Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Help pave the future of the state’s highway system

By Jeremy Jewkes

Did you know that over half of vehicle travel in Washington occurs on state highways? People drive cars and ride vanpools and buses on state highways to reach jobs, schools, recreation destinations and services. Truck operators transport goods to market on state highways. And don't forget those who walk and bike along and across these roads.

The Highway System Plan (HSP) is our 20-year roadmap for preserving, maintaining, improving, and operating interstates, US routes, and state routes in Washington. Planning ahead helps ensure the highway system meets the needs of vanpool and bus riders, freight haulers, travelers in personal vehicles, those who walk, bike and roll, and everyone else using our roads. Our last HSP covers the period of 2007 to 2026 — wrapping up in just a few short years.

It's time to update the plan through the next 20 years, which will bring several challenges for the system, including aging infrastructure and climate change. To create a sustainable roadmap, we want the HSP to address our known needs, anticipate the needs we think we will have, take advantage of the latest planning knowledge and technology, and be informed by people who represent the richness and diversity of Washington state.

In the past, planners and engineers often designed highways, bridges, airports and rail lines to run next to, or right through the middle of, communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, where land was cheaper and the people who lived
there had limited resources or opportunities to challenge the decisions that were thrust upon them. 

How to learn more

Interested in finding out more about the HSP and sharing your thoughts? Check out our online open house and take the opinion poll before the end of May. This is an easy way to walk through the different aspects of the highway system and think about what the trade-offs would be of spending money on, for example, fixing roads vs. building more roads. The poll only takes about 5-10 minutes and gives you a chance to tell us what is most important to you.

If you want to participate in a live meeting, register for one of our regional virtual public meetings. You are welcome to attend any session, but note that each meeting will focus on a particular part of the state. You'll get a brief overview of the HSP and then we'll have a conversation about different possible futures and how they could affect our highways. At these meetings you'll have a chance to ask questions and hear from our staff.

Finding equitable solutions

Planners and engineers of past decades often designed highways, bridges, airports and rail lines to run next to, or right through the middle of, communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, where land was cheaper and the people who lived there had limited resources or opportunities to challenge the decisions that were thrust upon them.

Studies have shown that as a result of those decisions, people who live in communities near major transportation infrastructure are more likely to suffer poor health due to air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution and related stressors. In recognition of these conditions, the state Legislature in 2021 passed the "Healthy Environment for All Act," or more commonly called the HEAL Act (Senate Bill 5141).

For this HSP update, we are specifically reaching out to overburdened communities through workshops designed to make sure their input, concerns and feedback are reflected.

We're looking forward to hearing from you about your priorities for the HSP.

If you have any questions, please feel free to send an email to hsp@wsdot.wa.gov