Posted by Brad Smith
Like nearly every part of America, Washington State has been hard-hit by the current economic downturn. Yesterday was a hopeful moment, as Washington Governor Chris Gregoire announced 138 transportation and infrastructure projects that will move forward as soon as possible, thanks to $551 million in federal stimulus funds. Altogether, these stimulus dollars will support the completion of projects representing billions of dollars in transportation investment across Washington state, creating thousands of new jobs, and addressing many of our State’s most pressing transportation needs.
One of the stimulus projects is near our campus in Redmond — a new overpass connecting NE 36th Street and NE 31st Street over State Route 520 that will provide a much-needed link between the heavily-travelled north-south corridors of 148th Avenue NE and 156th Avenue NE.
This overpass has been part of the Bellevue-Redmond transportation agenda since at least 1999. It was then, and is now, a long overdue link to reduce congestion in this rapidly-growing urban center, which supports over 44,000 jobs, 600 companies including major employers like Honeywell, Siemens, Nintendo and Sears, and over 5,000 homes.
As the largest employer in Redmond, Microsoft takes its responsibility to the surrounding community seriously. We have spent over $50 million to assist the City of Redmond and other local governments with street construction, transit facilities, water and sewer facilities and fire equipment. Two years ago, we instituted The Connector, a 19-route regional bus system that helps ease congestion throughout the region by giving thousands of our employees an alternative to driving to work each day.
In May, 2005, as our employment in the region continued to grow, and local officials struggled to fund the 36th Street overpass and other elements of the long-term transportation plan, Microsoft pledged $17.5 million to assist in the construction of the bridge. Since that time, the cost estimate has risen, but with the infusion of the federal stimulus funds, the project is now ready to move forward immediately.
In recent days, some have questioned whether this project should have been a recipient of federal stimulus funding. We think this is a very positive example of a public-private partnership, and we are pleased to be contributing roughly 50 percent of the funding to help build this public project that will benefit the entire community. The federal stimulus dollars combine with additional state, local and existing federal dollars to fund the remainder.
Because this project has been a priority for local officials for years, it is fully engineered and “shovel-ready,” and will soon provide 342 direct construction jobs, and will support many more jobs among suppliers and local businesses.
As Governor Gregoire said yesterday, as she announced the 138 state projects that will get federal stimulus funds, the 36th Street overpass:
“…met all of the criteria. It’s on a point scale, and it got 100 points, which is the maximum number of points…. It’s about reducing congestion. It’s about multiple employers. It’s about thousands of employees and residents. It’s about taking people off the congestion we have in that interchange on [State Route] 520 now, where we literally have a problem in that people have to go 2 miles rather than two-tenths of a mile which that bridge would produce…. Almost 50 percent of that project is privately funded. That’s leveraging dollars. That’s what we’re trying to do, is to use private sector dollars with stimulus dollars and get a bigger bang for the buck…. And the forecast for that area, in terms of congestion, is pretty bad. So we could wait until we’re completely stopped, or we could get going now and prevent what’s going to be a very difficult area in terms of traffic.”
(You can watch Governor Gregoire’s specific comments below. Click here for the full discussion of the 36th Street overpass project at Governor Gregoire’s news conference, or read a transcript of that section here).
Yesterday’s stimulus package action is another important milestone in the growth and development of the Overlake Urban Center in Redmond, and we are pleased to be working in partnership with federal, state and local officials to make such essential improvements to our community.
(Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, Microsoft senior vice president Brad Smith, then Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives and King County Executive Ron Sims at the groundbreaking of Microsoft’s campus expansion, February 6, 2006.)