State has too few dollars to meet needs of US Highway 12

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A four-lane highway from Walla Walla to the Tri-Cities needs to happen. That was decided long ago.

The state Legislature should fund the project to its completion. Realistically, that’s not going to happen for several years.

But progress could — and should — be made over the next two years

The state House Transportation Committee ranked expanding U.S. Highway 12 to four lanes from Lowden to Nine Mile Hill seventh on a draft list of 27 highway improvement projects across the state. Funding for the project was predicated on approval of an additional 10 cent tax on gasoline.

And that’s not happening — at least not this year.

Despite our zeal to see the Highway 12 project completed, we don’t believe it’s prudent to add a dime to the price of already high-priced gas at the tail end (we hope) of the Great Recession.

A lower amount, perhaps three cents to a nickel might be acceptable, but even with a smaller increase it’s still a tough call. Every project to be funded by a tax hike would have to be a critical state need regarding safety and commerce.

Highway 12 fits that criteria in our eyes, although we concede our view is through locally made tinted glasses. Nevertheless, the safety concerns alone would seem to justify the project. Over the past two decades more than 1,000 accidents — more than 400 in which injuries were sustained — have occurred on the highway between Burbank and Walla Walla. More than 30 people have been killed in those wrecks.

In recent years progress has been made making stretches of Highway 12 four lanes. The highway from Walla Walla to just before Lowden has been upgraded. The section from Wallula to Burbank also received a makeover.

Continuing the next phase of the project seems worthy enough to be funded without more tax revenue. Seventh on a list of 27 is an indicator of that.

Unfortunately, given the current economic situation and the political stalemate between the Democratic House and Republican (plus two Democrats) Senate, don’t look for Highway 12 funding to be much of a consideration this year.

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