MOSES LAKE - The Association of Washington Business met with Grant County business leaders to discuss area transportation needs on Friday at the Moses Lake Chamber of Commerce.
AWB is holding forums around the state in order to put together information on businesses' transportation concerns.
Once compiled, the information is brought to legislators when a transportation package is decided on in Olympia next year.
AWB Vice President for Government Affairs Gary Chandler said the association is working with the Seattle Chamber of Commerce to identify transportation projects and needs that should be prioritized.
"Right now about 10 to 12 percent of our highway system is in poor shape, and deteriorating every year," he said.
Chandler said the study of transportation needs originally did not include the eastern side of the state, but AWB pushed for getting input from rural Washington.
"We can't go forward with this without including projects on the east side," he said.
The study now includes projects for the north and south freeway in Spokane, state Route 12 near Walla Walla and I-90 past Snoqualmie Pass, Chandler said.
An $8 billion to $10 billion transportation package will be needed in order to fund all the projects that come out of the transportation study.
Chandler said regardless of which gubernatorial candidate takes office in January, there will likely be a transportation package on the table.
"Both candidates have mentioned a package, and what we need to know is the needs for Moses Lake and rural Washington in order to get their products in and out," said Chandler.
He said that a solid report on needs from around the state would hopefully influence legislators to adopt an ideal transportation package.
Several business representatives said road transportation to the west side of the state needed to be improved, specifically Snoqualmie Pass.
John Wright, of Zip Truck Lines in Moses Lake, said for many companies exporting product from Eastern Washington, winter is their busiest shipping season. Consequently, winter is the worst time to be on the road.
"Our biggest concern going over Snoqualmie in the winter is safety," he said.
Trucks often have no room to put chains on their tires, and accidents have been caused because drivers are trying to find a spot to put their chains on.
Improving the pass would be beneficial to the some 55 to 60 trucks from Zip Truck Lines that travel to the west side each day during the winter.
John also said that improvements should be made in order to prevent road closures over the pass. One winter, the pass was closed for almost a week, he said.
"There's about 150 to 200 loads a week from Eastern Washington from October to March, and if that pass is closed, we're in trouble," he said.
"It's time sensitive deliveries, and it's an economic disaster if the roads are closed."
The need for a rail system in Grant County also came up during the meeting.
Port of Moses Lake Executive Director Pat Jones said the port has been trying for many years to establish a rail system in Moses Lake.
Jones said current port tenants are asking for a rail system in order to be able to compete with other companies within the state as well as around the world.
Without rail, he said companies in Moses Lake are at a disadvantage.
"For long-term economic development, it's our number one issue," said Jones.
"If the community wants to continue to grow, and diversify and stabilize the economy, we need rail."
Jones said funding from the state for engineering studies would help the port make that first step toward rail, and that he was confident federal dollars would take care of the rest.
Port Commissioner Kent Jones said companies inquiring about moving to Moses Lake sometimes change their mind when they are told that there is no local rail system.
"We're missing out on opportunities," he said.