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.