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The Truth Behind the Boeing Move
Traffic: One of the Reasons Behind Boeings Move
(SEATTLE) (AP) When Boeing Co. announced it was moving its corporate headquarters from Seattle to Chicago, the company said it was a business decision. Nothing personal.
But later, Boeing Chairman Phil Condit conceded he did have a few beefs with Washington state -- most notably, its bottlenecked roads.
While Condit is one of the few employers to leave the state over gridlock, he's certainly not the only one fuming about hours spent stuck in one of the worst traffic snarls in the country.
And as the Legislature prepares to tackle the problem in a third special session next week, the balance of business concerns and taxpayer concerns will be foremost on lawmakers' minds.
Shane Barnes, owner of the Woodinville surveying firm Mead Gilman and Associates, remembers when his crews were able to escape traffic by going out early in the morning, and coming back late at night. Now, they routinely sit in traffic for hours.
"I have had guys say, 'I'm going to just work somewhere else because I can't make this drive every day,' " Barnes said.
Seattle suffers from some of the worst gridlock in the country, a problem experts say makes employees less healthy, less productive and less willing to come to work.
"One of the things that we are finding more and more is that an employee who gets to work after a one- to two-hour commute is not a happy employee," said James Corless, California director of The Surface Transportation Project.
Among the worst snags in Washington's traffic-plagues roads are in the eastern suburbs of Seattle, a once-rural area now peppered with office complexes.
The landscape is dominated by the sprawling campus of Microsoft Corp., one of the region's most high-profile employers. In a recent letter to Gov. Gary Locke, company chairman Bill Gates called on the Legislature to take immediate action, warning that the ongoing problem may affect the company's ability to recruit.
"A significant attraction for these skilled employees is the quality of life they experience here. Extreme traffic congestion lessens the appeal of this area and impairs the company's ability to hire and retain the people necessary to grow in this state," he wrote.
Gates' sentiments were echoed by Alan Mulally, president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Group. The commercial airplanes group, which will stay in Seattle following the corporate move, is the state's largest employer.
The problem, regional economists say, is that the Seattle area is a victim of its own success.
"When you have a growing economy you're going to have congestion," said economist Dick Conway.
After more than a decade of explosive growth in the region, many transportation experts now believe that building more roads will not help.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again when it hasn't worked, and there's copious evidence that building highways leads to more traffic," said Peter Hurley, executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition in Seattle. "It's kind of the worst of both worlds -- you get more traffic and you get taxes."
Hurley is among a growing number of experts who are pushing businesses and government agencies to make other changes, such as locating near public transportation, in high density areas where commuters can easily get to and from work.
One of the biggest problems, in Hurley's view, is the sprawling campuses such as Microsoft, located in rural areas where it is difficult and time-consuming to take public transportation.
"They're essentially traffic black holes, or maybe more accurate traffic generators," he said.
Office parks have, in turn, spawned suburbs that now stretch miles beyond Seattle, populated by commuters that trade an hourlong commute for affordable housing.
Microsoft has implemented extensive commuter programs, ranging from ride shares to internal buses that travel from building to building.
Other businesses are turning to condensed work weeks, telecommuting options and public transportation subsidies in an effort to keep employers off overstuffed highways, said T.J. Johnson, trip reduction administrator for the department of transportation.
Such programs do have an effect, Johnson said. A recent department of transportation study showed that incentive programs currently keep 12,500 vehicles off the road in the central Puget Sound area. If those cars were back on the road, Johnson's office estimates that it would cost $40 million, and 22.5 miles of new road, to accommodate them.
As legislators and businesses grapple to find a solution, some drivers seem to almost have accepted traffic as almost an inevitability of the working day.
"You expect to be mired in traffic more than you expect to be free-flowing," Barnes said.
-- K (email@example.com), July 17, 2001