MOUNT VERNON — Gov. Jay Inslee met with Skagit officials Thursday at a transportation roundtable to discuss Skagit County’s needs in advance of the next transportation package that will go to the Legislature.
Local officials highlighted maintenance, protecting local business and bringing in jobs as key concerns and related them back to the county’s experience with the Skagit River Bridge collapse in May.
In line with the topics discussed, Inslee said the first order of business in the package will be keeping up with maintenance, and the second will be keeping up with economic growth.
“We want Washington to grow, and if we want to grow, we have to keep up with our infrastructure,” Inslee said.
The group discussed the bridge collapse as an example of the need for maintenance to prevent failures, and La Conner Mayor Ramon Hayes represented the group in presenting Inslee with an award for “outstanding leadership and response” to the situation.
“We’ve taken care of one bridge in the river, but we need to keep a lot of other bridges out of the water,” Inslee said.
Everyone, from national to local agencies and across political parties, agrees maintenance is needed, he said. The challenges are determining when and how to pay for it.
“Everybody knows these things have to be done. Nobody thinks we should let our bridges fall into the rivers,” Inslee said. “It’s just a matter of when … and I’m arguing now is the time because it’s going to be less expensive for taxpayers.”
Repairs become more expensive over time, he said.
“I’m an advocate for maintaining what we have,” Sedro-Woolley Mayor Mike Anderson emphasized.
In response, Inslee said transportation packages always come with a debate for how much money will go to maintenance and how much to new construction projects, and it’s easier to explain tax increases for new construction.
Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau mentioned recently successful projects such as the completion of LaVenture-Anderson Road earlier this year and the Riverside Drive bridge in 2005. Both routes were vital to traffic detours when Interstate 5 was closed off following the collapse, she said.
County and city officials also addressed economic development and supporting local businesses. They said an immediate correlation between infrastructure and business became apparent when the bridge collapsed.
“If we don’t have good connections, our businesses can’t do their jobs,” Port of Skagit Executive Director Patsy Martin said.
“Infrastructure brings economic development,” Anacortes Mayor Dean Maxwell agreed.
Inslee said increasing maintenance work would bring jobs with it.
“We have thousands of people waiting to go to work, and this is the single fastest way to get people to work,” he said.