Microsoft: Washington State Lawmakers Should Pass Transportation Funding Plan

For a company whose products allow people to communicate and collaborate over long distances, Microsoft still spends a lot of time thinking about transportation.

As a major employer, we pay attention to the impact our operations have on public infrastructure like roads and bridges. We offer a comprehensive program to reduce the number of single occupancy vehicle trips our employees make to campus: Supporting carpools and vanpools, providing transit passes to employees and contractors, operating a fleet of hybrid shuttles between our facilities, and operating The Connector private transit service to our campus where existing public transportation is insufficient or inconvenient. 

It’s a significant investment that provides a real return for our employees and our region; only about 60 percent of our employees drive by themselves to work. That’s down 15 percent from four years ago, and about 16 percent below the national average.

No matter how much individual companies like Microsoft invest in supporting their employees’ transportation needs, our state and local governments still bear the ultimate responsibility for providing a safe, reliable and adequate transportation system. 

Washington’s public transportation system serves as a crucial foundation for a vibrant economy and a competitive business climate. That’s why we have consistently backed a wide variety of transportation investments, including supporting needed funding for local transit agencies, advocating for major regional projects to address safety and congestion problems, and opposing efforts that would have made transportation construction more difficult and expensive to finance.

Now, Microsoft joins other major employers, business and community groups, labor organizations and others to support development and passage of a comprehensive transportation funding package during the 2013 legislative session. 

Numerous studies all have reached the same conclusion: Washington’s transportation system assets – roads, bridges, ferries – will suffer continual deterioration at current funding levels for maintenance and preservation. The challenge is that currently authorized state transportation funding won’t provide sufficient resources to meet current needs, address project backlogs, and build new capacity. Federal funding sources cannot be counted upon to fill in the gap, given the uncertainties created by the nation’s budget deficit. Alternative sources are neither ready for near-term implementation nor adequate to fully fund major projects.

The only viable strategy is to develop a comprehensive transportation package that makes needed investments in the transportation infrastructure, identifies viable funding strategies that will not have a detrimental impact on job creation, and increases accountability for results.

Such a package should:

1. Emphasize current system maintenance, repairs and preservation, as well as the completion of projects that have been promised to the public;
2. Continue to use traditional sources as the state’s primary transportation funding mechanism, with limited use of bonding for long-term preservation investments and improvements;
3. Utilize tolling to help fund large improvement projects on major corridors, with tolling policies established and overseen by a professional toll authority to provide transparency and accountability to the public; 
4. Include clear performance metrics for all system components.

Transportation advocates will encourage lawmakers to secure enough votes to pass this funding package in Olympia.  It’s critical for our elected officials to provide the safe, efficient and reliable transportation infrastructure that employers need to compete and succeed and that state residents need to maintain their quality of life.

Washington State has a long history of bipartisan support for infrastructure investments, reflecting a shared recognition of the importance of the state’s transportation system to the future health of our economy and our communities.  We hope this tradition will continue in 2013.

About the Author

Senior Director of State Government Affairs, Microsoft