Friday, December 29, 2006

Access or Mobility?

Submitted by Paul Ellis

As the name "Regional Access Mobility Partnership" (emphasis added) implies, RAMP has considered "access" and "mobility" to be largely interchangeable terms. A recent discussion kicked off by the new Gulf Coast Institute blog (supporting transportation planning in the Houston region) highlights that transportation researchers are supporting much more attention to “access,” or the ability to interact, as a different goal from “mobility,” or the ability to travel.

Christof Spieler augments this distinction in a responsive post on his blog, Intermodality, citing examples not just from Houston but from London, as well. "If we think about transportation in terms of connecting people to where they want to go--not just in terms of moving cars or buses," Spieler concludes, "we get better results."

Speiler argues that ideal for transportation isn’t how fast one can travel but how many places one can get to in a given period of time. "Access is opportunity and quality of life," he observes. "Mobility is just speed." It's a distinction worth noting...

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Counting the Cost for Regional Projects

Submitted by Paul Ellis

In September, WSDOT issued revised cost estimates for the SR-520 and Alaskan Way Viaduct projects using a methodology called Cost Estimate Validation Process; since then, the agency has been working to bring the cost estimates for other regional projects up to date. WSDOT just released the updated cost estimates for state highway projects included within the RTID Blueprint for Progress developed last January.

Cost Estimate Validation Process (CEVP) is an intense workshop in which a team of top engineers and risk managers from local and national private firms and public agencies examine a transportation project and review project details with WSDOT engineers. CEVP evaluation of regional projects reflects the increases that have occurred with respect to commodity prices and/or impacts from revisions or refinements to project scopes, risk factors like potential for increased environmental mitigation cost or unforeseen changes in design standards for seismic safety, and roughly a 3.5% rate of inflation per year.

WSDOT's updated estimates put the following price tags on key projects promoted by RAMP:
  • SR-167 extension - $1.468 billion
  • SR-704 construction - $453 million
  • SR-162 improvements - $286 million
One conclusion of the CEVP evaluation of regional projects is hardly a surprise to followers of this blog: the cost of delay is huge.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Friday, December 15, 2006

ST2 Plan Prepared to Leave the Station

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Yesterday Sound Transit board members considered a preliminary second-phase draft package, instructing staff to return a slightly revised package to them for adoption in January.

The draft package identifies an extensive array of regional transit system expansions forming the transit element of the Roads & Transit measure that will go to voters next November.
The option endorsed by the board is the most expensive but also provides the greatest amount of funding for extension of the agency's light rail system. Under this proposal, light rail would be extended from Sea-Tac Airport to the Port of Tacoma. The package would fund preliminary engineering, permitting and some real estate acquisition for further extension to the Tacoma downtown area, which would be completed subject to available funding; board members are hoping funding will be able to accommodate a light rail extension to the Tacoma Dome. Other projects identified in Pierce County include additional parking at the commuter rail stations in Puyallup and Sumner. The light rail extension and commuter rail parking were identified last year by RAMP as priority projects for Pierce County.

After the official board vote in January, another round of public meetings will take place, which means proposals could be revised prior to the November election.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Governor Gregoire Postpones Decision on Seattle Viaduct

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Governor Christine Gregoire said today that the residents of Seattle should decide how to replace the aging and earthquake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Gregoire had been expected to announce her decision about what should be done on the state's largest mega-project--whether to replace it with a tunnel or rebuild an elevated structure.

Instead, she called for a referendum in which Seattle voters will decide between rebuilding the structure or replacing it with a tunnel. All other options--including tearing the viaduct down and having surface streets take the traffic--are now off the table.

The price difference between the two options is $1.8 billion. The state has already dedicated $2.2 billion to the Viaduct, almost enough to cover the $2.8 billion rebuild. Gregoire seems set on asking the City of Seattle to raise local revenues enough to cover the remainder of the $4.6 billion price tag if voters decide they want a tunnel.

Governor Gregoire did announce one firm decision today--that the state should build a new six-lane span to replace the floating bridge that carries SR-520 across Lake Washington.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

RAMP Responds to the Regional Transportation Commission

Submitted by Paul Ellis

RAMP Co-Chair David Graybill has responded on behalf of the coalition to the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) draft recommendations released last month. In a letter to RTC Co-Chairs John Stanton & Norm Rice, Graybill stated that:
  • "We agree with RTC that regional transportation is in crisis and that this crisis has resulted from chronic underfunding--delayed investments that mean, as construction costs continue to rise, ever higher prices for needed projects. We further agree that the public has often shown its support for wise expenditures and accountability.

  • "We cannot agree, however, with your conclusion that the absence of unified regional governance is the major impediment to our collective success in easing gridlock and building a better transportation system; in fact, we are concerned that the RTC’s recommendations as currently expressed seem to ignore and overreach progress now taking place in several agencies such as RTID and WSDOT.

  • "The role of RAMP and similar alliances in other counties was not addressed in your report. Although participation is voluntary, RAMP serves as an effective vehicle for coordination between agencies and jurisdictions, and provides a forum for unified discussion on road and transit improvements. We also provide benchmarking for successes in prioritization, accountability and funding. While your draft report is critical of existing organizational structures, it does not present corresponding models that work. We believe RAMP is a good model and should be considered in your final recommendations.

  • "We also take issue with the RTC’s finding on sub-area equity—not only does it introduce a “sense of fairness,” it provides a safeguard for accountability. As some have said: “All politics is local politics,” and we’ve seen in regional road and transit votes in other parts of the country that the system which best improves everyone’s transportation network is the one that passes muster with voters."

The RTC is scheduled to meet again tomorrow at the University of Washington Seattle.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Invitation to RAMP Participants

The Puget Sound Regional Council would like to hear from RAMP participants regarding the agency's update to Destination 2030, the region's 30-year comprehensive transportation plan.

Interested participants are invited to take part in an online survey that will only take a few minutes and will provide valuable information to the Council as they proceed with the update.

Introducing the Plateau Transportation Partnership

Submitted by Paul Ellis

At their December 6 meeting, RAMP participants heard about a new transportation coalition: the Plateau Transportation Partnership.

This new group brings together Plateau 465, Cascadia, Falling Water, the Weyerhaeuser Co., Miles Sand & Gravel and Woodworth & Co. as well as Troutlodge, Inc., Tacoma Water and Puget Sound Energy to allow these parties to share information and perspectives regarding the need for a comprehensive transportation plan for the Bonney Lake plateau area, which includes the Alderton-McMillin planning area and the cities of Orting, Sumner and Bonney Lake. This group will also leverage potential economic efficiencies relative to “pooling” private and public resources for the joint development of much needed transportation infrastructure in that east county area.

To further these goals, the Plateau Transportation Partnership has been formed in order to:
  • Create, with Pierce County, a public-private partnership to fund and construct Rhodes Lake Road E., upon route establishment by Pierce County, from SR-162 to 198th Ave. E.;
  • Create, with the State Department of Transportation, a public-private partnership to fund and construct SR-162 from 128th St. E. to Pioneer Way E.;
  • Work with RAMP and WSDOT to leverage these partnerships to gain support for the RTID funding initiative;
  • Work with RAMP, Pierce County, the cities and others to increase the priority of funding transportation improvements in the SR-167, SR-410, and SR-162 corridors.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Pierce County's First HOV Lane Opening

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Tri-State Construction and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) crews are close to opening Pierce County's first mainline high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane--eastbound SR-16 from Jackson Ave. to Union Ave. An anticipated stretch of dry weather will allow crews to apply the final striping before opening the lane as early as next week.

This initial HOV lane serves about three miles of freeway, part of a 22-project program that will build 79 miles of carpool lanes in Pierce County.

In addition to building an HOV lane, WSDOT is improving safety between Jackson and Union by widening shoulders, lessening the curve at Center St. and improving the flow of merging traffic. Crews began construction of the lanes between Union and Jackson in 2004 as part of the overall SR-16 corridor project.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

SR-167 Environmental Review Completed

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The Federal Highway Administration and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) recently published the the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the SR-167 Extension Project.

The 878-page document released Friday completes the project's environmental analysis. It outlines the footprint of the proposed highway through the Puyallup and Fife valleys and includes plans to avoid or lessen the highway's potential effects on farmland, wetlands, stormwater management and flood plains. The EIS includes responses to comments and questions heard from community members, organizations and government agencies near the proposed new highway during the seven-year study.

The Federal Highway Administration is expected to approve the project's environmental plan this spring with a Record of Decision, allowing WSDOT to move forward with final design. The Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) has indicated it will place a segment of the new highway on its list of projects for voters to consider next November. In the meantime, the project team continues to design the highway and buy property to secure the corridor.

Copies of the EIS are currently available on CD at no cost by e-mailing Project Manager Steve Fuchs. An electronic copy of the document will be available on the project website soon, as well.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Looking Ahead to 2007

Submitted by Paul Ellis

RAMP began work today on the slate of items for the 2007 Legislative Session. As Tacoma-Pierce County's primary coalition for transportation issues, RAMP will clearly advance the area's consensus regarding transportation projects, policies and priorities.

RAMP will continue to push for full funding for projects, including:
  • Completion of SR-167 from Puyallup to SR-509;
  • Building SR-704 (and changing its name to the "Armed Services Highway");
  • Improving SR-162 between Sumner and Orting;
  • Expansion of Sound Transit services, especially connecting light rail from Tacoma Dome Station to SeaTac Airport;
  • Construction of grade separations for Sounder, Tacoma Rail and Port traffic bottlenecks
RAMP will support policies essential to our region's economic development, which include:
  • Supporting tolling to encourage effective use of the transportation system through congestion management as well as to provide a supplementary source of transportation funding;
  • Indexing the state gas tax to keep pace with inflation;
  • Supporting any technical changes necessary to allow the Roads & Transit ballot issue to move to the electorate next fall;
  • Opposing cargo taxes that would hamper the state's competitiveness, driving economic activity from Washington to neighboring states and countries, and harming Washington ports, manufacturers, growers, and exporters;
  • Keeping the state accountable for efficiencies in the construction of transportation projects by producing verifiable and quantifiable results through cost savings, project prioritization, benchmarks, planning and project streamlining;
  • Maintaining subarea equity while working collaboratively with the rest of the region

RAMP maintains that governance revisions are secondary to the provision of adequate financial resources; to that end, RAMP will support Legislative goals and recommendations that make adequate financing their top priority.

The Legislative package is open for comment from RAMP participants and will be presented for final adoption at the January 3rd meeting.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Update on RTID

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Over the next few months, the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) will need to make tough decisions about which roads and bridges will be included in the regional Roads & Transit ballot measure next November.

Work to date is incorporated in the Blueprint for Progress, a draft proposal created by the RTID Executive Board that proposes regional road and bridge investments in key highway corridors in Snohomish, Pierce and King counties. The RTID Executive Committee will meet January 12th to discuss the Blueprint and possible changes to the plan; RTID hopes to adopt a draft Blueprint at their January 26th Executive Committee meeting.

In February the Executive Committees of RTID and Sound Transit will launch a joint effort to gather input on the integrated Roads & Transit effort.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Where Do We Put the Next Hundred Million?"

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The question is being asked by columnist Neil Peirce and the figure refers to the next wave of population growth virtually certain to occur by 2050. Peirce is foremost among American journalists on metropolitan regions, their political and economic dynamics, and their emerging national and global roles.

In a recent syndicated column, Peirce observes that 70 percent of the coming population and economic growth will take place in American “megaregions” sharing environmental systems and transportation networks that are far beyond the capacity of any individual metro region to manage. Good stewardship would dictate a new commitment to "smart” highways and high speed commuter rail that might speed workers, business travelers and goods between the megaregions’ networked cities, "stimulating idea exchange, expanding labor pools and providing fresh opportunities for workers," Peirce observes.

As the Puget Sound region plays catch-up with its transportation investments, we need to also look forward to the needs that will confront the next generation.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the communityÂ’s largest transportation planning effort.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Gig Harbor Next to Up Traffic Fees

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The Gig Harbor City Council is planning action on a proposal that will increase the city’s traffic impact fee to $3,171 for every vehicle trip a new project creates during the afternoon peak hours.

The proposed increase will generate almost $22 million of the $68.7 million needed for 17 major street projects to be built over the next six years, including widening the roundabout at Borgen Blvd. City Council members could vote on the proposed ordinance December 11th.

The proposal is one of several recently adopted or under consideration by local governments to increase traffic impact fees:
  • Pierce County adopted a plan last month to charge $34 to $3,300 per new building, depending on its location and other factors;
  • Bonney Lake increased its fee to about $4,000 per trip in August;
  • University Place is considering charging as much as $5,000 per trip.
Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the communityÂ’s largest transportation planning effort.

Monday, November 27, 2006

RAMP Co-Chairs Meet US Transportation Leaders

Submitted by Paul Ellis

RAMP co-chairs David Graybill and Tim Farrell were part of a contingent of about forty regional decision-makers who met for lunch today in Everett with U.S. Senator Patty Murray and U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.

Participants talked briefly with the two top national transportation leaders, highlighting regional progress on transportation issues and the importance of transportation improvements for maintaining economic growth, as well as appreciation for federal funding for key projects in the burgeoning Puget Sound region.

Murray is the senior U.S. Senator from Washington State; the Senate Democratic Caucus of the 110th Congress recently elected Murray as Conference Secretary. Widely recognized as a leader on transportation issues in the Senate, Murray is the ranking member of the committee that funds the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Prior to joining President George W. BushÂ’s Cabinet, Peters worked in Phoenix, AZ, as the national director for transportation policy and consulting at HDR, Inc., a major engineering firm. As leader for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) from 2001 to 2005, she placed special emphasis on finding new ways to invest in road and bridge construction, including innovative public-private partnerships that help build roads faster and at less expense. She also was a strong advocate for using new technology to reduce construction time, saving taxpayer money and resulting in safer, longer-lasting roads and highways.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the communityÂ’s largest transportation planning effort.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Despite Levy Loss, Pavement Rolls in Tacoma

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Budgets in recent years have contained only money for pothole patching, but Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson’s proposed 2007-2008 budget sets aside $2.3 million each year for residential road repair and resurfacing. If approved by the Tacoma City Council, this money could put smooth surfaces on up to 143 blocks a year out of the city’s 6,600 blocks in need of significant repair.

Anderson's proposal seems to address the widespread public belief that city government should fix the streets with the money it already has--like the $4 million in gas tax money Tacoma gets each year from Washington State--while allowing needed repairs to move forward, albeit nowhere near as quickly as the levy would have allowed. Tacoma leaders have wisely decided to table another levy vote for the near future so as not to compete with regional transportation measures already headed for the ballot next fall.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pierce County Responds to RTC's Recommendations

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The Regional Transportation Commission held their first public hearing--in Pierce County--tonight, and pitched the benefits of a souped-up Puget Sound transportation mega-agency.

Co-chair John Stanton began the meeting with a brief presentation outlining the Commission's current view on regional transportation issues as reflected in the draft recommendations released last week:
  • Regional transportation is in a state of crisis;
  • Currently identified sources of funding will be inadequate to meet the region's growing needs to the tune of a $62 billion shortfall from $134 billion needed over the next 2.4 decades;
  • Regional transportation governance is "fragmented, uncoordinated and hence unproductive," according to Stanton.
This introduction was followed by almost an hour and a half of testimony from just five entities, most of them from Seattle and most in favor of the recommended changes. The one exception was Pierce Transit CEO Lynn Griffith, who was accompanied by Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma, current chair of the board for the transit agency. Griffith told Commissioners that:
  • Opinions about PT expressed by RTC's focus group were much harsher than those expressed in August in a statistically valid survey performed for WSDOT;
  • There is much greater collaboration between local and regional agencies than was reflected in the RTC report;
  • Recent progress in collaboration and accountability has been and is occurring and should be duly noted.
Mayor Baarsma noted how well the different entities in Pierce County already work together, and he cited RAMP as one group that is effective but was not considered in the RTC's survey of the regional transportation system. He expressed concern that a new mega-agency could be so centralized that it might replace "the organic with the bureaucratic."

Somewhat after 7:00 p.m., members of the public were allowed to testify--with a three-minute limit. Some highlights:
  • Sean Egan spoke on behalf of the Port of Tacoma, asking Commissioners to consider whether their recommendations "might overreach real progress in prioritization, accountability and funding already taking place on the ground" and thus become counterproductive;
  • Randy Lewis, offering comments on behalf of the City of Tacoma, suggested that "Tacoma and Pierce County already utilizes the model that you ought to consider for regional governance";
  • RAMP Co-chair David Graybill told commissioners that the coalition "is a good model and should be considered in your recommendations" and stated that sub-area equity--which the draft report sees only as an impediment to progress--not only introduces a "sense of fairness" but provides a safeguard for accountability.

Public comment will still be accepted (in writing) through November 30th. The final report from the RTC will be submitted to the 2007 Legislature.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Pennsylvania's RTC Recommends Raising Revenues

Submitted by Paul Ellis

On RAMP has written previously about Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell's Transportation Funding and Reform Commission and its work paralleling (in some respects) that of Washington State's Regional Transportation Commission (RTC). Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania group released its final recommendations for how to fill Pennsylvania's $1.7 billion transportation funding gap.

Pennsylvania's commission was given the mandate to identify new revenues to fill the gaps. Highways and bridges require $900 million in additional funding per year, while public transit requires an additional $760 million per year, the commission concluded. The final report recommends revenues from the following sources:
  • Increase the cost of vehicle registration and license fees to raise about $150 million a year for highways and bridges;
  • Increase realty transfer taxes that would add about $5 a month to a homeowner's 30-year, $150,000 mortgage and help out public transportation;
  • Seek public-private partnerships to reduce the need to raise taxes (e.g., leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike and setting tolls for existing roadways);
  • Raising the gas tax by 11.5 cents for projects under state jurisdiction and by one more cent for local highways and bridges.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

It's Official--Regional Congestion is Growing

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The Washington State Department of Transportation's annual congestion report was released on Wednesday, and it shows that traffic congestion in the Puget Sound region is worse today than it was two years ago. On 34 of the 35 commute routes analyzed in the report, travel times have increased at peak periods, speeds have slowed, peak volumes have lengthened, and the reliability of travel times has grown worse--which means the system is less successful in moving people and freight.

Evening commute delays are getting worse than morning commute delays, possibly because there is more non-commuting traffic during afternoon hours. The data shows that I-5 Corridor commuters between Federal Way and Everett continue to experience the longest peak-period congestion.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

RTC Recommendations Now Online

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The Regional Transportation Commission yesterday published its draft recommendations to Governor Gregoire & the Washington State Legislature on how regional transportation can be better governed and financed in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

In brief, the document calls for the merger of six agencies--Sound Transit, King County Metro, Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit, Community Transit and Everett Transit--into one to plan and finance projects. The recommendations call for tolls, user fees and private-public partnerships as ways to pay for transportation needs rather than raising taxes.

The document is under review by members of RAMP's staff team, but participants are also encouraged to review the draft and participate in the RTC's upcoming public hearing next week in Tacoma.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

WSTC Adopts WA Transportation Plan

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The Transportation Commission adopted the updated 20-year Washington Transportation Plan today after two years of effort coordinated with stakeholders from across Washington State. The plan will serve as a blueprint for construction and provide strategies to guide decisions and investments needed to develop the state’s transportation system for the future.

Recognizing a projected $26 billion gap in high-priority system needs, the Commission developed five investment guidelines to set overall priorities and form the basis of the plan: preservation, safety, economic vitality, mobility. and environmental quality and health.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Invitation to RAMP Participants

The Regional Transportation Commission will soon make recommendations to Governor Christine Gregoire on improvements to how regional transportation is governed and financed in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

The Commission's draft report will be available online this Wednesday, with public comment taken until the end of this month. RAMP participants are encouraged to review the draft report and offer comments to the Commission.

The Commission will also host a public meeting in Pierce County as follows:

Tuesday, November 21st
5:00 p.m. - Public Testimony Sign-Up
5:30 p.m. - Public Hearing
Port of Tacoma Business Center
(3600 Port of Tacoma Rd.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Gazing Into the Crystal Ball

Submitted by Paul Ellis

What do yesterday's election results tell us about public attitudes towards transportation funding? What guidance can the recent election give policy-makers about next November's "big vote" on roads and transit?

First, the failure of propositions in both Seattle and Tacoma to fix crumbling streets most likely indicates public desire to see current tax revenues used wisely before jurisdictions consider new taxes. Most voters--rightly or wrongly--believe that local governments should use existing revenues to maintain transportation facilities.

Second, transit may be the exception to that rule. Seattle's "Transit Now" proposal passed by a wide margin, as have previous transit proposals in many Puget Sound jurisdictions.

Or it may be that proposals to expand services or to create new facilities are what voters want--that's another way to read Seattle's results, where voters turned down a measure to fix streets and bridges but gave the nod to expanded transit services.

Admittedly, this gaze into the crystal ball is a little cloudy (they usually are!). For a clearer glimpse into the collective mind of the Puget Sound's body politic, check out the recent summary of public opinion released by the Regional Transportation Investment District.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lessons from Tuesday's Elections?

Submitted by Paul Ellis

If there's a pattern in the results from yesterday's elections that bears an omen for next November's Roads & Transit vote, it's hard to discern:

  • Tacoma's Proposition 1, a property tax levy that would have raised $8 million a year for six years to fund street improvements needed for 6,600 of the city’s 8,800 blocks, failed by a large margin; city leaders failed to overcome a widespread public belief that city government should fix the streets with the money it already has--like the $4 million in gas tax money Tacoma gets each year from Washington State;
  • Seattle's Proposition 1, a nine-year property tax levy lid lift adding $365 million for street repairs and a host of other transportation infrastructure needs, also failed yesterday but by a narrower margin; almost one-fourth of the new dollars from Seattle's measure were to be directed to safety and pedestrian programs, street signs and signals, with millions more earmarked for tree planting, corridor improvements and bike trails;
  • Meanwhile, King County voters narrowly passed Proposition 2--"Transit Now"--which will raise sales taxes by one tenth of a percent and give Metro $50 million next year to buy buses and increase service, transforming five heavily used routes into "bus rapid transit," boosting service on 30 other routes (mostly in the suburbs), extending or adding routes in growing areas, and increasing vanpooling and service for disabled persons.

Nationwide, more than $40 billion was approved by voters in a number of proposals on Tuesday.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

More Than a Decent Proposition?

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Next Tuesday, voters in several Puget Sound jurisdictions will decide ballot issues that may offer a preview of the public's appetite for funding the tri-county Roads & Transit Plan.

Tacoma's Proposition 1, which would raise property taxes by 48 cents per $1,000 of assessed value each year for the next six years, would help Pierce County's largest municipality improve streets in 6600 blocks city-wide. Seattle voters have their own Proposition 1, part of a broad package dubbed "Bridging the Gap" and slated to add 36 dollars for every $1000 of assessed value to generate $361 million over nine years for local transportation improvements (very broadly defined). King County Proposition 2 would increase the sales tax by one-tenth of a percent to raise $568 million over the next 10 years for deployment of as much as 20 percent more Metro Transit buses on the road.

Poll after poll in the region ranks traffic congestion as a top drawer issue for Puget Sound voters, but Tuesday's results will reveal how vital the issue really is as citizens "vote with their pocketbooks." Some political insiders worry government is asking for too much, too late--and all at once. Some now worry that voter pushback to the current proposals could jeopardize next year's long-awaited efforts on the Roads & Transit Plan.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Road & Transit Elements Emerging

Submitted by Paul Ellis

As explained here on September 11th, Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) are working together on an integrated Roads and Transit Plan that will include multiple extensions of regional transit services along with major road improvements. The specific projects that may be presented for voter approval next November are gradually becoming somewhat clearer.

In July, Sound Transit unveiled three sample investment options that provide a vision of what the transit piece of the future regional system could look like--different scenarios combining new investments in light rail, regional buses, park-and-ride lots, HOV access lanes, transit centers and improved commuter train (Sounder) service. Since that time, more than 5,000 people from throughout the region have taken the time to comment on these options. The maximized rail extension option received the strongest support--and by a wide margin (77%). A telephone survey of the region’s residents underscored the public comments’ call for this option.

Today marks the deadline for public comments on the roads portion of the Plan, coordinated by the RTID. Written comments have been provided by RAMP in addition to participating groups such as the Port of Tacoma and the Economic Development Board.

One major area of concern noted to varying degrees in these comments is the likelihood that neither package (as they now stand, at least) adequately provides the regional connections Pierce County wants and needs, such as light rail all the way to SeaTac Airport and completion of SR-167 to I-5. The die may have been cast in the 2005 Session when the Transportation Partnership fund distribution assigned less than 5% of spending to Pierce County projects.

The ultimate question is this one--when voters are asked next November to open their wallets one more time for transportation improvements, will there be enough on the ticket to make the cost worthwhile?

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Seattle Leads the Way

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The Downtown Seattle Association, City of Seattle and King County Metro have combined forces to kick off a transportation coalition led by 249 Puget Sound-area employers, patterned after Portland's successful Lloyd Center Transportation Management Association (profiled here last week).

According to the Puget Sound Regional Council, Seattle's city center is projected to add 48,000 new jobs by 2015. To achieve this level of growth, the Urban Mobility Group is working toward a targeted 6 percent decrease in the number of drive alone commuters. As a first step, the coalition has coordinated a widespread distribution of bus passes and free ferry rides, and wants such benefits to become as common as health insurance and 401(k) accounts.

This effort is part of an ongoing delivery of services through which trip planners employed through the coalition will help employees find their best commute options--whether by bus, train, carpool, vanpool, or bike--and provide incentives to help get them started. Reducing the number of drive alone commuters will help Seattle prepare for continued growth and make way for customers and clients.

As a result of the coalition's efforts, 249 Puget Sound-area employers were named best workplaces for commuters this week by an alliance led by the Environmental Protection Agency, local non-profits and transit organizations.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Commute Times, They Are A'Changing!

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Commuting trends are changing as baby boomers near retirement age at the same time that a large immigrant population has swelled the national labor force, according to a report just released by the Transportation Research Board. In the report, Commuting in America III, Virginia transportation expert Alan Pisarski examined U.S. Census data from 1990-2004 and compared data there to reports he filed in 1987 and 1996.

Among the report's findings:
  • Commutes are getting longer--the number of workers who reach their jobs in less than 20 minutes dropped to 47% in 2000 after hovering around 50% for decades, and commutes in 40 states increased by two to four minutes;
  • The number of older female drivers will increase dramatically as baby boomers work past age 65--as the percentage of the population over 65 rises sharply after 2010, a key question will be how many will continue to work and commute;
  • The percentage of Americans who walk to work dropped from 5.6% in 1980 to 3.9% in 1990 and 2.9% in 2000;
  • More than 4 million Americans now work from home--more now than those who walk to work--and a growing number of workers over age 55 are doing so;
  • Although immigrants make up less than 14 percent of all workers, they represent about 40 percent of those in large carpools;
  • Hispanics carpool at a rate double that for non-Hispanics (23% vs. 11%), and there has been a sharp drop in the percentage of African-American households without vehicles (from 31% in 1990 to about 24% in 2000);
  • Although commuting still dominates public discussion about transportation, it represents just a part of the demand Americans make on the system--work travel now only constitutes 16% of all trips.
Factsheets on the study's information and meaning are also available.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Invitation to RAMP Participants

The Regional Transit Investment District (RTID) is seeking ideas, questions, and suggestions on the proposed Blueprint for Progress. Please take a few minutes to review this site, learn about the RTID program, and send them your thoughts.

One of the RTID's guiding principles is to keep the road investments affordable—so they’ll have to make choices about where to invest the region's limited dollars. That’s why they want to know what priorities concern RAMP and its participants, in particular:
  • What road-safety issues concern you the most?
  • Where is the worst congestion in your region?
  • Where do you want investments to be made?

There are many ways to share your ideas. Send an e-mail, mail a letter, or take the online survey. The public comment period on the proposed road investments closes October 27th.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Managing Transportation--Lessons from Portland

Submitted by Paul Ellis

What transportation lessons can Pierce County's City of Destiny learn from Oregon's Rose City? A group of Tacoma's elected officials, city staff and business leaders made the trek south last week to learn how Portland funds and operates its transportation system. Portland is recognized as a national leader in innovative transportation solutions, and its Office of Transportation maintains $5.8 billion in infrastructure facilities from streets and structures to traffic signals and street lights.

Ellis McCoy, Portland's Parking Operations Manager, began with an overview of the city’s current parking system:
  • Broad stakeholder input was sought during development of Portland's Center City Plan, the Central City Transportation Management Plan, and the subsequent Meter District Policy, and a portion of net revenues from parking operations are directed back into local improvements;
  • In the three meter districts, (Central City, Lloyd District, Markham Hill), Portland has 1200 pay stations under management serving 8400 spaces (about 2200 of these just in the greater downtown);
  • Stakeholders develop neighborhood transportation plans with the help of staff, then Council reviews and approves the plans, subsequently establishing a district with a management entity.

Parking "gets the least amount of attention [of any transportation element] but requires the greatest amount of visioning," City Commissioner Sam Adams noted, but offers opportunities for enhancement because "it's subject to numerical analysis." New technology makes parking provision "easier, flexible, more cost effective," he observed.

Gathering broad stakeholder input, informed by strong analysis of current trends, should lead to development of a strategic plan that can guide not just planning but overall resource development and allocation. People don't worry about transportation planning elements like "trip avoidance", but they want to be places where there are lots of things to do--and that's how to make parking and transit use work. "Give people alternatives, not out of political correctness, but because it really is the best way to go," he observed.

When plans completed in 1994 projected 20,000 new jobs and 4,000 housing units coming into the Lloyd District, analysis of the impacts based upon existing levels of transit use (10% of commuters using transit, known as the area's "mode split") showed that growth would close down Portland's freeways at peak hours. Rick Williams, executive director for the Lloyd District Transportation Management Association (TMA), a non-profit business association representing large and small employers, came to the rescue.

The TMA helped Lloyd District employers move from 10-21% mode split over three years; the district's current goal is an ambitious 42%. The TMA committed to buy 6000 bus passes (with a volume discount), arranged with Tri-Met (Portland's transit provider) to establish a new bus route, and accepted meters to limit parking with new funds directed to the TMA. Today the Lloyd District has won an exemption from Oregon's version of Washington's Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) law.

Every employee taken out of a parking stall leads to capacity for four customers or clients, Williams contended. Like Sam Adams, he stressed the need to look at transportation assets as key pieces of a city's economic development toolbox--a tool, not just a "nice to" part of the urban landscape. In the Lloyd District, Williams has been able to offer capacity to new development through better use of existing facilities instead of having to raise money to build new parking complexes, many of which will stand empty or underutilized in off-peak hours.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Let the Pavement Roll!


Submitted by Paul Ellis

Last evening, the Pierce County Council voted 6-1 to adopt Pierce County's first comprehensive traffic-impact fee program, committing to spend an estimated $488 million over 20 years to widen roads, build new ones and rebuild intersections throughout the unincorporated areas.

The plan anticipates use of the new traffic impact fees and other sources to pay for the program, including state transportation grants, a portion of the 9.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax package approved by the Washington Legislature in 2005 and a portion of the real estate excise tax paid upon sales of property.

Pierce County's adoption of the new fees is expected to encourage adoption of similar fees in localmunicipalitiess like University Place. The City of Tacoma is requesting voter approval of a street tax for similar purposes in the November election.

At its November 1 meeting, RAMP will present a panel discussion detailing the new environment for transportation funding resulting from these measures and delineating the remaining gaps needed to move local projects ahead. Panelists will include Brian Zeigler from Pierce County and Angela Wingate from Investco Financial Corporation.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Fatally Deferred?

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Traffic chaos reigned this morning for thousands of commuters in Laval, Quebec, a suburb north of Montreal, as they tried to drive into the city following the collapse of an overpass on a major thoroughfare this weekend. At least five people were crushed to death in their cars with the collapse of the overpass, their vehicles crushed so badly that--when lifted from the rubble--they barely reached the knees of one firefighter.

Three lanes of the overpass plus a pedestrian sidewalk collapsed onto Highway 19 about 1:00 p.m. EST Saturday. Four vehicles--a motorcycle, two cars and a minivan--were on the overpass at the time of the collapse. One witness said he noticed that the road sank an inch or two when he traveled over the overpass minutes earlier and he called emergency dispatchers. A crew was dispatched to pick up the concrete but they did not close the highway. The Transport Ministry did, however, send a message to journalists, warning that there were pieces of concrete on the ground. Minutes later, the structure failed.

Former Quebec premier Pierre Marc Johnson will head a public inquiry to determine exactly what went wrong but thus far officials have no explanation for how or why part of the overpass crumpled to the ground. In the wake of the fatal collapse in Quebec, Ontario and the city of Toronto plan to conduct special inspections on overpasses that are several decades old, and public recognition is growing that the nation's bridges are in desperate need of repair. The overpass that collapsed on Saturday was 36 years old, just over half its life expectancy of 70 years. The engineering community has long warned of an "infrastructure deficit," when projects ranging from water sewage systems to bridges are constructed but not properly maintained because of a lack of resources or planning.

Canadian governments, like those in the United States, have deferred critical transportation investments for years. Public concern in our area has grown recently through the ongoing debate over major renovation projects like the Seattle Viaduct and SR-520, all within the context of a catastrophic earthquake causing structural failure. Perhaps it won't take that big a shove to provoke failure in some of our older bridges or other structures; therefore, the investigation of the Laval collapse and the findings from the engineering review should be of more than passing interest for us, as well. Perhaps the time to act is shorter than we think...

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis was the head of the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

...And More Fees May Follow


Submitted by Paul Ellis

While a similar proposal recently stirred angry debate among members of the Pierce County Council, the City of University Place might start charging developers to help fix traffic problems fueled by new shopping centers and neighborhoods.

Like other cities in Washington of similar size, University Place lost the majority of its state funding for capital improvements in the wake of Initiative 695's revenue cuts. While the city's neighborhoods are largely built out, construction of the new Town Center and the nearby Chambers Bay Golf Course virtually assure that hundreds--if not thousands--of additional vehicles will be rolling over the roads there in the near future.

In University Place, city leaders are preparing to ask voters to raise their property taxes to help pay for improvements to those roads and other capital facilities in the November election. In addition, the city's consultant, FCS Group of Seattle, says University Place could charge up to $4,903 for every vehicle trip a development creates during the busiest traffic hours. City staff are now gathering feedback from developers and could recommend an amount by the end of this year.

The fee ultimately charged will probably be lower than the amount floated by FCS. Currently, the highest traffic impact fee charged in Pierce County is the $3,000 levied by the City of Puyallup; Pierce County's traffic impact fee is unlikely to top that amount.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pierce County Considers New Traffic Impact Fees

Submitted by Paul Ellis

With costs continually rising for transportation improvements, there are really only two ways to provide additional revenue needed to meet community needs: raising taxes (usually across the board) or increasing fees (often seen as the "pay to play" approach). A new fee proposal, stalled for several years as politicians, builders, Realtors, environmentalists and others debated how much developers should pay, is now under review by the Pierce County Council.

Impact fees are charges on new development to pay for capital improvements (such as parks, schools, roads, etc.) that are needed due to the new development. Traffic impact fees are a proposed new type of impact fees that might be collected to improve the transportation system to accommodate higher travel demand added by new development.

That's the gist of the proposal, anyway--but there are two competing views on this issue. The key point of contention is whether the share of growth-related transportation costs for the next two decades allotted to developers is fair and reasonable. Pierce County Executive (and RAMP co-chair) John Ladenburg estimates $488 million over that period to estimates it will need to spend $488 million to widen roads, build new ones and rebuild intersections to enable its 1,528-mile network of roads to keep pace with growth. The executive's plan, embraced by the four Republicans who hold the council majority, would raise 39% of that total from developers via the proposed new impact fees. Democratic Councilmembers Calvin Goings and Tim Farrell have proposed charging developers nearly 70%, and Goings says he believes the current tally underestimates growth in Pierce County's burgeoning unincorporated areas.

The final decision on the fees will be made on October 3rd in the Pierce County Council meeting held that evening at Woodland Elementary School in Puyallup.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Friday, September 22, 2006

We're Not Alone...

Submitted by Paul Ellis

On RAMP is a new phenomenon for many of our participants and--to date--unprecedented in our region, but it's not the only transportation blog in the country. Bloggers in Houston, the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland (to name a few) have been hard at work in advance of our effort:
  • Christof Spieler's Intermodality reviews the latest happenings in highways, transit, roads, bike paths, etc., and how they all fit together for the Citizens' Transportation Coalition, an all-volunteer grassroots transportation advocacy organization in Houston;
  • The Capricious Commuter, a entertaining Bay Area blog authored by Erik Nelson (that's his cell phone photo posted at right), focuses on aspects of getting around his region; he also digs into niceties of transportation financing like we do;
  • Closer to home, Chris Smith's Portland Transport hosts an ongoing "conversation about about access/mobility in the Portland/Vancover area."
While On RAMP is clearly not the first transportation blog online--and most likely won't remain the newest one for long--we can endeavor to be the best. Your readership and participation will help make that aspiration a reality!

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Invitation to RAMP Participants

As reported at the most recent RAMP meeting, RTID and Sound Transit will be holding public open houses around the region in September and October. These events will give community members an opportunity to learn about and share input on the Roads & Transit Plan to reduce congestion, improve safety and make travel more predictable throughout the region. The deadline for public comment on the proposed road investments is October 27.

The Pierce County open house will be held in Tacoma at the Main Library (1102 Tacoma Ave. S.) on Monday, September 25th from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Staff members from both agencies will be on hand to answer questions. Midway through the open house (at approximately 6:00 p.m.), a brief presentation will be made.

The current Roads & Transit Plan draft proposal:
  • Incorporates potential extensions of the region's light-rail system;
  • Builds on the Sounder commuter rail and ST Express regional bus system that voters approved in 1996 and is in place or under construction today;
  • Includes improvements to key roadways and bridges in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

The Roads & Transit Plan will be finalized this winter and will be presented to the region's voters in November 2007.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Pennsylvania's Regional Transportation Commission

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The Puget Sound region is, of course, not the only one in the nation wrestling with transportation funding and governance issues. Washington State's Regional Transportation Commission may be able to gain some valuable insights from a similar effort that has been underway in Pennsylvania since last year.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell formed the Transportation Funding and Reform Commission, a bipartisan group of nine commissioners, last February in the aftermath of financial crises at the Port Authority and Philadelphia-based Southwestern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. The commission was charged with assessing the magnitude of the transportation funding crisis and identifying reform measures and funding sources for current and future needs of both highways and transit. Its purview was expanded to other elements of the transportation network--including highways, bridges and capital improvement programs.

The interim report recently released by the Commission does not recommend specific sources of new funding; rather, the 25-page report outlines factors and problems leading to the crisis, suggests reforms and proposes three "investment levels" to address the problems.

Commissioners have developed a set of principles to guide their recommendations:
While the state cannot be the only source of transportation financing, it must fund the core transit, highway and bridge systems and work to keep them in a state of good repair;
  1. Efficiencies should be rewarded with straightforward, market-based financial incentives embedded in the public funding system;
  2. Local municipalities must have more flexibility and incentives;
  3. Financing at the regional and local levels should be encouraged;
  4. State funding should reward smart planning that integrates transportation, land use and economic development.

The Commission will hold a series of statewide "listening sessions" this month to allow the public to give its opinions about where additional revenue should come from--and how much. The commission is to recommend revenue-generating measures by November 15.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis was the head of the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Invitation to RAMP Participants

In 2003, the Cascadia Center formed the Puget Sound Passenger Ferry Coalition with 250 elected officials and community leaders. The past three years have witnessed many positive developments in passenger ferry service—both in the region and nationally.

In an effort to see firsthand how a public-private partnership can better connect communities and provide additional transportation options in the wake of a natural disaster, the Coalition is co-sponsoring—with individual members of the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA)—a field trip to San Francisco October 5 and 6. Steve Castleberry, CEO of the San Francisco Water Transit Authority (WTA), is helping organize the forum, which will include a special ferry luncheon cruise from San Francisco to Alameda and Oakland with live entertainment. Participants will learn how the WTA is financed and governed, as well as explore how it and the Embarcadero development fit into the northeast "Barbary Coast" neighborhood district and the nine-county Bay Area transportation system.

RAMP participants have been invited to take part in this event; if you are able to participate, please RSVP to Jessica Cantelon at (206) 292-0401, x.158 or cantelon@discovery.org.

Guest Posting - The Road (and Rail) Ahead

Submitted by Paul Matsuoka

How far do you want your trains and buses to go? What central Puget Sound roads and bridges are most in need of repairs, replacement or upgrade? These are the questions Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District are trying to answer this fall as they prepare for a vote on a roads and transit expansion next year.

Traffic makes getting around the Puget Sound region very difficult. It will be even more challenging with the addition of an expected 1.2 million more people living here in the next 25 years. The Governor and Legislature in early 2006 directed the two agencies to come up with plans and funding packages to submit to a public vote in November, 2007. As the law currently stands, the two agencies will present two plans for a vote--one roads, one transit. Both must pass for either to take effect.

Sound Transit is exploring options for the future of our regional mass transit system, including the expansion of light rail to connect King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

The Sound Transit Board has rolled out three sample investment packages that provide a vision of what the future regional system could look like. These packages are based on .3, .4 and .5 percent sales tax increases within the Sound Transit district. Imagine more light rail, Sounder commuter trains, ST Express regional buses, park-and-ride lots, HOV access lanes and transit centers. Along with the RTID, that future could include replacing aging structures like the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the SR-520 floating bridge, expanding I-5, SR-167, I-405 and improving other major roads in Snohomish, Pierce and King counties.

Sound Transit and RTID hope to finalize their prospective plans by the end of the year.

Paul Matsuoka is director of the Office of Policy and Planning for Sound Transit.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"Delay is not an option"

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Several times at this morning's monthly meeting of RAMP, presenters and other participants offered variations on the same theme: It's time to get going on needed transportation investments like SR-167 and the Cross-Base Highway.

RAMP Co-chair Tim Farrell and Dave Johnson, Pierce County's representatives to the Regional Transportation Commission, observed that (thus far, at least) virtually everyone that the RTC is hearing from in the four-county area is asking for more money; this echoes RAMP Co-chair John Ladenburg's oft-repeated comment that "what the public wants is more projects, not more elected officials." Farrell added that when local governments and agencies cooperate on transportation projects, "they generally do it quite well..." Both Farrell and Johnson expressed the hope that the RTC--despite a very short timeline (recommendations up for public comment this November)--can help local jurisdictions identify and remove obstacles to that cooperation.

Presenters Paul Matsuoka from Sound Transit and Jim Waldo from RTID followed up with a progress report on the joint ballot proposal the two agencies hope to place before voters in November 2007. Both speakers observed that every month's delay in securing funding and starting construction drives up the cost of a project like the Alaskan Way Viaduct by $10 million.

Governor Christine Gregoire seems to agree with those sentiments. On the Viaduct and SR-520, at least, she won't abide more years of indecision and what she yesterday called "grumbling" by the key players. "Public safety, congestion and taxpayers' valuable dollars call for action," she told reporters at a news conference. "Delay is not an option."

So what's stopping us? First, there's a real funding gap--RTID has pretty well determined the top priority projects in each county but hasn't yet found a way to fit the costs into a bundle that won't give voters sticker shock. Before next November, transportation leaders are going to have to use very sharp pencils to find creative new ways to reduce costs and identify new sources for revenues (perhaps something like tolling?).

There's also an even bigger gap standing in our way--the gap between the real situation and the perception most members of the public hold. As Dick Ford, chair for the Washington State Transportation Commission, told RAMP last month, "the public believes that there is plenty of money for transportation investments--we just need to spend them better." That gap needs our coordinated efforts to close; we hope this blog will be one important tool for doing just that.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis was the head of the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Regional Governance Commission Comes to Town

Submitted by Brian Ziegler

The RTC, as it is affectionately called (transportation junkies love to use acronyms), landed on Pierce County soil last week for the third of their four outreach sessions. Previous blogs have defined their mission in life and they have a pretty nice website now. But in lay terms, their job is to apparently untangle "the mess" caused by over 180 governmental jurisdictions who play in the transportation sand box called the Puget Sound Region.

Watching the RTC in action at their Snohomish County-King County hearings, I was reminded of the many times this subject has been cussed and discussed in the last 20 years. I'm old enough to remember the Rail Commission Study of the 80's, the Joint Regional Policy Committee in the 80's and 90's, even the Cross-Sound Bridge Study of the late 90's. Along with the millennium ending Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation, these groups all posed a charter from the state legislature to identify "the problem," sort out "the players," and tell the Legislature what to do .... if that's even possible.

Not that I don't have any hope this new Commission won't do well and fulfill it's mandate. They are high-powered and polite, which makes for frank discussions and clear communication of issues. My fear is that their good work will be too good for Olympia, and that the political will to make the recommendations fly won't be there.

My testimony to the Commission focused on the struggles of counties and cities as they try to be accountable to their elected bodies in an era of declining transportation resources. These Councils and Commissions are hearing the drum beat loud and clear from their city and county engineers and public works professionals, i.e., "Transportation is underfunded for the desired levels of service!" I thought I might be singing that song alone to the RTC, but Pierce Transit, Tacoma, and the RTID all pointed to the need to add new revenues, not new governance, as the solution to "the mess."

The Commissioners asked very insightful questions of all presenters, so it's clear they know this business. I'd be surprised if they don't propose some very gut-wrenching governance changes.... It's clear to me that the governance issue must be thoroughly reviewed and addressed before the real issues will get any attention. Meanwhile,"the mess" will frustrate us more and more, until we finally fess up to our part in causing it, and commit to paying the real price for solving it.

Brian Ziegler is a member of RAMP's staff team and the director of Pierce County's Public Works & Utilities Department; prior to this position, he served for several years with the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

San Diego's High-Tech Dashboard

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Those of us who follow transportation agencies like Sound Transit and WSDOT during the past few years have seen a remarkable enhancement in their financial transparency and efficiency with the public's dollars. In San Diego, state and regional agencies are taking that accountability one step further, making it real-time.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and Caltrans have launched the innovative, interactive TransNet Dashboard, an online reporting tool intended to provide the public with up-to-date information on transportation projects underway in the San Diego region that are funded by the TransNet half-cent sales tax. The state-of-the-art site is a Web-based connection to current schedule, budget, and expenditure information for highly anticipated projects underway on the I-5, I-15, I-805, SR 52, SR 76, and Mid-Coast corridors. The backbone of the site is programming that merges construction, finance, and schedule data from SANDAG and Caltrans databases for easier access.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Rising Ride?

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Riding in cars with boys--and others--in Tacoma may soon be more pleasant but also more costly. Last evening, members of the Tacoma City Council unanimously passed Resolution 36958 to put a six-year, $48 million street maintenance levy on the Nov. 7 ballot.

According to the resolution, Tacoma's city limits include 8,800 blocks of residential streets but current funding levels support maintenance each year for no more than 25 blocks. If approved by voters, the levy will provide $8 million additional each year for six years.

The City Council's action just gets the ball rolling, however. Bad streets are a big issue for Tacoma's residents, but they will want the City to answer questions about where the money will go and why taxes they’re already paying aren’t enough to fix the streets. RAMP will provide a forum for airing the issues at an upcoming meeting.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Through the Looking Glass

Submitted by Paul Ellis

To some observers (most notably Mary Margaret Haugen, current chair for the WA Senate's Transportation Committee), the only list longer than that of the critical transportation projects awaiting funding is the list of agencies empowered to direct transportation funds. Senator Haugen and other leading Legislators believe that this is no coincidence; in other words, that the plethora of agencies (from FMSIB to TIB) with their own funding "silos" and separate agendas is a big share of the problem. We can probably all agree that entering the world of transportation funding can resemble entering Alice's side of the looking glass, a place where alphabet letters conspire to upset the Mad Hatter's tea--it's part of the rationale behind starting this blog, in fact.
The WA Legislature's solution to this modern voyage through the looking glass is the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), which was formed last Session to "develop a proposal for a regional transportation governing entity more directly accountable to the public, and to develop a comprehensive regional transportation finance plan for the citizens of the Puget Sound metropolitan region.” Norm Rice and John Stanton have been appointed to co-chair the commission. Dan McDonald and Mary Gates from King County, and Gigi Burke from Snohomish County were also appointed to the commission; an appointee from Kitsap County has yet to be confirmed. Dave Johnson and RAMP Co-chair Tim Farrell are representing Pierce County on the RTC.

The RTC's mission is multi-faceted, including goals to:
  • Consolidate governance among agencies, including changes in institutional powers, structures, and relationships and governance needed to improve accountability for transportation decisions, while enhancing the regional focus for transportation decisions and maintaining equity among citizens in the region;
  • Improve coordination in the planning of transportation investments and services;
  • Improve investment strategies
Thus far, most press coverage and public interest has been focused on the first goal listed above.
Expectations for positive change are running high in Olympia. “This commission needs to be forward thinking--I want them to consider our transportation needs in 2030, not only 2010,” said Governor Christine Gregoire in announcing formation of the RTC. “I know that these recommendations will get mixed reviews, but I hope that everyone, including transit providers, local governments and the Department of Transportation will work with the commission to reach a solution that helps to fight traffic congestion in the Puget Sound region.”

The Commission is meeting with and hearing from transportation agencies in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The proposal to create a single transportation agency designed to make it easier to build roads and mass transit is getting a cool reception in Snohomish County. Pierce County jurisdictions and agencies will get a chance to have their say at a hearing beginning at 9:00 this Thursday in the Port Business Center (3600 Port of Tacoma Rd.).

The Commission is scheduled to release its report and recommendations by November 15, which will be forwarded to the WA State Legislature for its next Session beginning in January, 2007.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Road Behind

RAMP was formed in 2003 as a recommendation of the Growth Strategies Organization (GSO) report that provided a blueprint for the Pierce County area’s coordinated economic development. The partnership seeks to engage all local jurisdictions in a consensus-building process to develop and support regional priorities while recognizing local interests.

RAMP uses its consensus to facilitate project funding from Central Puget Sound, state and federal sources. In just the past year, RAMP has provided consensus on priorities for federal funding, identified and prioritized projects for the second round of Sound Transit funding (ST2), supported maintenance of the funding set aside through the Transportation Partnership Program, and begun mobilizing broad support for a regional funding vote in 2007.

RAMP enjoys support and participation from every jurisdiction and agency in Pierce County, comprising a regional coalition including business, labor, public and private organizations and citizens working to ensure a healthy regional economy associated with the development of an effective, efficient transportation system--and the resources to sustain it.

RAMP is co-chaired by Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, Port of Tacoma Executive Director Timothy Farrell and Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber President & CEO David Graybill.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Easing Into Traffic

Welcome to On RAMP, the blog for Pierce County's Regional Access Mobility Partnership (RAMP).

There's probably never been a time in recent history when so much was happening in the area of transportation funding and governance. As the consensus organization for regional transportation issues and projects, RAMP brings together city and county officials, business leaders and other local citizens who have interest in Pierce County's future. Since transportation funding and governance is a complex and often obscure object for study (despite the fact that our public agencies are pledged to, and generally practice, financial and operational transparency), we felt it is time to provide a community focal point for information and informed opinions.

This blog will be authored on an ongoing basis by Paul Ellis, RAMP's lead staff member from the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, along with George Walk from the Pierce County Executive's Office (George was formerly chair of the WA House Transportation Committee) and Sean Eagan from the Port of Tacoma (Sean is a former aide to U.S. Congressman Adam Smith). Joining us from time to time will be authorities and opinion leaders with something to add to this ongoing discussion. Our paramount goal is to leave our visitors not only more informed about the current progress on enhancing regional, state and federal projects, but to give you an effective "road map" to how decisions are made and funding is secured.