A few months back I was on the Kirby Wilbur Show talking about Initiative 912, and Kirby got a little peeved when I brought up the safety issue, inferring that I was accusing I-912 supporters of being “killers”. In fact, I was implying that our roads are killers, and that the transportation bill I-912 wants to kill would fix some of our most dangerous intersections, interchanges and stretches of highway.
This point was tragically driven home on Friday, by a three car accident on I-5 near the Highway 534 overpass, that killed two people, including a 10-year-old boy. The accident occurred when two southbound cars collided, forcing Susan McGaughran’s GMC Yukon to carom across the grass median and into the northbound lanes, where it was struck by the Ng family’s Toyota Avalon. McGaughran and 10-year-old Alexander Ng were killed in the wreck; Alexander’s father, mother, and six-year-old brother remain hospitalized.
But as the Skagit Valley Herald reported on Sunday, this accident could have been prevented.
Following the crash, state transportation officials were already preparing to make improvements to the stretch of I-5 where the crash occurred.
Stan Suchan, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the department plans to install a cable barrier this fall between the north and southbound lanes on the stretch, just south of Mount Vernon.
The $30 million project will be paid for out of the 3-cent gas tax increase, Suchan said. The barriers also are slated to be installed on several other sections of Washington roadways, all of which were selected based on crash data.
It is the only project that state transportation officials haven’t put on hold because of Initiative 912, which is a movement to repeal the increase, Suchan said.
The cables barrier would absorb the force of a crash and prevent vehicles from crossing into oncoming traffic during a collision, Suchan said. Ideally, after striking a cable barrier, a car would stop in the grass median and not ricochet into traffic. “Our goal is to protect driver as much as we can,” Suchan said.
The projects in the transportation bill that I-912 would kill were prioritized by safety, and the cable barrier along this stretch of I-5 is just one of hundreds of similar safety improvement projects scattered throughout the state. If we repeal the gas tax, and these projects are delayed or canceled, people will die. The crash data tells us that, and this tragic accident bears out the data’s predictions. That is a fact.
I-912’s backers claim that the transportation bill doesn’t do enough to solve congestion… that is doesn’t pour enough new concrete. But I believe that if most voters understood what the gas tax increase actually pays for, they’d agree that it’s the transportation package that has its priorities straight, not Kirby and John and the rest of the message senders, who ask voters to sacrifice desperately needed maintenance and improvements for the sake of sticking it to Gov. Gregoire and the Democrat controlled Legislature.
The former-residents of New Orleans — now refugees from our nation’s worst man-made disaster — have learned the cost in lives and dollars of failing to adequately invest in public infrastructure; surely, had the levees been higher and stronger, the surrounding wetlands restored, and the barrier islands rebuilt, then the cataclysmic flooding could have been avoided. If we choose to ignore this lesson, perhaps the Big One won’t strike… perhaps the 520 bridge won’t sink into the lake, nor the Alaska Way Viaduct topple over onto the waterfront and its aging seawall, causing hundreds of deaths and tens of billions of dollars in damage.
But even if Seattle “dodges the bullet” — as New Orleans briefly thought it had before the floodwaters rose — hundreds of our fellow citizens will not be so lucky, daily falling victim to dangerous roadways that could have… should have been fixed before they tragically claimed more lives, like those of Susan McGaughran and ten-year-old Alexander Ng.
If the public understands exactly what the gas tax pays for, and how the transportation package was expressly prioritized to save lives, then I believe that I-912 will fail. In his column today, the P-I’s Joel Connelly points out that passage is no sure bet, but seems to pin his hope for defeat on business and civic leaders educating the public. But if the public is truly to be educated during the eight short weeks before the election, then the media must do its job too. Levi Pulkkinen and Marta Murvosh of the the Skagit Valley Herald should be commended for doing the kind of journalism often missing from some of our more prestigious newspapers… for digging into the details and reporting Friday’s fatal accident not just as a human tragedy, but as the predictable consequence of how we choose to spend our transportation dollars.
With big oil pumping out record profits, and gasoline prices over $3.00, I ask you: is Alexander Ng’s life — or that of hundreds of others who will die in similar accidents — worth 9 cents a gallon? That is the question that should be facing voters this November, if only they understand what is truly at stake.
Kirby and John want to use I-912 to “send a message”… but repealing the transportation package will also, inevitably cost lives. And I believe, if people vote their conscience, I-912 will fail.