several decades. This month we begin a new chapter in our efforts to support our congressional delegation's efforts to acquire federal funding for the project.
A regional public-private coalition has been formed. The Port of Walla Walla, County of Walla Walla, Cities of Walla Walla and College Place, Boise Cascade, Northwest Grain Growers, Fire District #5 and others are working together on two major initiatives. The first is to articulate the need and justification for the project. The second is to elevate the project’s profile in the nation’s capitol. Both are necessary to advance this $160 million dollar project.
The first task of clearly articulating the need and justification is well underway. A project fact sheet and map outlying the phase development strategy is completed. A citizens petition as well as a business/organization petition are circulating in the community. A U.S. 12 web site will be completed within the next three weeks. The second task is also well underway. The coalition has hired the lobbying firm of Ball Janik LLP to give our congressional delegation an additional tool to advance the project in Washington, D.C. Our lobbyists will help us communicate the need for the project in a more timely and effective way. They will also work with our congressional delegation and key congressional committees, the U.S. Department of Transportation and others as critical appropriation and authorization bills make their way through Congress.
We are fortunate to have a congressional delegation that believes there is a federal role in developing rural infrastructure. What Senator Patty Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell, and Representative George Nethercutt are able to accomplish in Washington, D.C. reflects the needs and priorities of Washingtonians. We strongly support their efforts to direct federal dollars to the State. Senator Murray, as chair of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, is to be congratulated for her success in obtaining funding for many of the State’s priority projects last year. We are fortunate that Washington State and Walla Walla County do not have to rely solely on funding formulas created by federal agencies who’s employees may have never driven between Burbank and Walla Walla, and Members of Congress from outside the Northwest.
A portion of the funding will come from the state and local governments. The legislature and the Governor are currently debating a transportation package that may include funding for a portion of the project. However, passage of the state package is far from certain. Our immediate federal focus will be securing funds to advance Phase II of the project - a section between Dodd Road and Attalia, which bears heavy truck traffic. We will also be working toward getting this 40-mile stretch of highway approved and funded in legislation reauthorizing the “Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.”
The statistics speak volumes for the need to four-lane U.S. Highway 12 between Burbank and Walla Walla. It is a heavily traveled, two lane highway with an average daily traffic counts of up to 12,000 vehicles. Freight trucks account for approximately 33% of the traffic volume. Cargo volumes can reach 10.73 million tons per year.
More Americans are killed on rural roads than crowded urban expressways, even though two-lane roads carry far less traffic. Since 1991, U.S. Highway 12 from Burbank to Walla Walla has experienced 975 accidents of which 370 were injury accidents and 21 were fatality accidents that resulted in 28 deaths.
A 40% reduction of serious injury and fatal crashes can be expected on a highway improved from two lanes to four lanes. Given the relatively high number of deaths and serious injuries that occur on U.S. Highway 12, a 40% reduction would equate to significant saving of life and human suffering.
The race to acquire federal funding to four-lane U.S. Highway 12 is a marathon, not a sprint. We look forward to implementing our communications and lobbying plans, and to working closer than ever with our congressional delegation, because we know that four-laning U.S. Highway 12 from Burbank to Walla will have a very positive impact on the people who live in and travel through Eastern Washington. The need for this project is too great not to take aggressive but thoughtful steps to increase our chances for success.
James M. Kuntz
Port of Walla Walla