’Tis the season for dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh. Or at least it would be if this were 1857.

Instead, modern holiday travel involves crowded highways and long waits at airport terminals to visit far-flung family. AAA predicts that 115 million Americans will make trips of at least 50 miles during the 10-day year-end travel period.

That would be 2.5 million more travelers than last year, according to the organization, and Senior Vice President Paula Twidale said, “More Americans are investing in travel, despite the cost, to make memories with loved ones and experience new places.”

Gas prices throughout the nation have declined about 25 cents per gallon from a year ago; airfare, on average, is about 10 percent less than in 2022. But there is little doubt that holiday travel can be a financial and emotional burden.

Life, after all, is not a Hallmark movie. And the prospect of holiday travel has us pondering the future of transportation in the Northwest and the struggle to get from one place to another.

Locally, that struggle is represented by the Interstate 5 Bridge. Progress continues toward plans for a replacement bridge, yet questions remain about the design and about hopes for federal grants to move the project forward. “You can be guaranteed that the state of Washington is making this a highest priority to get this done for the people of this community and the whole state. I can guarantee you that,” Gov. Jay Inslee said during a recent visit to Clark County.

But two other proposals also could have long-range impacts on travel to, from and within our state.

One involves construction of a new major airport in the Puget Sound area. The needs of the region are outgrowing the capacity of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and the Legislature appointed a commission to study options. That commission disbanded this year without recommending a preferred location.

“Washington will only be able to meet future commercial aviation needs (passenger and cargo aviation) by developing a greenfield site,” the group’s final report states, referring to a location on undeveloped land. “This has yet to be found.”

Suggestions for possible sites near Tacoma or Olympia have been met with strong pushback from area residents. Experts say Sea-Tac will reach capacity by 2050, but it appears unlikely that a new airport can be constructed before then. Studies have estimated that a shortfall in service could reduce the regional economy by $31 billion a year.

Meanwhile, the Federal Railroad Administration decided this month to sidetrack a funding request for study of an “ultra-high speed” rail line between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia. The agency handed out $8 billion for various projects nationwide but rejected a $200 million request to study the issue for the I-5 corridor.

It is not clear that high-speed rail in the Northwest would be sensible; a 500-mile line under construction between Los Angeles and San Francisco is behind schedule and grossly over budget. But long-term solutions for road, air and rail are necessary to meet the transportation needs of the future, and Americans have spent decades ignoring forward-looking infrastructure projects.

Such projects should come to mind as we undertake holiday travel this year. Thankfully, we no longer rely on open sleighs for transportation, but attention to infrastructure can help make spirits bright for decades to come.





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