FROM OLYMPIA: Agency ruling kills jobs, wastes money

There’s no reason taxpayers should pay more for steel guardrails made in Texas – not when workers in Sumner already build a cheaper, safer wooden guardrail. Yet that’s what the state Department of Transportation is planning to do.

  • Monday, November 14, 2011 6:55pm
  • Opinion


By Rep. Cathy Dahlquist,

Rep. Christopher Hurst

and Sen. Pam Roach

There’s no reason taxpayers should pay more for steel guardrails made in Texas – not when workers in Sumner already build a cheaper, safer wooden guardrail.

Yet that’s what the state Department of Transportation is planning to do.

Wooden guardrails manufactured by a local company in Sumner cost the state $20 to $22 per post. The steel guardrails cost the state $40 to $42 each and are mostly manufactured in Texas, Utah and Ohio.

So, not only are we paying twice as much for the posts, we’re creating and sustaining other state’s jobs with Washington taxpayers’ money while our state’s unemployment is stuck at 9.3 percent. We saw the issue of purchasing out-of-state bubble up again when the city of Tacoma hired a Canadian firm to rebuild its Web site when local companies could have done the work.

When we buy from a local business, we get a quality product and hands-on service at a good price. We also get good jobs and stronger communities while generating local and state tax dollars.

Our local businesses work hard to meet the needs of state agencies and take safety and quality to new levels to ensure Washington products are used on Washington projects. It’s good for everyone, however when we learned the transportation bureaucrats changed a policy that not only impacts road safety, but also a local small business and taxpayers, we did a little more digging.

In an e-mail on July 29, 2011, we asked WSDOT if there had been any recent changes in policy on materials used to construct guardrails. If so, what was the justification for the change?

The Department told us it made policy modifications for guardrail post material in December of 2009. While the agency found the majority of wood posts were sound, there were some that had decayed. The agency’s life cycle analysis compared wooden and steel guardrail systems and, in the end, DOT decided steel was a better investment due to longevity. However, wooden guardrails still in good condition will remain in place, but once scheduled for replacement, they will be substituted for steel posts.

Beyond cost, there’s the issue of safety. One of the benefits of using wood guardrails is that the material has some give. If a car hits it, the wooden posts buffer some of the force. That saves lives.

Steel, on the other hand, is unyielding, and can turn what would have been serious accident with wooden posts, into a fatal wreck.

Our local, independently-operated businesses are being hurt by this policy. When discussions surrounding purchasing new ferries for our state’s marine highways, the Legislature stood by the mandate that all new ferries be built in Washington state.

The argument Wash-ington State Ferries used was the policy was in place to save local jobs, take care of local employers and that products manufactured in Washington are second to none.

We believe this same policy should be used as it relates to state purchasing. We must first look at home and take care of our own.

When state agencies buy locally, it keeps people employed, generates tax revenue for state and local government and gives us the assurance that the company stands behind their product.

Our road products are that company’s business card, so to speak.

This new steel guardrail policy may be in place now, but you can bet the debate is far from over. We’ll bring this issue up in the House and Senate to try to save those jobs in Sumner.

If taxpayers get safer roads, better value and people keep their jobs, it’s a win for all of us.

Rep. Dahlquist, Rep. Hurst and Sen. Roach represent the 31st Legislative District.


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