Monday, December 31, 2007

Another Voice: Shawn Bunney

There's already been some Sturm und Drang across the blogosphere regarding Shawn Bunney's recent letter to Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, in which he blames King County Executive Ron Sims and The Seattle Times for the defeat of the Roads & Transit package in November. The letter was sent November 28th and widely disseminated around Pierce County, even being incorporated into Bunney's year-end report to his constituents.

Bunney's been involved in the regional struggle over transportation funding as chair for the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID), the agency whose mission was to develop the roads portion of the package. The letter is certainly a brash one--some might say its tone is downright nasty--and it ends with a request for Gregoire to embrace transportation needs more widely dispersed than just King County.

In the letter, Bunney attacks Seattle and King County interests for grabbing--and continuing now to grab for--an inordinate share of the region's revenues for mobility investments:
I am sure that before voters went to bed on election night some Seattle legislators were busy ramping up for another raid of the region's roads funds... funds they say are for a $4.4 billion "Safety" project called the 520 Bridge.

This is the same group that siphoned $700 million in gas taxes out of Pierce County in the past 15 years.

We heard this same story yet again in 2006 when the same Seattle interests took almost $400 million out of Pierce County wallets to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct; a viaduct, it turns out, not wanted by Seattle because it blocks the view.
Certainly Bunney's argument has merit--as has been previously observed by this blog, Pierce County (and every other county in the state save one) has been shorted its fair share of funding, as in 2005 when the Transportation Partnership package delivered 65% of the statewide revenues to King County. That's a sure sticking point which any effort to develop a new regional package will have to address before it can move forward.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Regional Traffic Congestion--Still Getting Worse

The Puget Sound region’s economy and population have continued to grow--and along with them, traffic delays--according to the Washington State Department of Transportation's Annual Congestion Report. Released yesterday, the report provides detailed analysis of the 38 most congested highway routes in the region, and (not surprisingly) it shows that commuters are traveling at slightly slower speeds and spending longer periods of time in traffic.

From 2004 to 2006, the Puget Sound region added 91,000 new jobs and 107,000 new residents; consequently, more people had to travel on the same roads at the same time. Overall, average travel times increased on 32 routes, decreased on three routes and remained constant on three routes. Travel time increased from one to seven minutes over the two-year period.

To effectively address growing congestion across the region, WSDOT will continue to emphasize key congestion management objectives--"maximizing system throughput and enhancing reliability"--through sustained focus on three strategies:
  • Managing demand (i.e., building HOV lanes, supporting Commute Trip Reduction efforts, and using technology to offer more real-time information);
  • Operating efficiently (i.e., installing ramp meters, synchronizing traffic signals, and deploying incident response units);
  • Adding capacity (i.e., completing capital projects).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Two Surveys, One Conclusion

Two new surveys are hitting the streets this month, both of which purport to read the tea leaves left in the wake of November's election results. While the two sources are very dissimilar, the results are surprisingly alike.

The first, released December 7th, is a "stakeholder" survey done for Sound Transit by Cocker Fennessy. The survey consisted of 31 executive interviews with business, community and transportation leaders, and an online instrument involving 2,412 individuals.

In brief, the executive surveys, which included RAMP Co-Chairs, makes the following observations about why Roads & Transit failed and what any new proposal needs to be successful:

1. Cost and complexity were key reasons for the defeat;
2. Regional conversation is needed about leadership;
3. Lack of trust and frustration with government;
4. Never saw personal benefits of Roads & Transit;
5. Struggling to ID “right” tax formula;
6. Lack of consensus re: content, timing and projects for next measure;
7. Regional solutions preferred;
8. Relationship and coalition-building needed

Tomorrow, the Washington Policy Center (WPC) will release a poll conducted by Moore Information. Statewide and, in particular, across the Puget Sound region, the public "cares about traffic congestion and is not happy with the government’s performance of addressing it," according to WPC.

According to this survey, the major reason Proposition 1 lost in last month's election was concern about the possibility of higher taxes; yet, nearly half of respondents who voted against Proposition 1 say they would have considered voting for the measure if they had been convinced it would reduce congestion.

Both of these latest glimpses into the collective mind of the electorate match with earlier surveys and consensus developed by RAMP participants. Traffic congestion remains a front burner issue but the public has at least a healthy distriust for government attempts to address it--particularly large, poorly-focused attempts.

Monday, December 17, 2007

King County's 'Plan B': What's In It For Pierce?

As predicted by RAMP's Co-Chairs at the group's most recent meeting, King County leaders are now beginning the push to implement the flawed recommendations set forth last year by the Regional Transportation Commission. An oped in last Thursday's edition of The Seattle Times offers the opinion that Proposition 1's recent failure should mandate folding the project and financial planning powers of Sound Transit, the Regional Transportation Investment District, Puget Sound Regional Council and dozens of other regional transportation agencies into a new regional transportation agency.

Even a cursory glance at the piece, co-authored by Phil Talmadge (a Tukwila attorney and former state Supreme Court justice) & Mark Baerwaldt (a Belltown entrepreneur and financier), should give pause to readers from the South Sound. For starters, its list of vital regional projects lists the Murray Morgan Bridge--not SR-167--along with the Viaduct and SR-520; that reflects the same rough percentage of funding dispersion as the 2005 Transportation Partnership package from which King County derived 65% of the statewide revenue versus 5 percent for Pierce County and even less for everyone else.

It's abundantly clear from November's election results that the region's voters believe that bigger is not better. The curious logic behind this piece seems to be that, nonetheless, what voters now want is an even bigger agency that can mastermind transportation investment with even less local input.

The piece also decries the high cost and low benefit its authors anticipate from the light rail line soon to be linking Seattle with SeaTac Airport; a cynical South Sounder would view this as knocking a done deal (the dollars are already there to finish that line) so as to avoid stating their real objection--that Tacoma and Pierce County "don't need" high capacity alternatives to the highway system.

There are, however, some suggestions with which RAMP participants can agree, such as the following:
  • Holding transportation agencies accountable for producing verifiable and quantifiable results;
  • Expanding bus service on busy corridors;
  • Providing financial incentives to increase bus ridership;
  • Providing the maximum number of vans for van pools;
  • Crafting incentives to major employers to stagger their hours of business;
  • Sequencing traffic signals in cities to increase traffic flows and save energy;
  • Initiating pilot projects for congestion pricing--automated tolls based on demand or capacity--on our most clogged highways.

All of these initiatives can be implemented without any new agencies--what's needed is more resources spread more equitably across the region. How to do that seems to be absent from this oped's advice.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

RAMP Accelerates Forward Motion Towards a Solution

With leadership from its Co-Chairs and participation from a record crowd of attendees representing a broad cross-section of Pierce County decision-makers, yesterday morning RAMP initiated a robust discussion about how to fund this area's transportation needs for the future.

Ian Stewart from EMC Research presented results of a recent regional survey conducted for Sound Transit reflecting how voters viewed the Roads & Transit proposal that they rejected. In brief, the survey results suggest that the region's voters rejected Proposition 1 because they saw the measure as a whole as too big and too expensive; nevertheless, traffic/transportation issues continue to be the runaway top concern for those same regional voters.

Members of the RAMP Staff Team presented a matrix comparing three possible new funding strategies, then discussed relative merits of each approach:
  • Regional Transit Investment District (RTID) - Pierce County is now eligible to "go it alone" on a roads package, or it can make another attempt in cooperation with King County;
  • Transportation Benefit District - another way to proceed that would require some additional jurisdictional structures to be created but (perhaps) allows more flexibility;
  • Local Option Gas Tax - one other discreet source of taxing authority that could provide transportation dollars and/or supplement revenues from the other approaches.

The staff team--which includes experts from Pierce County, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, the Port of Tacoma, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, WSDOT and the City of Tacoma--will work this month to "flesh out" information on the three options, including more finely tuned projections for potential revenues from each approach. An expanded matrix will be presented to participants at RAMP's next meeting: Wednesday morning, January 9th (one week later than the normal schedule).

At that same meeting, participants will be briefed on findings from comprehensive polling of Pierce County residents--information that will add to the regional data--just now being completed by EMC Research. Participants will also be asked to finalize RAMP's 2008 Legislative Priorities.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

By-the-Mile Tolling in Oregon: Panning Out or Panned?

As reported some months ago in this blog, Oregon has been testing on-board Global Positioning Systems that could one day allow mile-by-mile pricing for all car travel in the state. A few weeks ago, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) released the final report on their "Road User Fee Pilot Program"--which declared the project "feasible."

According to the blog Portland Transport, the proposed system detects whether a vehicle is within one of three zones and logs mileage within each zone into separate categories for billing purposes. The zones are out-of-state (no charge), in-state (nominal charge), and within the Portland metro area (nominal charge with option for congestion pricing). The mileage fee would be collected at the fuel pump in lieu of a gas tax (for those who have the proper equipment to communicate with the fuel pump), while out-of-state drivers (or those otherwise without the proper equipment) would be charged the fuel tax in lieu of a mileage fee.

Washington's neighbor to the south is often in the forefront of new initiatives--for instance, Oregon was the first state to implement a gas tax, in 1919. So how likely is the advent of such a system there?

The most recent issue of Willamette Week (in an article entitled "Miles from Nowhere") predicts that it won't happen for several reasons:
  • Environmentalists question why the state would switch to a system where a Hummer owner would be treated the same as a Prius owner;
  • Civil libertarians raise alarms about the mileage tax’s underlying technology that uses a global positioning system to count the number of miles driven;
  • ODOT itself believes that it’s unlikely that a relatively small state like Oregon could be the first to implement a mileage tax;
  • The prototypes used in the pilot are not commercially viable, meaning that the technology would have to be developed.

Monday, December 03, 2007

RAMP Gathers Support for Next Funding Effort

RAMP's Co-Chairs are inviting broad participation in an upcoming discussion about this area's future mobility--a discussion that will help Pierce County move forward in a coordinated, effective manner to prepare for the 2008 Legislative Session and, beyond that, the next effort to secure funding needed for critical transportation projects.

Co-Chair David Graybill will be addressing the Tacoma City Council's Committee of the Whole next Tuesday afternoon to invite their participation in the consensus process. RAMP's other participants are likewise being encouraged to take part, and RAMP is making a special effort to communicate with those jurisdictions that haven't been involved or that have been only occasionally involved to encourage their involvement in this process.

Particpants in the December 5th RAMP meeting will consider a number of potential venues for funding Pierce County transportation projects, including:

Participants will have a briefing on why the public rejected the recent Roads & Transit proposal from Ian Stewart, principal in EMC Research, who has recently completed a regional survey on behalf of Sound Transit.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Survey Says: Voters Rejected Package, Not Projects

Sound Transit has just released results of a recent public opinion survey of about 1,000 registered voters across the region. The survey work was conducted by EMC Research and Moore Information to help analyze and understand the results on Proposition 1. In brief, the survey results suggest that the region's voters rejected Proposition 1 because they saw the measure as a whole as too big and too expensive; nevertheless, traffic/transportation issues continue to be the runaway top concern for those same regional voters.

Few voters understood the costs of the package or what it would cost them personally, the survey results suggest, and the vote did not seem to be a referendum on individual roads and transit projects in the package. Looking forward, voters indicate a strong preference towards future transportation measures separating roads from transit and addressing fewer projects in each package. Survey respondents also said that future transportation measures should take a more incremental approach and contain strong, clear accountability measures.

Researcher Ian Stewart will present results of the survey at the next RAMP meeting, December 5th.

Monday, November 19, 2007

TIB Awards $68.1 Million Statewide, $6.6 Million Locally

The Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) awarded road and sidewalk improvement grants to sixty projects statewide, totaling $65.4 million, at its November 16th meeting in Tacoma. In addition, 46 towns and cities were awarded a total of $2.7 million for road and sidewalk maintenance. The grant funding comes from the revenue generated by three cents of the statewide gas tax dedicated by the Legislature to TIB programs.

Pierce County was notified that it will receive $5 million to widen 94th Ave. E., as well as to build sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of this heavily-congested roadway. The City of Lakewood will receive $1.6 million to complement private developer improvements recently completed on Bridgeport Way.

Additional grants Bonney Lake, Buckley, South Prairie, and Milton of nearly $500,000 will be targeted to providing new sidewalks and sidewalk maintenance in those cities.

Another Voice: Brian Sonntag

Brian Sonntag, Washington State Auditor, offers some recommendations in today's edition of The News Tribune based upon his department's recent performance audit on traffic congestion. Sonntag, former Pierce County auditor, has been state auditor since 1993.

The performance audit identified steps that could reduce congestion between 15 and 20 percent over the next five years, claims Sonntag, without requiring additional resources. Among the recommended actions are the following:
  • Increase discretion over using HOV lanes;
  • Coordinate traffic signals on arterials with freeway exit ramps;
  • Expand promotion of car pools and public transit; and
  • Improve responses to traffic accidents.

According to Sonntag, the audit also points out that reducing traffic congestion "has not been a top priority among state transportation officials." He recommends that WSDOT should address congestion on the same priority level as safety, highway maintenance and preserving existing roads and bridges: "They all are compatible, not mutually exclusive."

Sonntag also recommends a single agency to oversee transportation planning in the region, in which he identifies "128 public entities with responsibilities for transportation planning and spending in Puget Sound"--clearly, this number includes general purpose "agencies" such as cities and towns. "One organization needs to coordinate the myriad of transportation planning activities and be positioned to decide what is best for the Puget Sound region [emphasis ours]. Say, a Regional Transportation Commission?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Road(s)--and Transit--Ahead

As the fall-out continues from last week's failure of the Roads & Transit package, a variety of leaders are offering their perspectives on what happened and, perhaps more important, what to do next.

Don Brunell, President of the Association of Washington Business, echoes the sentiments of RAMP Co-Chair John Ladenburg that action is badly needed:
Despite $11 billion in new taxes and fees over the last five years, traffic congestion is choking the state's economy and leaving drivers trapped in 30 mph "rush hour" traffic. If we wait, congestion will only get worse and costs will go even higher. For example, the cost of road repair materials has increased an average of 33 percent in the past three years. And if we wait too long, we could experience a tragedy like the collapse of the I-35 Bridge in Minneapolis.
Brunell recommends the following directions for future action:
  • Hand major projects over to the private sector (companies like Cintra are building the roads, and motorists pay them back through tolls);
  • Implement "congestion pricing," on Washington's highways, whether those roads are publicly or privately operated.
Meanwhile, Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl reports that her agency "will reach out to the public and our key stakeholders to ask questions, listen to their answers and learn more about how we should move ahead." ST has employed EMC Research and Moore Information to survey the region's voters as part of that process.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Back to the Drawing Board

Proposition 1, which would have raised taxes to pay for $18 billion worth of road and transit projects, failed at the polls Tuesday by a wide margin in all three Central Puget Sound counties. At this month's RAMP meeting (held yesterday morning), local transportation leaders were still trying to regroup after the drubbing at the polls.
"We're going to have to work through the noise about the campaign and its failure over the next few weeks," Shawn Bunney, Chair for the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID), stated. We have to go back to the people of our region and ask: "Did you really not want transportation to work?"

RAMP Co-Chair John Ladenburg observed: "There will be lots of conflicting theories, but one thing's for sure--doing nothing is not an option." Ladenburg is the Pierce County Executive and the Chair for Sound Transit.

The impassioned "morning after" soul-searching gave way to steely resolve as RAMP participants began their scheduled discussion about priorities for lobbying in the 2008 Legislative Session. Governor Chris Gregoire and other state leaders seem to be focused mainly on one project--replacing the SR-520 bridge across Lake Washington. Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, believes it’s time to take another look some sort of super agency--like the Regional Transportation Commission--to coordinate all agencies across the region that plan, fund and operate road and transit projects.

"We need to be at the top of our game going into Olympia this year," Ladenburg said. He and RAMP Co-Chair David Graybill called for a transportation summit of sorts at next month's RAMP meeting (December 5th). At that meeting, participants will be asked to consider several related issues, including:

  • How does Pierce County gain statewide--even regional, for that matter--recognition for its infrastructure needs (e.g., the I-5 bridge over the Puyallup River is just as ready to fall as the Alaskan Way Viaduct)?

  • Should Pierce County break away from King and Snohomish counties to present its own roads package to voters, as allowed by state law if the regional Roads & Transit measure failed?

  • How do we effectively address not just building projects but providing congestion relief?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Prop 1 Campaign Cash--and Rhetoric--Continues to Mount

Those for and against Proposition 1 (the Roads & Transit proposal) have raised more than $4.9 million in cash and in-kind contributions, dwarfing fundraising for the three previous statewide transportation measures. Backers have raised and spent nearly 84 percent of the money, $4.1 million, as the measure faces what is expected by both sides to be a close vote.

The Seattle media seemed to rally a bit in support of the proposition, with the Seattle Times editorial columnist Lance Dickie opining:

Tuesday's election is adorned with black crepe, but I will not be surprised if a three-county package of highway and Sound Transit improvements wins approval.

Wishful thinking? Nope, not even civic optimism. Voters idling off $3-a-gallon gasoline in traffic feel stranded and they want choices. They know it is long past time to get started.

That's a far cry from yesterday's rail-bashing (at least south of Tukwila) editorial by Bruce Ramsey.

Even farther was Joel Connelly's column in the Post-Intelligencer:

As folks decide on Prop. 1..."No" side partisans are freely giving assurances of a brighter tomorrow if the voters refuse to jump for this package of steep taxes.

Sierra Club leaders told me over lunch that Sound Transit can come back with a light rail-only proposal. An editorial writer with Seattle's duller daily opined that local officials will hammer together a more modest proposal.

"Neither one of them is right. ... I don't see anything on the ballot in 2008. I do not see how Sound Transit could go back next year," said state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

"Congestion pricing" is the new catchphrase, on tongues ranging from King County Executive Ron Sims to professional naysayers on the political right. But do not ask for whom the tolls will be rung up, or what agency gets to pocket them.

In other words, there is no viable alternative to Roads & Transit--RAMP's position from the beginning of this campaign.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Light Rail to Tacoma: Bonanza or Boondoggle?

Regular readers of this blog know that both King County Executive Ron Sims and the Sierra Club say taking light rail to Tacoma doesn't make much sense. Today's front page article in the Seattle Times considers the pros and cons to this point of view.

The article reports that, when the King County Office of Management & Budget did a "rough" cost-benefit analysis of each proposed light-rail segment in Proposition 1, as well as bus and commuter rail, it estimated that for every $1,000 spent the Tacoma extension would carry 69 passengers; by comparison, the analysis found that light rail to Bellevue would carry 106 people per $1,000 and the extension north would move 369 people per $1,000. Sound Transit responds that its ridership projections from Sea-Tac to Tacoma are the same as its projections for the light-rail route to Redmond. Analysts arrived at the estimates by "taking projected costs of the projects and dividing them by estimates of how many people would ride each segment"--in other words, estimated guesswork. Does anyone doubt that a similarly "rough" estimate by Pierce County might derive a much different estimate?

Sims questions Sound Transit's projections that people would ride light rail to places inside Pierce County instead of traveling all the way to Seattle. That's a difference he needs to resolve with the Puget Sound Regional Council--the source of long-term regional employment estimates--not Sound Transit.

Elsewhere in that paper is a rail-bashing (at least south of Tukwila) editorial by editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey, in which he concludes with this intellectual exercise: "Imagine what it will cost, and how many people who now stream by Fife's car dealerships will get out of their cars, buy a ticket and wait for the train that stops at South Federal Way, Federal Way, Redondo, Des Moines, South 200th Street, Sea-Tac Airport, Highway 518, and on up the Rainier Valley into downtown Seattle." Unlike John Lennon, Ramsey doesn't seem to like what imagination brings to life--or maybe he just can't imagine the rail traffic going anything but one way, into Seattle.

Patrick O'Callahan, political columnist for The News Tribune, notes in that newspaper's editorial blog today that "[s]ome opponents of Proposition 1, like Ramsey and King County Executive Ron Sims, have decided it would just cost too much to extend Seattle's light rail line down to low-rent Pierce County."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

South Tacoma Tagged for Non-Attainment

As reported in an earlier post, the Washington Department of Ecology is considering designation of most of the Pierce County metropolitan area non-attainment area. The proposed area includes the entire Pierce County Comprehensive Urban Growth area (CUGA), except for areas to the south and southwest (including Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base), and areas to the east of the Puyallup River-White River valleys (including Sumner, Auburn, Pacific, Bonney Lake, and Orting).

Cities within the proposed non-attainment boundary include Tacoma, Lakewood, Steilacoom, Fircrest, University Place, Ruston, Milton, Edgewood, Puyallup, and Fife, as well as the unincorprated areas of Frederickson, Parkland, Spanaway and South Hill.

Ecology will hold a hearing to receive public comment on the draft PM2.5 recommendations and the proposed non-attainment area boundary on Wednesday, December 5th, beginning at 7:00 p.m. in the Pierce County Library & Administrative Center (3005 112th St. E.) in Parkland. Comments can also be sent by mail, e-mail or FAX until 5:00 p.m. on December 10th; comments should be directed to:

Doug Schneider
Department of Ecology
P.O. Box 4700
Olympia, WA 98504-7600
FAX: (360) 407-7534

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Prop 1 Maintains Narrow Lead in Polling

The Washington Poll, a non-partisan, academic survey research project tied to the University of Washington, shows Proposition 1 still ahead with Puget Sound voters.

Some 51 percent of those who said they’ve already voted say they supported the measure and 49 percent of those who are yet to vote are certain or likely to approve the package. 36 percent of those who have sent in their absentee ballots claim to have voted against Roads & Transit, while 38 percent who have yet to vote report that they are likely to vote the plan down.

Voices for Proposition 1

From the chorus of voices raised over Proposition 1, here are excerpts from some statements that bring both light and heat to the subject:
As to the zealotry in our community, the salvation-in-cycling cult has been joined by the cars-are-evil crowd in implacable opposition to improving the roadways, the down-with-light-rail adherents who insist more buses are the answer to our needs, the anti-tax disciples who decry anything that costs money and the global-warming prophets who denounce the whole business as an effort that will simply hasten the day of ecological doom. It's hard to hear any dispassionate voices in what ought to be an intense but levelheaded discussion about our region's future...

A decade ago, Sound Transit was considered a disaster. Currently, it is hailed as a public enterprise that gets things done. Much of the credit, even Sound Transit critics acknowledge, goes to Joni Earl, Sound Transit's CEO, who took over an agency with "a lousy reputation" and is credited with its near complete turnaround. Earl happens to be a public servant who turned down a raise five years ago based on her exceptional performance because Sound Transit had not achieved two major milestones it had set for itself....

She points out...two unarguable facts in all of this: Droves of people continue to move into our midst every year and we've delayed coming to grips with our transportation needs for far too long. No plan is perfect but now is the time, she says, to get on with it; "It's only going to get more expensive
if we delay."

Hubert G. Locke, The Seattle P-I

Prop 1 certainly moves us in the right direction, adding long overdue regional funding for transit and roads. Without "some for each" this effort would fail. As the primary source for Sound Transit, the regional funding in "Prop 1" will dedicate $10.8 billion toward a solution and as a secondary funding source for roads, this measure will add $7 billion toward long overdue progress.

Some of these projects have been "on the books" for a very long time. If not now, when? It took leadership this long to agree on this proposition. If we don't fund it with a yes vote, how do we expect our Puget Sound traffic nightmare to ever end?

Pat Maddock, Tacoma-Pierce County Association of REALTORS

There's a reality for business owners across the central Puget Sound: More than $1.4 billion a year is being sucked out of this region as we idle in a traffic morass judged the nation's 19th worst by the Texas Transportation Institute. And things could get much worse.

State Auditor Brian Sonntag's performance audit of the Washington State Department of Transportation clearly predicts what happens if this November's Roads and Transit package (Proposition 1) is rejected: The measure's failure would "far more than double the current level of congestion" on our roadways.

Far more than double the current level of congestion. That's why after thoroughly examining the $17.8 billion Roads and Transit package, Washington Roundtable members and a broad spectrum of other businesses are confident that, dollar for dollar, its benefits far outweigh its costs.

Confidence is an important concept here. First, we are confident in our region's long-term economic prospects. We are confident that our businesses can continue to produce jobs that pay family wages and grow a tax base that pays for essential services like transportation. But we must make key investments to our aging transportation infrastructure.

Steve Mullin, Washington Roundtable

Monday, October 29, 2007

Two New Transportation Blogs

While blogs like On RAMP have been active in other regions across the nation--offering informed insights on transportation issues from places like Portland, Houston, the Bay Area and Connecticut--similar sites in the Puget Sound region have been few and far between.

Or so it seemed. Recently, the authors of this blog have become aware of one blog that focuses on regional transportation, trade and technology issues, and have noted the debut of another blog offering to provide a citizen's forum on transportation issues:

Cascadia Prospectus, the group blog of the Cascadia Center aims for "the sweet spot between vision, accountability and investment" and offers to provide news, commentary and insight on transportation, trade and technology. The Center supports development of a balanced, integrated, and expanded transportation system for people & goods in the central Puget Sound and beyond: Washington, British Columbia, and Oregon.

Let's Improve Transportation (LIT) is "an experiment in participatory democracy" through which residents of King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties are invited to join an online experiment via the Internet at their own convenience. The purpose of this experiment is "to evaluate a new and potentially more meaningful way to involve citizens in the process of regional transportation decision-making."

Note: RAMP provides the links above for informational purposes only; links do not imply endorsement or recommendation by RAMP or its participants, and RAMP is not responsible for the contents of any "off-site" web page referenced from this server.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Another Level of Attainment?

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) is in the process of developing an action plan implementing new federal standards for clean air, incorporating such factors as ozone and particulate matter (2.5 microns or smaller).

The federal Clean Air Act requires “transportation conformity”--assuring that local and regional transportation plans, improvements and projects conform to the federal regulations. Current data locally indicates that the implementation plan's new emphasis will no longer be on stationary sources (plants), but rather on transportation conformity (trucks, locomotives, ships) for diesel engines.

Currently, the Tacoma area exceeds the new federal limit on particulate matter in an area centered on S. 78th & 'L' St. This level of pollution has been determined by its characteristics and timing to be the result of residential wood smoke; a study is underway to determine whether or not other sources may contribute to this problem.

This seemingly obscure decision to designate the boundaries of a non-attainment area, separated by a few years from potential effects, carries real consequences. A non-attainment designation can adversely affect economic development, transportation infrastructure development and growth in military installations.

The timeline for this process is as follows:

  1. October 26th
    PSCAA completes initial analyses for designation and informal consultation with Tacoma/Pierce County stakeholders
  2. November-December
    WA DOE holds public comment sessions, then sends draft recommendations to Governor
  3. December 1st
    Legislative Workgroup to recommend wood smoke reduction plan
  4. December 18th
    Governor submits designation areas to EPA based upon monitoring data from 2004 - 2006
  5. December 18th, 2008
    EPA designates final areas--could consider data from 2005 – 2007
States have three years after designation to develop a plan and two or more years longer to meet the standards.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Roads & Transit Coverage Accelerates

The past several days have evidenced a flurry of newspaper stories and editorials throughout the Central Puget Sound regarding the impending Roads & Transit vote. While the official polling date is November 6th, many voters already have their absentee ballots in hand.

Sunday's edition of The News Tribune offered extensive coverage, including a slightly negative feature by Joe Turner (sort of a cost/benefit analysis minus the benefit part), a pro/con pitting former state senator and former state Supreme Court justice Phil Talmadge (is there no credible Pierce County spokesperson?) against RAMP Co-Chair David Graybill and Patty Rose, Secretary-Treasurer for the Pierce County Central Labor Council. The coverage was capped by a second endorsement by the editorial board, stating:

Much of the opposition to Proposition 1 is rooted in the region’s old, tiresome roads-vs.-transit dispute....In reality, the region cannot get enough of either.

For a wrap-up of other media coverage of the debate over the Roads & Transit package, check out the campaign website.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Does Parking Need to Be the 'Ugly Stepsister' of Transportation?

Parking--the endpoint for any vehicle trip--tends to be the "ugly stepsister" of the transportation world. New technology and a new paradigm for how that service is delivered is changing parking systems across America.

Typically, cities use parking regulations as a weapon to discourage people from parking downtown, as an incentive to use mass transportation, as a means to raise municipal revenue, or all three. New devices offer ways to increase customer choice, transforming that paradigm.

Portland Transport, the Rose City's version of On RAMP, recently posted a piece that reveals the experience of cities that have moved away from the old pay-for-space approach to a smarter parking system. New devices allow customers to buy parking anywhere they can within a specific district for the exact time they choose, and drivers also have payment options: cash, credit or even a prepaid gift card.

Boulder has recently deployed a Downtown Gift Card that can be used to pay for shopping, movies, and dining as well as municipal parking. Such cards are a way to make parking an integral part of the whole experience of visiting downtown.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Invitation to RAMP Participants

If approved, will the Roads & Transit package (increasingly now known around Pierce County as Proposition 1), be built on time and on budget?

Is there enough in the proposal for Pierce County to justify the resulting tax increases? Is it the right mix of roads and transit? What are the alternatives if this proposal is rejected by voters?

Next Wednesday, The News Tribune is hosting a forum with five experts representing the pro and con positions on the measure :

When: Wednesday, October 10th, 7:00 -9:00 p.m.

Where: Baker Community Room, The News Tribune (1950 S. State St.)

What: Panelists will present their perspectives and answer audience-generated questions

Who: The panelists are Shawn Bunney, Pierce County councilman and chair for the Regional Transportation Investment District; John Ladenburg, Pierce County executive and chair of Sound Transit; Tim Gould, chair of the Sierra Club’s transportation committee; Jim Horn, chair of the Eastside Transportation Association board; and David Graybill, president of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber; the discussion will be moderated by Hunter George, The News Tribune’s politics editor

Also: Doors open at 6:30; cookies and coffee will be provided.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Auditor's Review Vets Sound Transit Performance

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The Washington State Auditor’s office today released an extensive performance audit of Sound Transit’s Link light rail construction program. The performance audit was conducted in compliance with Initiative I-900, approved by Washington voters in 2005.

The audit identified three overarching findings:

  1. Sound Transit was unable to complete the Link light rail line at the cost and within timeframes communicated to voters in 1996;

  2. Sound Transit initially lacked procedures for land acquisition, environmental compliance, permitting and construction management, contributing to its inability to meet project costs and timeframes communicated to voters in 1996;

  3. Sound Transit has extensively improved its construction planning and management processes since 2002.

Areas identified for improvement include but are not limited to environmental compliance, management of change orders and how we track and implement lessons learned. The audit concludes that Sound Transit has made major strides and has developed the processes and procedures that are responsible for the agency’s successful delivery of projects.

The performance audit focused on the Link light rail construction project, which is currently nearing 80 percent completion. Areas identified for improvement include environmental compliance, management of change orders and how we track and implement lessons learned. The audit states Sound Transit has made major strides and has developed the processes and procedures that are responsible for the agency’s successful delivery of projects.

The audit makes several recommendations, many of which Sound Transit has already begun implementing; with a few exceptions, the transit agency generally agrees with those recommendations. Overall, the audit identified potential savings of approximately $5 million and cost the State $455,410 to administer. The Link project budget is $2.7 billion.

Sound Transit is one of the most closely reviewed and audited agencies in the state. The performance audit identifies 48 different federal, state and independent audits beginning before voters approved the Sound Move ballot measure in 1996, and notes the agency is marked by a “culture of continuous improvement.” Recently, an independent Expert Review Panel appointed by the State of Washington issued a final letter affirming that Sound Transit used its lessons-learned to build a solid Sound Transit 2 plan (the basis for the transit portion of the Roads & Transit package submitted to voters).

Sound Transit says it is committed to maintaining transparency and serving as an effective stewardship of the taxpayers’ dollars; to that end (as required by law), the agency will be holding a public hearing on the audit next Thursday, October 11, beginning at 1:00 p.m. in the Ruth Fisher Board Room at Union Station (401 S. Jackson, 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.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Staking the Middle Ground

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Most political strategists will say that the best place for a campaign to aim its efforts is into the broad middle ground of voters--and that one way to judge that positioning is when those on either extreme of an issue are taking shots. If so, the Roads & Transit campaign is clearly in that sweet spot.

From the right, the Washington Policy Center (which has never seen a transit project it liked) attacked the proposed package this week in its latest Policy Note. The Center claims that "by every measure, the roads and transit plan is unbalanced and favors public transportation 3 to 1."

From the left, the Sierra Club, Cascade Bicycle Club and Conservation Northwest (none of which ever have seen a road project they liked) continue to contend that building new road capacity cancels out the environmental and climate benefits of building new transit--an extreme position even for the enviros.

Meanwhile, King County Executive Rom Sims is taking potshots against the plan with comments like these:

  • Light rail would connect Seattle to Tacoma (already served by faster Sounder
    Trains) and run along Highway 99 (where last year's King County Metro "Transit
    Now" tax increase is ramping up bus-rapid-transit service).
  • Instead, expanded bus service could generate much higher ridership in this corridor while
    freeing up funds for light rail to Southcenter and Renton. In Pierce County, we can achieve more traffic relief by extending light rail within Tacoma to the University of Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran University.
Sims commends the Sierra Club and its partner organizations for "showing great courage"--apparently for being the odd parties out from the environmental consensus behind the package. He is apparently unaware of the extensive local discussion--coordinated by RAMP--that helped define the stable of projects now in the ballot proposal.

Like some other King County leaders, he'd like to see south end projects scrapped in favor of more money for SR-520--a project that's still short of needed dollars despite massive injections of capital from the Washington State Legislature. As state transportation leader Ed Murray has told his constituents up north: "RTID has chosen to peanut-butter it and spread the money all over the place; when you're building roads in Pierce County to developments that don't even exist but you're not financing a bridge that's falling down, that's a very questionable approach."

Just to keep the facts in perspective, here is The News Tribune's editorial response today to Executive Sims.

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, September 27, 2007

Tacoma Electeds Divided Over Roads & Transit

Submitted by Paul Ellis

A dust up is brewing for the Tacoma City Council Chambers next Tuesday evening as the city's elected officials consider competing resolutions related to Pierce County Proposition 1--the $18 billion (regionally) Roads & Transit package.

Councilmember Tom Stenger has introduced a resolution to oppose the issue on the November ballot. It states the following reasons for opposition:

  • Sound Transit has failed to fulfill its promises from the 1996 package, including failing to provide ten commuter rail round trips per day and failing to provide "reverse commute" service;
  • Sound Transit's plan creates serious disadvantages for Tacoma residents, including a design at Tacoma's Pacific Avenue Crossing that provides for a dangerous at-grade crossing and requiring Tacoma taxpayers to pay taxes for 20 years before light rail connects from SeaTac Airport to Tacoma;
  • RTID takes over $10 from Tacoma to be spent in the suburbs while spending only $1 in the City; and
  • Tacoma has been excluded from the RTID planning process and its needs, which are as great as anybody's, were not fairly considered.

Stenger, it may be recalled, was the City of Tacoma's representative to regional planning bodies until that privilege was revoked by the City Council following outbursts of intemperate language and what some characterized as inappropriate responses to citizens.

Julie Anderson, Tacoma's current representative to the Sound Transit Board, has also introduced a resolution expressing the City Council's support for Proposition 1. This resolution cites a number of reasons for support of the ballot measure, including:

  • The package contains several road projects of benefit to Tacoma, including completion of State Route ("SR") 167, from Puyallup to SR 509; creating a direct southern access to SeaTac Airport by completing the connection between SR-509 and Interstate 5 ("I-5"); and funding for an I‑5 access ramp to the Tacoma Mall, bypassing the congested South 38th Street and Steele Street intersection;
  • The package also contains several transit projects of benefit to Tacoma, including extending Link light rail from SeaTac Airport to the Tacoma Dome Station intermodal terminal; funds for additional Sounder commuter rail service; and expansion of Sounder Station parking in several locations.

The majority of city leaders seems to appreciate the value of the proposed package and are likely to vote to support Roads & Transit, but Tuesday evening's fireworks may be worth watching.

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 10, 2007

Life in the Fast Lane Soon for SR-167

Submitted by Paul Ellis

It won’t be long now before some commuters on SR-167 in South King County begin paying a toll between 50 cents and 3 dollars to travel between Auburn and Renton. The Washington Department of Transportation expects to open the high occupancy toll (HOT) lane pilot project next spring, allowing solo drivers to buy their way into the car-pool lanes. Consultants have estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 of the 120,000 drivers who use that portion of the highway daily will be willing to pay a toll to drive in a faster lane.

Motorists who already have a Good To Go account for the Tacoma Narrows Bridges will be able to use the lanes, too, because the toll amount will be electronically deducted from their accounts. Unlike the toll on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which is fixed, the toll on SR-167 will vary based on how quicky (or slowly) traffic is flowing. When general traffic lanes are heavily congested, the toll in the carpool lanes will be higher because drivers will be able to save more time by switching to the carpool lane. When traffic is free-flowing, the toll will be lower. Travel will remain free to buses, vanpools, carpools and motorcycles in the car-pool lanes and for all traffic in the general-purpose lanes.

This dynamic pricing model, which is close to real-time, also will let solo drivers know exactly how much they will be charged before they switch to the car-pool lane because the price will be displayed on roadside signs. Electronic Transaction Consultants Corp. of Richardson, TX was hired by the state to develop the computer software that looks at traffic volume and speeds to vary the toll. Feedback from the traffic model also will let highway officials know when to close the car-pool lane to solo drivers because too many cars will slow down buses and disrupt their schedules.

The HOT lanes themselves have been built, but the tolling equipment has yet to be installed. The northbound HOT lane will run 12 miles from 15th St. S.W. in Auburn to I-405, and southbound nine miles from I-405 to about S. 288th St. A nine-mile extension of the southbound carpool lane on SR-167 is slated for 2009-2011, and that may later become part of the HOT lane corridor.

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 27, 2007

In China, Too

Submitted by Paul Ellis

A previous post for this blog highlighted China's voracious appetite for building new roads. The Asian nation is also surpassing the United States in another area of record: bridge collapses.

As families continued to mourn nine people killed in Guangdong Province after a cargo vessel struck a bridge there, the nation was rocked by news of an even more shocking incident. Twenty-nine workers were killed and 46 are still missing after the bridge they were building in Fenghuang, a tourist destination in central Hunan Province, crumbled down on top of them.

The bridge was part of the highway linking Fenghuang and Daxing Airport of Tongren in neighboring Guizhou Province. Construction of the 42-meter-high structure was almost complete except for dismantling the steel scaffoldings, and more than 120 workers were removing the scaffoldings--during the afternoon rush hour--when all the four arches of the 328-meter-long stone bridge fell.

The Chinese Ministry of Communications reports that more than 6,000 damaged or dangerous bridges will be fixed or rebuilt under an ambitious plan to make China's major roadways safer by 2010. Figures from the ministry's annual report on road maintenance found that by the end of 2006, some 6,300 of China's 500,000 or so bridges were graded "fifth rank"--defined as "in dangerous status with some important structural components seriously damaged".

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 20, 2007

A Bridge Too Far Gone?

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The collapse earlier this month of the I-35 bridge into Minneapolis has underscored the need for renewed investment in transportation infrastructure nationwide--it's clear now that an earthquake is not the only danger facing older structures like the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The nation's long-term failure to adequately invest in roads and bridges has a deferred cost--a debt that may be coming due.

In the aftermath of the incident, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters urged state transportation departments to conduct inspections of 756 bridges similar to the ill-fated steel-deck truss bridge. The Minneapolis bridge, which was built in 1967, rose about 64 feet above the river and stretched about 1,900 feet across the water with a single 458-foot-long span to avoid interference with river navigation. Questions about the cause of the collapse and whether it could have been prevented continue to arise, although local officials have been quick to assure the public that a similar collapse here is very unlikely.

Minnesota officials were warned as early as 1990 that the bridge was "structurally deficient," yet they relied on patchwork repairs and stepped-up inspections that unraveled with a calamitous sudden drop of concrete, bodies and automobiles. The tragic collapse is sure to engender a new round of bridge inspections across the country; hopefully, it will also engender renewed debate about the need for transportation investments.
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 17, 2007

Invitation to RAMP Participants

East side of the Thea Foss Waterway Transportation Corridor Study - Design Alternatives Community Workshop: the City of Tacoma is conducting a transportation corridor study for the east side of the Thea Foss Waterway, and community input is encouraged.

When: Thursday, September 27th
4:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Where: Phoenix Room, Freighthouse Square, Tacoma Dome District (2501 E. 'D' St. )

Study Purpose: Develop recommendations that will serve four primary functions:
  1. Improve vehicular and pedestrian access to the two distinct development areas located on the east side of the Foss (industrial and non-industrial).
  2. Provide for a functional separation between industrial and non-industrial development areas.
  3. Potentially create new freight routes to improve public access.
  4. Physically distinguish the areas with unique signage, limited access and landscaped buffers.
Study Area Boundaries: Thea Foss Waterway, Commencement Bay, the Puyallup River and I-5

For more information: contact Peter Huffman, City of Tacoma, Community and Economic Development Department, at (253) 591-5373.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

'Keep Washington Rolling' Moves R&T Forward

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Success at the polls on November 6th will require a well-organized, aggressive campaign effort working in all three counties. Such an effort is now organizing--it's called Keep Washington Rolling.

Keep Washington Rolling is building a regional campaign with strong local efforts in each county. The campaign is headed by Kelly Evans, a seasoned political strategist, and capitalizes on the strong alliances already built to defeat Initiative 912 last year. A campaign website and fact sheets detailing benefits of the Roads & Transit package for each county are already online.

Polling shows strong voter support for the Roads & Transit package, and the recent bridge collapse in Minnesota highlights the need for renewed investment in transportation infrastructure. A squishy public image and huge price tag are potential obstacles to a successful vote in November.

As of the end of July, the following groups and individuals have registered their support for the package:

Washington Conservation Voters
Transportation Choices Coalition
Washington Environmental Council
Tahoma Audubon Society
Environment Washington

Washington Roundtable
Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce
Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce
Everett Area Chamber of Commerce
Greater Redmond Chamber of Commerce
Bellevue Downtown Association
Bellevue Chamber of Commerce
Renton Chamber of Commerce
Southwest King County Chamber of Commerce
Issaquah Chamber of Commerce
Pierce County Association of Master Builders
American Council of Engineering Companies – Washington
National Association of Industrial Office Properties
Washington Association of Realtors
Associated General Contractors of Washington
Perteet, Inc.

Washington State Labor Council
Pierce County Central Labor Council

City of Edmonds
City of Bellevue

Duke Schaub
Ralph Munro

Pierce County Democrats
Snohomish County Democrats

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, July 16, 2007

Invitation to RAMP Participants

With the Roads and Transit package vote looming in November, the latest transportation roundtable sponsored by the Cascadia Center will examine what other regions are doing to align transportation needs with regional development. This coming Thursday, July 19th, the event will be held from 4:45 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Washington Athletic Club in downtown Seattle.

The theme of this roundtable is "Getting to Yes" and the roundtable will offer examples of how other regions surmounted the challenges facing them and were able to move forward on agreements of large-scale benefit--in each instance, a wide range of interests from both the public and private sectors had to be accommodated:
  1. Allocating a Scarce Resource: The Colorado River agreement among southwest states. Reaching this agreement required reconciling not only the competing interests among states but competition within each state for agricultural, urban and environmental uses of a limited water resource. The story will be told by Richard Katz,, former California State Water Resources Board member and former state legislator.
  2. Winning a Super-Majority and How to Leverage It: The San Diego regional transportation revenue package. Last November, San Diego metro area leaders overcame a daunting state requirement for two-thirds voter approval on a $14 billion, 40-year plan of highway, transit and freight improvements. Now they are moving ahead with innovative partnerships such as the South Bay Express, a 12-mile toll road financed by a mix of new regional, voter-approved funding and private equity capital. The story will be told by Craig Scott, TransNet Manager for the San Diego Association of Governments.
  3. Revitalizing the Waterfront: The Baltimore Inner Harbor project. One of America’s most historic cities, Baltimore needed a boost and capitalized on a major asset – its Inner Harbor. A stunning mixed-use project combining destination attractions with commercial and residential projects, the Inner Harbor demonstrates redevelopment in a dense urban setting. The story will be told by a representative of the Baltimore Development Corporation.
RAMP participants may register for the event by contacting by contacting Jennifer Zucati at (206) 292-0401 x.157.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pierce County Council Votes on Combined Package

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The Pierce County Council is expected to endorse the regional Roads & Transit package today, placing the fate of "the largest transportation investment since the Federal Highway Act" in voters’ hands. The King County Council and the Snohomish County Council have already agreed to put the package on the ballot in their respective jurisdictions.

All seven Pierce County Council members voted to pass the package forward yesterday as a Committee of the Whole. RAMP co-chair David Graybill spoke in favor of the measure, reflecting the support of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber; representatives from the cities of Tacoma, Puyallup and Fife also voiced their support for the transportation plan.

Graybill will be on hand this afternoon to reiterate the Chamber's support as the County Council considers Ordinance 2007-49; an affirmation of this proposal will authorize officials to put the Roads & Transit measure on the November ballot. Also this afternoon, Commissioners of the Port of Tacoma will vote on whether or not to endorse the transportation package.

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, June 28, 2007

Chamber Endorses Roads & Transit Plan

Submitted by Paul Ellis

This morning, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber came on board as the latest supporter for the Roads & Transit package on the November ballot.

The Chamber's Board of Directors unanimously endorsed a resolution presented by Gary Nomenson from Puget Sound Energy, representing the group's Public Affairs Committee. "Decades of deferred investment in the region’s transportation infrastructure will be addressed in the combined Roads & Transit proposal," the resolution read, "which was developed by regional leaders through two high-level venues: the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) chaired by Pierce County Councilmember Shawn Bunney, and Sound Transit, the regional transit agency chaired by John Ladenburg, Pierce County Executive."

The business group's approval is timely as members of the Pierce County Council prepare to consider action next week on the package--whether or not to join their peers in King and Snohomish counties in placing the combined package on the ballot.

Meanwhile, a new regional poll reveals that fifty-seven percent of voters in the Central Puget Sound are inclinced to vote for the package. Politicians and transportation planners have been quietly worrying that the roads and transit package might be doomed, but Elway's latest poll of 400 voters last week suggests there's some hope.

The survey, which has a margin of error of 5 percent, did reveal that only 38 percent of those questioned had heard of the tax plan. That's not surprising because interest groups, both pro and con, haven't started their ad blitz yet.

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, June 22, 2007

For Whom the Roads Toll

Submitted by Paul Ellis

More than 120 people convened this past Wednesday for the Puget Sound Regional Council's workshop, The Future of Transportation Finance: Lessons from Road Charging Experiments. Speakers included local and international policymakers in the area of transportation finance (click on highlighted titles to see their presentations):
During the lunchtime panel, Randy Pozdena & Matthew Kitchen--participants from PSRC's Traffic Choices study--discussed their personal experiences with road charging.

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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Friday, June 15, 2007

Details of the Deal

Submitted by Paul Ellis

A $7 billion roads package for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties is finally ready for the approval of the region’s voters. It will be combined with Sound Transit's $10.8 billion light rail, bus and commuter rail package in a single question on this November’s ballot.

The Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) chaired by Pierce County Councilmember Shawn Bunney approved the final roads package last week after some tense negotiations in which elected officials and environmentalists compromised over the controversial Cross-Base Highway near Fort Lewis. RAMP has been and remains a staunch advocate for this critical “missing link” in the regional highway network, linking Spanaway and Frederickson to Interstate 5. The approved package allocates $427 million on interchange and nearby road projects, including at least $10 million for environmental work; however, the crucial center of the project can't be started until after talks with a mediator in 2009--and after another $200 million is found to complete the project.

Sound Transit is proposing a 50-mile light-rail-expansion to the Tacoma Dome in the south, near Mill Creek in the north and Redmond to the east by 2027—building on the 19 miles currently underway. The package also includes 11,200 new parking stalls, 7 new/improved Sounder Commuter rail stations, and enhanced bus and commuter rail service.

The capital costs of the transit improvements is currently estimated at $10.8 billion. The transit part of the package would boost the sales tax by a nickel per $10 purchase, which officials estimate would run about $125 a year for a typical household.

The roads portion of the package would mainly pay for highway lanes that can't be funded through gas taxes alone. The adopted package retains SR-167 as the marquee investment in Pierce County and allocates funding for the Cross-Base Highway. Other Pierce County improvements to be funded through this package include improvements to SR-410/SR-162, enhanced access to Tacoma Mall, and non-motorized improvements.

The road improvements would be funded by a sales-tax increase of 1 cent per $10 purchase and an annual car-tab tax of $80 per $10,000 of vehicle value. The capital cost of the roads package is $7.0 billion in 2006 dollars.

The Gig Harbor Peninsula and areas of Pierce County beyond Orting are outside the Sound Transit and RTID districts and will be exempted from taxes and fees that will be levied if the combined package is approved by the region’s voters.

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, June 12, 2007

Cross-Base Salvaged As Regional Roads Plan Moves Forward

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The county councils for Pierce, King and Snohomish counties approved the roads portion of a $17.7 billion package last Friday. The resulting Roads & Transit plan is a new approach to transportation--it marries transit and highway investments to create the first integrated transportation system for the entire Puget Sound region.

Last-minute negotiations over the Cross-Base Highway--long a project supported by RAMP--threatened to pit environmentalists throughout the region against the joint ballot measure, but all-night talks resulted in a proposal that most environmentalists will not oppose, according to Bill LaBorde of Environment Washington.

All three elected bodies must now adopt ordinances to put the measure on the ballot in November.

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, May 16, 2007

State Budget Round-Up

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Kudos to The News Tribune, which today publicized highlights of the $7.5 billion Washington State transportation budget for 2007-09:
  • Earmarks $199 million to continue building car-pool lanes on I-5 from the Tacoma Mall to Fife and to rebuild the Nalley Valley Viaduct at SR-16--most work will be done between 2009 and 2013 at a total cost of $1.4 billion;
  • Appropriates the final $142 million of the $849 million for the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge;
  • Sets up a $5 million line of credit in case first-year tolls on the new bridge don’t raise enough money to make loan payments;
  • Allocates half of the $25 million to widen SR-161 (North Meridian) from Jovita Boulevard to 24th St.--the rest of this work will be done in the 2009-11 budget cycle;
  • Identifies $52.3 million for the Point Defiance Bypass, a project that will reroute Amtrak and freight railroad tracks through South Tacoma into the Port of Tacoma instead of around the park;
  • Gives $3.7 million to Sound Transit to expand Sounder commuter rail parking in Puyallup, Sumner and Auburn;
  • Reauthorizes $2 million for the LeMay Car Museum;
  • Appropriates $7 million of the $15 million needed to replace the Puyallup River Bridge on SR-162;
  • Designates $665,000 of the $4 million needed to build a rest area in Elbe on SR-7;
  • Allocates $6.5 million to repave SR-7 between the Eatonville Cutoff Road and SR-507;
  • Funds cameras in construction zones;
  • Sets a $2.8 billion limit on how much the state will spend to replace Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct;
  • Appropriates $132 million for the extension of SR-167 between the Port of Tacoma and Puyallup, with $40 million of that money dependant upon a container tax or port-related fee of some sort;
  • Sets aside $19 million toward the proposed Cross-Base Highway (SR-704) between I-5 and Frederickson;
  • Allows a 2.5 percent increase in ferry fares next month, then freezes fares until Sept. 1, 2009, while a fare study is conducted;
  • Lends $3.9 million to the Regional Transportation Investment District in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties for the joint election in November;
  • Completes funding for the “HOT” lane program on SR-167 for a 9-mile stretch between Auburn and Renton.

Most of these expenditures were supported by RAMP this session--all should be familiar to RAMP participants.

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, May 10, 2007

Will RTID Drop the Cross-Base Highway?

Submitted by Paul Ellis

The News Tribune will report tomorrow that RTID Chair Shawn Bunney is considering removal of that segment of the Cross-Base Highway that crosses the military bases from November's Roads & Transit package.

Bunney's working proposal would fund improvements to Interstate 5 at the Thorne Lane intersection (comprising nearly 60% of the total project cost) on the west side of the project and accelerate funding for improvements on the east side of the project, primarily to 176th St. E. and Canyon Rd. What Bunney calls the "controversial middle portion" of the project would be left "to resolve at a later date". Bunney characterizes himself as a staunch supporter of the project, no matter how the package ultimately presented to voters turns out.

Meanwhile, the Washington State Department of Transportation is about to release a cost/benefit analysis of the Cross-Base Highway recently conducted by HDR/HLB. This analysis compares building the highway to widening of SR-7 and to enhancing transit services in terms of impacts upon congestion, safety, and emissions reduction. Look for more details in an upcoming post.

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, May 09, 2007

Invitation to RAMP Participants

The Puget Sound Regional Council invites RAMP participants to save the date for a workshop called "The Future of Transportation Finance - Lessons from Road Charging Experiments":

Wednesday, June 20th
9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Washington Athletic Club (1325 Sixth Ave., Seattle)
Cost is $30 per person; lunch is included
Join experts and participants in road charging projects in a workshop reviewing results and lessons learned.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Local Option Car Tax Approved

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Governor Christine Gregoire gave Washington cities and counties the authority Friday to collect a $20 annual fee on vehicle registrations without a public vote, replacing a similar tax that was repealed by voters in 2002.

Since 2003, cities and counties have had authority to collect as much as $100 a year from a local car tax that wins public approval at the ballot box, but to date no local jurisdiction has pursued that option. Voters last fall turned down Tacoma’s request for a property tax increase to raise $48 million for street repairs over six years. HB1858 lets a county council or a city council levy a $20 fee without voter approval.

The signing upset professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman, who crashed the signing ceremony to accuse Gregoire and the Legislature of ignoring the wishes of the people. Eyman led the initiative drive that voters passed in 2002 (I-776).

Pierce, King and Snohomish counties and the cities within its borders can’t impose the $20 fee until after May 22, 2008--a delay designed to let the Roads & Transit Plan go to voters first.
After that date, HB 1858 gives the three county councils first crack at deciding whether to go with a countywide car tax; if a county council opts not to impose the annual fee, each city council could then make its own decision.

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, May 02, 2007

Ladenburg Reiterates Top-Level Support for SR-704

Submitted by Paul Ellis

At this month's RAMP meeting (earlier today), Pierce County Executive and RAMP Co-Chair John Ladenburg reiterated the crucial importance of SR-704--the Cross-Base Highway--in the Roads & Transit package.

"If the Regional Transportation Investment District proposes a package that leaves out Cross-Base," Ladenburg told RAMP participants, "then I'll publicly come out against passage of the ballot issue." Rumors have been circulating that some members of the RTID Board are soft on the project and may propose its omission during their meeting tomorrow morning.

Participants also heard that an economic analysis of the SR-704 project--like those conducted for SR-167 and the Alaskan Way Viaduct--has been completed and will be released by WSDOT next week.

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, April 30, 2007

The Road Ahead

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Other than the long-awaited opening of the second Narrows Bridge (or, arguably, the ongoing rebuild of I-5 through the middle of Tacoma), the biggest transportation issue this year will be the integrated Roads & Transit vote on the November ballot. This referendum will have a crucial impact upon regional transportation funding for years to come.

Here's the schedule ahead for how the package will be finalized and presented:
□ January-April 2007:
√ RTID gathers public input on draft plan
√ RTID & Sound Transit continue integrating road and transit plans
□ Late spring 2007: RTID & Sound Transit finalize plans
□ Summer 2007: County councils vote to place road plan on ballot
□ November 2007: Public votes on Roads & Transit package
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, April 26, 2007

Will Tolling Go Wireless?

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Decaying roads. Rising traffic congestion. Voters distrustful of government and leery about increased gas taxes. Neil Peirce of The Washington Post recently looked at these problems with transportation funding nationwide and suggested that urban areas consider deployment of tolling as a funding mechanism.

RAMP supports the recommendations of the Washington Transportation Commission in its 2006 Comprehensive Tolling Study and believes that the state should use tolling to encourage effective use of the transportation system through congestion management as well as to provide a supplementary source of transportation funding. RAMP further contends that tolling represents the most direct way to charge system users for the cost of the highway system without singling out one specific class of user.

Always a visionary, Peirce goes even further, citing the recommendation of Robin Chase, CEO of Massachusetts-based Meadow Networks, that governments should abandon gas taxes entirely and shift to wireless technology:

A small, low-cost computer on board every vehicle would report (in real time) miles actually traveled, allowing a realistic government user charge. Fees could be adjusted for roadway congestion pricing (premiums to travel on peak roads at peak times), by wear and tear related to vehicle weight and footprint, and by the vehicle's emissions (a carbon tax to encourage vehicles with reduced greenhouse gas emissions).
Science fiction? Not really--in Britain, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling and others have already proposed that automobiles be equipped with onboard equipment to track their use, with drivers paying a higher charge for operation in congested places and at peak times. Closer to home, the Oregon Road User Fee Task Force has determined how such a tax might be calculated and collected; at the task force's request, researchers have developed technology that can distinguish miles driven in Oregon from those driven elsewhere, then allow a mileage tax to be calculated and paid at the pump in place of the state gas tax.

The technical issues are minimal compared with the administrative issues, and especially with tough policy questions about privacy, equity and the environment; nevertheless, the chronic and urgent need for additional sources for transportation funding will undoubtedly leave no stone unturned.

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.