Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Building a Cross-Base Highway

Pierce County's long awaited and continually delayed Cross-Base Highway keeps looking for a solution to a need long overdue. For a project that started with a donation of right-of-way worth millions of dollars by Ft. Lewis, that head start in funding hasn't made much progress against other state-wide projects that keep bumping the Cross-Base Highway.

As Fort Lewis is a work site that has gained 13,000 workers in the last demi-decade and seen a daily increase in thousands of vehicle trips, soldiers taking housing outside the post are continuing to seek housing in Thurston County as closer Pierce County housing is inaccessible via the congestion along the Pacific Ave.-SR 512-I-5 route, located in Parkland-Spanaway. Who hasn't noticed the increase in congestion on I-5 south of the post as soldiers commute back and forth to Thurston County?

But is our challenge so unique that we must create a solution, or is experience available elsewhere. Of course! We are not unique! Others have solved this problem!

Mayor John Cook, City of El Paso, TX and Charles H. "Chuck" Berry, El Paso District Engineer, Texas Department of Transportation, recently shared with nation-wide delegates at the Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA), Department of Defense , how El Paso responded to the transportation demands of military (job) growth.

El Paso and Texas built a 7.5 miles freeway across Fort Bliss and an airport. This was a $200 million construction project accomplished by a public-private partnership. El Paso and Texas cooperated with the private sector to build and finance this highway (pictured above). Using what they called "pass through tolls," the State of Texas pays to the private sector vendor a toll based on the number of cars that use the highway. For mutual protection, payments will not fall below $10 million nor rise above $12 million.

Today's state (and local) budget climate gives all parties an instant excuse for not spending $10 million in capital expenses each year. But alternatives do exist. For one example the Stimulus Bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, contains the Build America Bonds, which provides a federal subsidy to state and local bonds.

Others have taken notice. Mayor Efrain Valdez, Del Rio, TX, rose from the conference floor to endorse the Texas public-private partnership in road building and announce his city is doing the same thing.

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