The state Department of Transportation's North Central Region may contain only 4 percent of the state's population, but that didn't stop a big crowd from turning out Monday to hail the region's economic importance and urge visiting lawmakers for more funding for road maintenance, preservation and improvements.
"We see an urgent need for more revenue... to restore lost buying power," Jeff Wilkens, executive director of the Wenatchee Valley Transportation Council said of state transportation funding that hasn't kept up with the rising cost of road repairs. "Our economy has a much larger footprint on the state's economy."
His concerns were echoed by many of the 110 people who filled the Chelan County PUD Auditorium to speak to state Senate Transportation Committee members in town to gather public opinion before getting to work on a new state transportation funding package.
Senators Curtis King, R-Yakima and Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way listened and took notes, alongside NCW's own 12th Legislative District lawmakers, Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, and state Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee.
The senators are on an opinion-gathering tour across the state. Earlier meetings in Seattle/Bellevue and Everett drew huge crowds.
In Wenatchee, Nearly 40 people each took advantage of a 2-minute stint at the microphone to make their voices heard, including mayors, county commissioners, transit agency heads, port officials, fruit company executives, union representatives and citizens.
They heard state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson liken the state's road infrastructure as a program pieced together with duct tape. She said the state's budget for preservation and maintenance of roadways would drop 52 percent by 2017 if the state legislature fails to take action.
Daniel Sarles, the DOT's North Central regional administrator who oversees a more than $3.67 billion list of unfunded regional projects, agreed.
"We've fallen behind in taking care of what we have," he told the crowd.
At stake are a long list of unfinished projects and the need to expand to accommodate state growth. Legislators are also weighing a state proposal that came out of the last legislature's second special session to raise the state fuel tax by 10.5 cents to help pay for it all.
"Don't forget about the counties," Douglas County Commissioner Dale Snyder said. "In Douglas County, if the roads were constructed 20 years ago, they aren't constructed for the use they're getting now."
West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers, and Frank Kuntz, mayor of Wenatchee both stressed a need to ease congestion on busy North Wenatchee Avenue by creating a alternate route north and second bridge over the Wenatchee River.
"It's the single biggest transportation need our region has," Kuntz said.
Jon Wyss, president of the Okanogan County Farm Bureau, called for better infrastructure to get crops to export markets, including a designating "heavy haul" corridors to allow trucks an extra axle to transport more goods per trip. He also encouraged the senators to consider alternatives to a fuel-tax increase.
Patric Connelly, a commissioner for the Port of Quincy, said increased demand from the fruit industry for refrigerated transport will call for increased investment in truck/rail exchange centers, known as "intermodal" facilities.
Chelan County Commissioner Keith Goehner pointed to Cashmere's old Goodwin Bridge as a priority project. The old bridge predates the 1957 expansion of Highway 2/97 to four lanes, he said. He also pointed to county crews having to put road repair on longer rotations for lack of repair funding.
Chelan Mayor Bob Goedde pointed to a new intersection at Highway 150 and No-See-Um Road as a priority, but one that can be addressed without excessive spending. "We need a good, sensible, safe intersection, not the Taj Mahal," he said.
Several speakers urged the senators not to approve more funding without first improving efficiency at the DOT and planning phases of big projects.