(Seattle, WA)- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray spoke at the seventh annual conference of the Washington Council on Internaional Trade (WCIT). Murray is a co-chair of the conference, which this year focused on "Trade, Transportation and Security: Doing Business in Uncertain Times".
Senator Murray's Remarks Follow
I'm delighted to be here again with WCIT celebrating our seventh annual trade conference.
Let me open the first panel today with a few remarks before engaging our panel in a group discussion of these issues. We are all here today for our seventh annual conference. We've had great conferences over the years. We've talked about difficult and important issues, but this year we are gathering to talk about a set of important topics unlike any previous conference and unlike any time for our trade dependent state.
Terrorism has changed our country in profound ways. Our response to threats against our country pervades just about every issue these days. We'll talk about that a great deal on the second panel today. Here at home we are faced with unprecedented challenges in the area of transportation infrastructure. I have talked a great deal about this topic across our great state.
In the other Washington, I serve as the Transportation Subcommittee Chair at the Appropriations Committee. What this means is I am responsible for writing an annual funding bill -- a $60 billion bill -- that funds all of our transportation infrastructure from roads and bridges, to rail and and ports, and the Coast Guard. My bill will also pay for the many transportation security related measures we are all contemplating -- security at our airports and security in Port cities like Seattle that handle thousands of containers daily.
My panel is called "Freight, Jobs and Gridlock."
Let's start with freight because we all know that moving goods and services has such a direct impact on our state's economy. Let's look at the challenges in moving goods in a few different transportation modes, starting with highways
We rely on our highways to move products efficiently throughout our state. We know that traffic congestion means a higher cost of doing business for our employers. So we've got to invest in the critical projects that will reduce congestion and make all our businesses from agriculture producers to software makers more productive.
It is important to note that these critical projects are found throughout the state. Transportation is not just a Seattle problem, it is a Washington state problem. I-395 in Spokane, Hwy 12 near Walla Walla and any number of Puget Sound area projects are important to all Washingtonians.
Our airports and seaports are of immense economic importance, as we all know. We're working to improve security at our ports without losing sight of our need to be more competitive. I'll never forget an advertisement that appeared in a shipping publication. The ad was for Delta Port in Vancouver, British Columbia. It said: "You didn't cross an ocean to sit in a sea of traffic."
Our trading partners understand how our state's infrastructure impacts their bottom line. We were in a very competitive environment before September 11th. As we look to securing our ports for our economic future, we must all work to ensure that the cost of security enhancements are not used for competitive advantage by our Pacific competitors.
We are working hard to lower the transportation costs of doing business in Washington state. For example, we're improving the intermodal connections between ships, rails and roads. In fact, through something known as the FAST Corridor, we're attacking transportation bottlenecks by separating grades, laying additional track, and improving bridge infrastructure. Last year, as Chair of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I provided an additional $20 million to support the FAST Corridor. That brings us up to over $120 million of federal support for this nationally recognized project.
Our transportation infrastructure is important to our ability to generate and maintain jobs for Washington families and workers. Jobs is the second piece of this panel and I know all of the panelists will be able to convey the relationship between jobs and transportation.
Right now, our state has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation. We've been affected by many factors from the overall slowing of the national economy, to difficulties in the tech and aviation sectors, and the energy crisis. I believe that when we invest in our critical infrastructure, when we make it easier to move people and products throughout our state, we're laying the foundation for our future economic growth. We know that transportation affects so many parts of our economy. Transportation determines our success in international trade. We are the natural gateway to Asia. We are equal distance by air to the major Pacific and European marketplaces for Washington state exports. Our transportation system is one of the most important components of making our state a competitive trader throughout the world.
Transportation determines whether the companies that call Washington home are going to move elsewhere or whether they're going to stay and prosper and attract new businesses to our state. Transportation affects our productivity and other key components of our economic health.
For years, we have been blessed with natural resources that we've relied on for our economic growth including our timber, our waterways, our fishing, and our deep-water ports. But today we're feeling some of the pressures as millions of people try to work and live together on an infrastructure that hasn't kept up with growing demands. Since 1980 our population is up 43 percent, vehicle registration is up 57 percent and vehicle miles are up 88 percent. But our infrastructure hasn't kept pace. So today, we are at a crossroads. We've got to update our transportation network so it doesn't hold us back, but instead nurtures our economic growth.
When I look at the choice Washington state voters will make later this year, two things stand out for me.
The first is transportation projects ready to go will create jobs now, good paying family wage jobs that can help get Washington moving forward again.
The second thing is investing in our transportation infrastructure will ensure our economic competitiveness for the future. If we fail to move forward on transportation, we will pay a heavy price as our economy, our environment and our quality of life are slowly constricted by a failing transportation system.
I will continue to make the case for a sound investment in ourselves and our future competitiveness through our transportation system. We all need to be advocates for our transportation system.
Gridlock is the final piece of this panel. I remember back to 1988, when I was a new member of the Washington State Senate. I wanted to join the Senate transportation committee. I've got to tell you, some of my colleagues couldn't understand why I would want to serve on this committee -- why I would want to spend my time working on trucking and highway issues.
Perhaps they didn't realize the value of every minute wasted in traffic. Well let me tell you, if you've ever been stuck in traffic with your two kids, and both are hungry and have to go to the bathroom then you know that every minute sitting in traffic counts! Beyond getting caught in traffic with a toddler, we know that gridlock and congestion is one of our state's greatest challenges. A study this week concluded the following: A typical Seattle commuter spent 82 hours stuck in traffic in the year 2000. Eighty-two hours – that's two weeks of vacation. The typical Seattle commuter wasted 137 gallons of fuel stuck in traffic. That's wasted family income which only harms our region's air quality. Gridlock comes at a great price. Time with your children. Businesses make accommodations for gridlock every day as they struggle to move goods and people. Our quality of life is strained at all hours of the day as we all waste time getting by in a transportation system that begs for investment and creative, balanced solutions.
So there you have it: Freight, Jobs and Gridlock. That's what we will be talking about on this panel. Washington's future – all of Washington state – will be greatly impacted by the decisions we all make in addressing our transportation challenges.