Opinion

Problems cannot be ignored | Rich Elfers

Another bridge collapsed recently. This time it was on Interstate 5 just north of Mount Vernon. Fortunately, no one was killed, as occurred when the interstate overpass collapsed in Minneapolis a few years ago.

On a related note, a few days ago I read that Mayor David Enslow of Sumner had been working to replace two old bridges over the White River long before the Mount Vernon bridge collapsed. When I read that, I was very pleased to see that Enslow had shown proactive leadership in fixing those bridges before they hurt or killed someone. His  administration obtained a $9.6 million grant that will cover most of the $12 million replacement cost. That’s the kind of government leadership we need to see more often.

I had heard that the loss of the Mount Vernon bridge is costing Costco (in nearby Burlington) $600,000 per day alone because of traffic issues.  It’s costly to avoid problems until they get worse. Lack of planning and of foresight hurt both taxpayers and businesses.

That reminds me of the four years I served on the Enumclaw City Council. On several occasions I unsuccessfully pushed to get our streets repaired. Six years ago, before I got on the council, I heard a paid consultant for the city warn city government that the longer the streets are not maintained, the more it will cost taxpayers to fix them. The streets have been degrading since then.

I am, therefore, pleased to see Enumclaw Mayor Liz Reynolds find $250,000 from cost savings to fix Enumclaw’s streets and then have her staff write a grant that added $500,000 more into the 2013 budget. That is the kind of leadership our city, county, state, and national governments desperately need. Fix the problem before it collapses beneath our citizens.

It seems on the state and national level the attitude of the Legislature and Congress is to delay tough decisions into the future. Unfortunately, the future eventually becomes the present. That’s the problem we are facing with our roads and highways. The state has not fixed SR 164 (Auburn-Enumclaw Highway) for that reason. There are lots of demands and the groups who can lobby the most effectively are the ones whose projects get funded.

Government officials need to be looking into the future, finding ways to avoid problems that will eventually arise, rather than waiting until there is a major crisis to act. Elected officials need to clearly define what the core services are and then fund them without bowing to lobbying pressure.

Funding maintenance for street and highway repair should be moved out of the political sphere. Improved infrastructure must be a nonpartisan issue. In the long run, building and fixing our roads both helps create jobs and at the same time improves the flow of commerce, further growing the economy and increasing the well-being of all our citizens.

I admire greatness in our leaders and I’m pleased to see that locally we have both Sumner’s Mayor Enslow and Enumclaw’s Mayor Reynolds who set an example of foresight for the state and the nation.

Public disclosure: My son is married to David Enslow’s daughter.

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