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.

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