Authored by Front & Centered, together with Disability Rights Washington’s Disability Mobility Initiative and 350 Washington
Last June, a heatwave that scientists say would not have been possible without climate change killed more than 1200 people in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. The disaster, to cop a phrase from Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us, hurt Black, Brown, and poor people first and worst, in whose neighborhoods the highest temperatures were recorded — but everyone paid a price.
In our state, nearly half of our greenhouse gas emissions come from cars and trucks, and no surprise, we also have among the highest asthma rates in the nation. Meanwhile, state transportation funding does not provide mobility for all — 25% of the state’s population have no driver’s license, yet only 4% of the state’s transportation budget goes for transit, bike and pedestrian investments.
2022 Legislative Session Update:
The Washington House and Senate Democratic transportation have introduced and are considering a proposed 16-year, $16 billion transportation funding and projects package called Move Ahead Washington. While a big improvement over last session’s proposal and headed in the right direction, Front and Centered and 350 Washington continue advocating for improvements that center frontline communities.
Our resources include a joint media release, “WA Highway Megaprojects Violate State Targets, Increase Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Worsen Air Quality,” highlighting concerns that advocates for transportation, disability, environmental, and health have raised that legislators should consider. A Front and Centered media statement in response to the package, “Democratic Transportation Proposals Headed in Right Direction, Still Need Work.” Also see two graphics Front and Centered created that explore the Highway Expansion Impacts in the Supplemental Transportation Bill and a Spotlight on the North Spokane Corridor. Andrew Kidde at 350 Washington created the helpful graphic using RMI’s SHIFT Calculator to highlight the additional Vehicle Miles Traveled and Climate Pollution Impacts of Highway Expansions in the proposed package. Also watch testimony at the House Transportation Committee on February 17, 2022 by representatives of Front and Centered, 350 Washington, Transit Riders Union, and Disability Rights Washington.
Washington Post: Washington State 4th Highest Spender on Road Expansion
“The Post’s analysis shows the state the eighth worst in the country for its share of roads in poor condition, at 27 percent. At the same time, more than three-fourths of the state’s spending on roads went toward expansion — fourth highest in the nation.”
If we keep going this way, widening highways and roads while neglecting transit and sidewalks, we will lock in emissions for decades to come and lock many people out of opportunities to thrive.
That’s why we are calling on legislators to join us to create a Just Transition away from fossil fuels and transform transportation in Washington from a dirty engine of inequality to a catalyst for clean jobs and opportunity. Last year when Front and Centered asked our members for their transportation priorities, communities of color across the state could not be more clear: Better public transit, cleaner air, and safer streets.
The Yakima Asian Pacific Islander Coalition along with other Front and Centered members, Disability Rights Washington, and 350 Washington have worked to develop a Transportation Bill of Rights that puts people at the center of our decisions.
Rosalinda Guillen is a 70-year-old Skagit Valley farmworker and community leader coordinating with Front and Centered. She hopes the tool will help lawmakers understand the health impacts on low-income communities that live near highways, such as farmworkers in and around Mt. Vernon, Washington.
“Don’t think just about moving cars around, and moving more cars to destinations,” she said. “For us, the place where you’re building the road is our destination. That is our home, that is our recreational area, it’s our workspace, because we’re outdoor workers. You are poisoning our space.”
People’s needs too often get left out of the planning, funding, construction, and maintenance of transportation systems. This is why we have worked together to create a Transportation Bill of Rights. Regardless of our race, age, gender, disability, income and where we live we all deserve transportation where:
The Just Transition framework helps us take concrete steps to stop the extractive and unjust systems that lead to the climate crisis and systemic racism. Once we stop the bad, the Just Transition helps us build new and generative systems based on justice. See our report, Accelerating a Just Transition in Washington State: Climate Justice Strategies from the Frontlines.
The first step in the Just Transition is to divest from the dirty and racist legacies that keep us hooked on oil. In transportation, that means stop expanding highways and widening roads. Just like pipelines, these are part of an infrastructure that feeds our addiction to gas and diesel.
Last year, the legislature passed a historic piece of environmental legislation called the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act which, among lots of other good things, requires state agencies to dramatically increase their outreach to communities that bear the brunt of pollution and climate impacts.
Unfortunately, the legislature itself is doing the opposite. Rather than listening to constituents who will be most impacted by these massive transportation projects, legislators are meeting behind closed doors with little public input in a process.
Clearly, that has to stop.
This June’s heat dome should be a moment of reckoning. In this legislative session, we should adopt a Transportation Bill of Rights and do no harm. Then let’s work together to accelerate these simple priorities that will make a difference:
1 The WA JTC Statewide Transportation Needs Assessment, https://leg.wa.gov/JTC/Documents/Studies/Statewide%20Needs%202019/StatewideTransportationNeedsFINALPhase1.pdf
2 The WA JTC Statewide Transportation Needs Assessment, https://leg.wa.gov/JTC/Documents/Studies/Statewide%20Needs%202019/StatewideTransportationNeedsFINALPhase1.pdf
Anna Zivarts, Director of the Disability Mobility Initiative for Disability Rights Washington, said the current system is a “pork model,” where legislators pick projects for their districts rather than investing in projects that make the whole state transportation system function better.
“A transportation system has to work across the state,” she said. “If you have everyone competing, that’s not going to create the best system overall.”
“Advocates say lawmakers have too much power over which projects get funded and have political incentives to fund major highway expansion projects rather than expand transit services or improve pedestrian infrastructure. Featuring friction over projects, funding, regionalism, mode split, and maintenance versus new construction, the legislative ritual, akin to passing a kidney stone, played out in 2003, 2005, and 2015.”
Lawmakers in Washington State are gearing up for the 2022 session and are working towards a multi-billion dollar transportation package. The upcoming negotiations are missing something though – our communities and our voices. This training takes us through a quick overview and offers upcoming opportunities to be involved in our advocacy efforts.
Transportation Workshops Hosted by Front and Centered