Alliance: Invest now to improve jobs, environment

SEATTLE — Washington state could put nearly 78,000 people to work while also making strides to slow global warming and make local communities and companies more productive – if it could just get serious about repairing its aging roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

BlueGreenThat was the message labor and environmental leaders gave to elected officials during a round-table discussion April 23 at Machinists Union District Lodge 751’s Seattle Union Hall.

“There’s a huge, huge jobs potential, while cleaning up the environment and growing our tax base,” said Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson. “We can create tens of thousands of great, family-wage union jobs.”

The BlueGreen Alliance – a coalition of labor and environmental groups – released its “Repair Washington” report at the April 23 meeting.

The report looked at data compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which regularly reviews the state of the nation’s roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, transit systems, power grids and natural gas pipelines.

The society gave Washington a “C” grade for the quality of its infrastructure, said Laura Rupper, who is director of the society’s Seattle section.

We’re at a critical point, she said. The state’s infrastructure is in reasonably good shape today, and could be improved at a reasonable price. However, if state and local governments fail to take care of our roads, bridges and pipelines, things could deteriorate quickly, making the repair bill much greater.

“We can’t just built it and forget about it,” Rupper said. “We have to build it and maintain it.”

In Washington, the BlueGreen Alliance found that:

  • There’s a need to invest $1.76 billion a year for 20 years on bridges and roads, which would mean 48,790 new or existing jobs;
  • There’s a need to invest $476 million a year for 20 years to improve drinking water systems, which would mean 9,500 jobs;
  • There’s a need to invest $263 million a year for 20 years on sewer systems, which would mean 5,260 jobs;
  • There’s a need to invest $254 million a year for 20 years on transit projects, which would mean 9,180 jobs.

In all, the report identified ways to keep an estimated 77,900 people employed for five to 20 years, while also improving highways, safeguarding electrical systems and ensuring clean water.

The jobs totals include the number of people who would be directly employed to do the work, the number of people who would be put to work supplying materials and building equipment for the projects, and an estimate on the number of jobs that would be created indirectly, when those workers would spend their paychecks in local communities.

The nation as a whole also needs to prepare for more-extreme weather that’s coming as a result of global warming, said David Foster, the national executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, for example, it knocked out key sections of the city’s subways, tunnels, ferries and bridges. That affected commuters for weeks.

In the process, infrastructure improvement projects could help reduce global warming, Foster said.

Some of the oldest natural gas pipelines in America were buried during the Civil War. They leak, which puts methane gas into the atmosphere – and methane is one of the major greenhouse gases contributing to climate change, Foster said.

Even newer gas pipelines could cause problems, he continued. The study found 522 miles of natural gas pipeline in Washington state alone that were made from untreated steel subject to rust and early plastics subject to corrosion.

Replacing them with newer corrosion-resistant pipeline would create nearly 900 jobs, while also improving the environment, the report said.

Income inequality and global climate change are two of the biggest issues facing our state and nation right now, Johnson said. Taking on the infrastructure projects outlined in the Repair Washington report can help solve both.

“Solutions like this will protect our environment and communities,” he said. “And if we do it right, we’ll create good jobs and economic growth in manufacturing and across all sectors of the country.”

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