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.

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