Thursday, August 15, 2002
I'm proud to be here with all of you to discuss one of the major transportation needs of this region and one of the top transportation priorities in our state: improving U.S. Highway 12.
There are three reasons why I'm eager to help the community expand Highway 12 from two lanes to four lanes: it will improve safety, it will lay the foundation for economic growth, and it will offer residents a better quality of life.
As all you of you know, today Highway 12 is a heavily-traveled road, averaging up to 12,000 vehicles a day. Freight trucks compose one-third of the traffic.
It's all too easy for a car or large truck to veer just a few feet over the median and into oncoming traffic.
Since 1991, between Burbank and Walla Walla, there have been almost 1,000 accidents (975) with more than 370 were injuries and 28 deaths.
By expanding Highway 12 to four lanes, and adding a safety median, we expect to reduce serious injuries and fatal crashes by 40 percent.
In addition, expanding Highway 12 will promote commerce and help support the economy. Widening the road will improve the flow of traffic, making it more attractive to entrepreneurs who want to open businesses close to the roadway.
Expansion will also allow freight traffic to move more quickly through the corridor. And that's good news in a state where one out of every four jobs depends on international trade.
Finally, a wider, safer Highway 12 will mean a better quality of life for residents. It means less time sitting in traffic and more time for the things that matter in life.
I want to commend the local leaders who have done an excellent job moving the project forward. You worked with the Washington State DOT and the Governor to make this project a high priority at the state level. And you worked closely with my office.
At the federal level, I've been proud to support this project. As Chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I'm charged with putting the federal budget together for highways, transit systems, railroads, airports, and seaports. It's been my pleasure to work with many of you and others in defining this project, and securing funding for it.
In this year's Senate Transportation Appropriations bill, I included $2.5 million for Phase II of the US Highway 12 from Burbank to Walla Walla expansion project. That phase will widen the highway between Dodd Road and Attalia.
Next month, the House will act on its transportation bill. And then, the House and Senate versions will need to be reconciled. If the House version includes an earmark for this project, it will be much easier for me to retain the money I've secured for Highway 12.
Whether or not there is money for this project in the House bill, I'm going to continue to work hard to ensure this funding makes it into the final bill.
From the start, this project has been a great partnership.
I don't have time to thank everyone, but I do want to especially acknowledge: Washington State DOT, Benton, Franklin, and Walla Walla Counties, the Mayors and local officials of all the cities along this highway, our Congressional delegation, the Port of Walla Walla, the Federal Highway Administration, and the citizens of Washington.
Throughout our state, we've got a lot of work to do to improve our transportation infrastructure.
It affects our economy, our productivity and our quality of life.
Here at the state level, we're struggling to fill the hole created by the passage of I-695 back in 1999. Referendum 51 would raise $7.7 billion for infrastructure spending, mostly from a 9-cent increase in the gas tax. We've got to work very hard to pass this initiative in November, because projects like this one are on the line.
The truth is, this referendum will have a big impact on the support we can get from the federal government for projects like Highway 12. Most federal transportation programs require a state and local match -- in some cases about 20 percent. I can fund all the projects in Washington, D.C., but without a state and local match, those federal dollars will go to projects in other states.
So the lack of state funding has "veto power" over much of the funding I secure in the Senate.
So there's a lot at stake in Referendum 51 and in the Senate Transportation bill this year. Citizens should know that the consequences could be dire for projects like Highway 12 if Referendum 51 fails.
Again, thank you for inviting me here. I look forward to continuing my partnership with all of you on this critical project and many others.