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Letter | Sodo arena must not hurt Port of Seattle operations
As the bipartisan leadership in the Washington State Legislature on transportation, we have been approached by both proponents and opponents of the proposed new arena in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood.
Some of us are avid basketball fans anxious to once again root for the home NBA team. But before we can support building an arena in Sodo, we need to be absolutely convinced that it will have no impact on the long-term health of the Port of Seattle.
It is the job of Seattle and King County to pass judgment on the financing plan and ensure it is in the best interest of citizens and is within the law. We have no comment on that part of the debate.
As legislators and transportation leaders, our focus is much broader and must center on transportation and the impact on the state’s economic infrastructure. In that regard, a healthy and functioning Port of Seattle is absolutely crucial to the state’s economic well-being, and we can support nothing that in any way further impedes operations at the Port of Seattle.
We are less concerned with general traffic congestion than we are with slowing the movement of freight in and out of the Port of Seattle and within the Sodo industrial area. Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the nation. A healthy port means jobs throughout the region and is particularly important to both agriculture and manufacturing.
Some have suggested it is time for the Sodo area to change its focus. They call it gentrification, which means shedding its blue-collar jobs in favor of city-style development of condos, hotels and restaurants and the jobs that go with those businesses. Proponents of this thinking contend that the Port of Tacoma can handle our trade activities.
We need both the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle to be functioning at a high level to compete with other regions for business. In addition, major investments, both public and private, have been made in the infrastructure in Sodo that would be wasted if it became an entertainment district rather than an industrial area.
The BNSF rail yard that bisects the Sodo neighborhood has hundreds of millions of dollars invested, much of it focused on serving the Port of Seattle. As a state, we have invested $800 million in rail to bring four more Amtrak trains and additional Sounder trains through Sodo in the near term. We have made major public investments in maintenance yards very near the arena site that would be prohibitively expensive to relocate if Sodo became an entertainment district.
Most of the traffic improvements that have been discussed, including the Lander Street overpass, had previously been proposed before the additional congestion of an arena became a consideration. Even if every one of those transportation projects were done, transportation experts tell us it still would not ensure that the Port of Seattle would not be adversely impacted by the added congestion of an arena.
We hope the effort to return the NBA to Seattle is ultimately successful, but we can’t support an arena in Sodo if there is even the slightest risk to our trade-based economy. Without an absolute guarantee there will be no interruption in the operation of our ports, we have no choice but to oppose Sodo and urge consideration of some other location that will not hamper waterfront cargo operations.
Rep. Judy Clibborn, Rep. Mike Armstrong, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, Sen. Curtis King
Rep. Judy Clibborn chairs the House Transportation Committee, and Rep. Mike Armstrong is the Ranking Minority Member of the Committee. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. Sen. Curtis King is the Ranking Minority Member of the Committee, all in the Washington State Legislature.