Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What Washington State can learn from the Oakland Bay Bridge

Pity the poor commuters in the Bay Area this week. The Oakland Bay Bridge, which carries about a quarter million cars per day, is closed. An emergency repair put in place this past Labor Day weekend failed, dropping a couple of tons of steel down on the bridge deck. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured.

The Oakland Bay Bridge is a perfect example of the need for reliable infrastructure funding.

The Bay Bridge was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, when a section of the bridge's upper roadway deck collapsed down onto the lower deck. Twenty years ago, that incident prompted calls for a new bridge.

Little wonder. The bridge was built during the Great Depression. Engineers estimate that the bridge, now seventy three years old, has a design lifetime of seventy five years. It's just plain time for a new bridge.

But two decades after the quake, the old one is still there. It is falling apart. CalTrans undertook a massive engineering effort over Labor Day to replace a section of the bridge, as well as making those emergency repairs that have now failed.

CalTrans can keep slapping band-aids on this bridge and probably squeeze a few more years out of it, but all they're doing is buying time and praying that San Francisco, Oakland, and the State of California can end twenty years of bickering and decide who should pay for a new bridge.

But given the massive budget problems California is struggling through, it's a good bet that the bickering will continue.

Responsibility and spoiled children

In the end it's about money. It's always about money. Never mind how critical to a region's physical, social, and economic health a given piece of infrastructure might be; never mind the potential tragedy should a piece of infrastructure suffer a critical failure; none of that ever seems to matter compared to the ability of politicians to point their fingers elsewhere and protect their own little kingdoms.

"Not in my backyard" has been replaced with "Not out of my back pocket!"

California's problem is that as a whole, the state has never created a reliable means of funding those critical infrastructure investments.

This, then, is what Washington can learn from California's abysmal failure of vision and leadership these past twenty years. If we don't want to get stuck with our own Bay Bridge problem, we'll have the forethought to create a funding source that the state can use to fund critical infrastructure investments. We'll act like responsible adults rather than self-centered, spoiled children.

I-1033: the spoiled children model of governance

But much as we like to blame politicians, in Washington's case we the voters have more influence than we might think. Sitting on our ballot right now is Initiative 1033, which would effectively foreclose any ability our state government might have to create a reliable funding source for the infrastructure we rely on.

A vote for Initiative 1033 is a vote for irresponsible bickering and finger pointing. It would make enemies of our city, county, and state governments, when they should be allies, each screaming that the other should pay for what everyone knows is necessary.

If you like the self-centered, spoiled children model of regional government, then by all means vote for I-1033. If you want to give Washington's politicians a ready-made excuse for passing the buck - "Well, we WANTED to do the right thing, but I-1033 tied our hands" - then by all means, vote for I-1033.

But if you prefer the responsible adult model of governance, do the smart thing: Vote NO on 1033.


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