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.