Monday, February 26, 2007

"Think Globally, Act Locally"

Submitted by Paul Ellis

It's an adage that's at least a couple of decades old, but still true: "Think globally, act locally." And the reverse is sometimes true, as well--what's good for a local interest is sometimes good for a larger constituency.

Washington State Senator Derek Kilmer--vice chairman of the Economic Development, Trade & Management Committee and a member of the Transportation Committee--wants to give his constituents "the best possible deal" when it comes to their share of the costs related to travel from the Gig Harbor Peninsula to the rest of Pierce County. He spells out the details of that deal in an op-ed in Sunday's edition of The News Tribune. What he's proposing may be good for the larger interests of Pierce County and Washington State, too.

Kilmer has several specific proposals linked to action already taking place in Olympia:

  • Senate Bill 5681 would keep bridge users from having to foot the bill for the sales tax on the construction of the bridge, shaving roughly $40 million to $60 million from the cost of the bridge from tolls;
  • Senate Bill 5391 would direct a portion of the fine (equal to three times the amount of the toll) to the Narrows Bridge Tolling Account, generating an additional $15 million to $20 million over time for this account;

  • Senate Bill 5680 would nearly double the amount of the state fuel tax distributed to the Puget Sound Ferry Operations Account, subsidizing the state’s cost of running ferries and reducing the corresponding fares paid by waterborne commuters;

  • Senate Bill 5862 would direct some of the funding generated from the sales tax on fuel used by ferries into an account that supports passenger-only ferries;

  • Keep $1.3 million budgeted for this year and another $8.7 million for the biennium for a discount for Narrows Bridge users during the first year the bridge is open--Kilmer contends that commuters will pay a full toll for a project that doesn’t deliver a full benefit, and that those commuters will very likely face a commute that’s even worse than it is today.

Kilmer's proposals are reasonable, would seem to serve the best interests of his constituents, and have a multi-modal thrust, addressing ferries as well as bridge commutes. Kilmer's suggestions may have a broader impact, though, as well.

As the first major test of tolling in Washington State, it's imperative that the Narrows Bridge project be a success not just for the transportation system but also for the broader constituency both served and impacted by new or expanded facilities. Kilmer's proposals may help make that goal 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.

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