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.

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