Our rural transportation system is in need of repairs and modernization to support economic growth throughout the Lower Yakima Valley, which is a critical source of agriculture for national and global markets.

With increases in population and employment relocating east of the Cascades, Central Washington is heavily reliant on the quality of its transportation system to sustain further growth.

In Sunnyside, Stackhouse Bridge, which was built almost 100 years ago, provided a vital link to the Harrison Hill neighborhood and downtown until 2016.

At that time, Yakima County inspections of the bridge identified structural concerns that forced the City to impose weight restrictions until the bridge could be replaced.

The Fire Department’s ladder truck could not travel across the landmark because it was unable to bear the weight.

According to a new report released by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit. The report, Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland, evaluates the safety and condition of the nation’s rural roads and bridges and finds that the nation’s rural transportation system is in need of immediate improvements to address deficient roads and bridges, high crash rates, and inadequate connectivity and capacity.

The study found that 21 percent of Washington’s rural roads are rated in poor condition, the eleventh highest share in the U.S. Thirty percent of the state’s rural roads are in mediocre condition. Five percent of Washington’s rural bridges are rated as poor or structurally deficient.

Bridges that are listed as poor or structurally deficient have significant deterioration to the major components of the bridge and are often posted for lower weight or closed to traffic, restricting or redirecting large vehicles, including agricultural equipment, commercial trucks, school buses and emergency service vehicles.

The rate of traffic fatalities on Washington’s non-Interstate, rural roads was nearly two-and-a-half times higher than that on all other roads in the state — 1.67 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel versus 0.73.

The Spokane County Board of Commissioners issued the following statement: “This report demonstrates that there is a severe lack of funding at the federal, state and local levels of government to maintain our transportation system. The failure to sufficiently fund our infrastructure needs yields roadways inadequate to handle local access needs as well as freight mobility. Bridges are deteriorating at an alarming rate, resulting in the imposition of weight limits or complete closure. Maintaining our rural road system enables food to move from farm to table. Our competitiveness is compromised by a failed infrastructure system.”

The health of our economy, and the safety and quality of life in the lower valley communities and rural areas, rides on our rural transportation system. Our rural roads and bridges provide crucial links from farm to market, move manufactured and energy products, and provide access to countless tourism, social and recreational destinations — we must be vocal and diligent with elected officials on the local, state and federal level to ensure that they act to address these critical infrastructure issues in keeping Washington State moving forward.

And, thankfully we have local state legislators like Sen. Jim Honeyford in Olympia fighting for repairs like those planned for the Mabton Bridge Retrofit project to take place two years from now. That project, once completed, will allow ag commerce to move more steadily from one side of the Yakima River to the other.

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