Economic Vitality

Promote and develop transportation systems that stimulate, support, and enhance the movement of people and goods to ensure a prosperous economy.

Why is Economic Vitality Important?

Economic vitality underpins our ability to accomplish other statewide goals. A robust economy requires efficient, reliable travel options and compatible land use patterns. This is as true in highly rural Washington as it is in our major metropolitan areas, and everywhere in between. Congestion in the Puget Sound region has a ripple effect on the rest of the state, affecting the well-being of farm families in Yakima and millwrights in Port Angeles.

Four Policies that Support the Statewide Economic Vitality Goal:


Support economic competitiveness across the state with strategic multimodal transportation investments coordinated with corresponding land use and other infrastructure policies to improve efficient and reliable movement of goods and services, and workforce access.


Recognize the full range of multimodal and intermodal mobility needs that support the state’s economy, including but not limited to first-mile/last-mile freight access and delivery, intermodal connectors, intermodal drayage20, industrial access to interstate and international travel, international border crossings, and workforce commuter travel as well as an array of multimodal systems that support travel-dependent tourism.


Promote innovative public-private partnerships that advance economic objectives and redefine ways of collaborating across sectors to provide infrastructure and services that meet mobility needs and align with public values about equity and access.


Support efforts to site or expand, as appropriate, regionally significant or statewide significant transportation facilities such as airports, intermodal transfer facilities, and other essential public facilities that support economic vitality, and minimize encroachment of incompatible land uses.

Recommendations to Advance Economic Vitality Statewide:


Ensure local land use policies prevent encroachment on Essential Public Facilities that support freight mobility.

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RCW 47.06.140 defines transportation facilities of statewide significance and states that these also are Essential Public Facilities subject to the requirements of RCW 36.70A.200. Freight corridors that serve marine terminals engaged in interstate and international trade are specifically identified as transportation facilities of statewide significance and as such, are Essential Public Facilities. RCW 36.70A.200 requires local jurisdictions planning under the GMA to specify the process for identifying and siting Essential Public Facilities, but it is silent on the need to protect those facilities from encroachment by incompatible land uses. A quarter of Washington state’s GDP is dependent on international trade. Incompatible development has the potential to threaten the viability of Washington’s ports and the critical freight infrastructure on which they depend.


Ensure Washington’s freight transportation system is responsive to the technologies and market forces that are reshaping freight mobility, supply chain logistics, and commercial vehicle operations, and can support the state’s economic vitality and public interests under a range of plausible future conditions.

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Private-sector freight transport is highly responsive to technology advancements that improve sustainable bottom-line performance. The importance of trade in the state’s economy compels us to anticipate and prepare as best as possible for the likely implications these changes will mean for freight mobility and the transportation system on which it relies, including Washington’s marine ports, intermodal freight facilities, strategic waterways, international border crossings, air cargo facilities, highways, streets, and roads, as well as its trade-based economic sectors. It’s important that the public sector is prepared for those new technologies so that public and private interests are served. This is made more challenging by the range and magnitude of external disrupting forces that are shaping the global trade that drive our economy. It is critical that decisions and investments made today avoid as many blind spots as possible to meet the state’s future freight mobility needs and support a strong economy.


Increase the economic resilience of border-to-border freight corridors and the capacity of this freight network to recover rapidly after major system disruptions.

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A handful of major corridors support most of the intermodal freight transportation for Washington’s trade dependent economy, including I-5, I-90, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, and the Columbia-Snake River strategic waterway. These corridors not only move the most freight but also provide essential connections between the marine highway system and major ports, industrial and distribution centers, and the rest of the state’s freight system. If mobility on any of these mission-critical corridors is disrupted it is felt throughout the state, as when I-5 was closed in Centralia for three full days in 2007 due to flooding.


Pursue innovative strategies to maintain the economic viability of rural regional, community, local, and general use airports.

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Many of our smaller rural airports face challenges in raising revenue and financial support to maintain their facilities and operations. Rural airports make it possible for knowledge workers and small manufactures to locate in rural Washington but meet clients or ship products anywhere on the west coast in one day. Additionally, the airports are critical for emergency response, for instance deploying wildland fire fighting crews or providing medical air-lift transportation. Rural airports also provide important air cargo service for local agriculture and support aerospace manufacturing. New approaches are needed to ensure these vital facilities are available and in useful condition to support firefighting, emergency response, and emergency relief efforts in the event of major disruptions and support rural economic competitiveness.


Support the state’s economic competitiveness in international trade by helping to ensure Washington’s ports are “big ship ready”—in the water and on land.

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With completion of the Panama Canal expansion in 2016, global maritime trade entered a new era of mega-ships. To stay competitive in international shipping, Washington’s ports need to accommodate these larger ships, which are wider and have a deeper draft than the last generation of ocean-going vessels. In addition to waterway infrastructure— longer berths, deeper waterways, and larger cranes—larger ships require improved landside road, rail, and highway infrastructure that can move more goods faster with seamless intermodal transfers. Land constraints at Puget Sound ports may necessitate designation of an inland port to augment landside capacity.

Cross-Cutting Ideas

Cross-cutting topics can advance our understanding, preparedness, and ownership over new horizons. Here we present potential next steps and some options available to deepen understanding.

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Technology & Innovation

Technology and innovation create new opportunities for managing system capacity and increasing efficient throughput. We need to be resolute in our efforts to ensure transportation supports economic opportunity across the state by considering not just urban applications for technology and innovation but rural and suburban applications as well.

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System Resilience

During extreme weather events, which we expect to increase in frequency and severity, some parts of the transportation system must be closed including highways, streets and roads, airports, rail, and river transport. These closures have big impacts on freight mobility and workforce communities and in turn, on the state’s economy and jobs. Improving the all-weather capability of our transportation system is vital to ensuring all-season access for our freight and goods system. An inventory and assessment of all-season capabilities can help us to reduce deficiencies with the greatest impact on commerce and economic vitality across the state.

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Paying for Transportation

The dynamic knowledge-based economies of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia are giving rise to a strong, mega-regional northwest technology corridor. The potential of this economic collaborative is challenged by mobility issues. Not only must these businesses overcome geographical differences and international border crossings, but they are also challenged by unreliable and inefficient travel on the existing system. To better support economic growth in this sector, the two states and the Canadian province have joined with private sector businesses to explore possible public-private investments that will improve reliable mobility, potentially including a high-speed rail corridor or an autonomous vehicle corridor connecting Seattle to Vancouver, B.C.

Further Questions

Can transportation investments help rebalance the excess demand for housing and jobs in the central Puget Sound region into less congested urban areas elsewhere by increasing system connectivity and freight access to those areas?

That question surfaced during 2040 and Beyond background discussions. It reflects the fact that there are urban centers on the I-5 corridor and elsewhere with additional capacity for growth, consistent with adopted plans. They may lack a connection or intermodal facility needed to attract growth and grow local jobs in close proximity to existing, affordable housing. Dispersing somewhat the concentration of activity to make more effective use of infrastructure along the I-5 corridor can relieve pressure on over-burdened facilities and stimulate economic opportunity in new markets. This isn’t about creating new urban areas but making better use of the ones that exist. Transportation investments can not only help improve mobility but they can also help stimulate desired economic effects.

Six Statewide Transportation Goals