Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bluest Skies You've Ever Seen Are in Tacoma

Carlile Transportation Systems today welcomed to its Tacoma fleet the first Kenworth Medium-Duty Diesel-Electric Hybrid Tractor to serve any West Coast Port.

Photo courtesy KathyTomandl, Port of Tacoma

The "tractor" is equipped with a fifth wheel to haul trailers for drayage business at the Port of Tacoma. I had the privilege of a short excursion aboard the new Kenworth T370 with Carlile Transportation Systems CEO Harry McDonald as chauffeur. McDonald said they expect a 20+% increase in fuel mileage from the hybrid for local haul applications.
This hybrid is a welcome addition to the commercial center of the port-industrial area. It will demonstrate the viability of hybrid commercial vehicles for this purpose - and we wish both Carlile and Kenworth be best of luck. In addition to having far more immediate applications than the $100,000 Tesla, the port-industrial area has been recommended for non-attainment status for PM-2.5 even though continuing monitoring shows results below federal thresholds. That final designation is expected from EPA Thursday, Dec. 18

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Our Own Economic Stimulus Package

This community is about to embark on its most massive construction project ever; the Blair-Hylebos Terminal Redevelopment Project (BHTRP). At an estimated $1 billion, it dwarfs the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge at $800 million.

Early news reports were filled with the economic opportunity associated with this redevelopment, accommodating new terminal expansions and the redevelopment/repositions of others. Other businesses have been impacted and we've seen several pursue new facilities as this Port development has spurred other improvements.

The people of Pierce County, justifiably proud of the economic engine of the Port of Tacoma, have been treated to numerous opportunities to learn more about and to express preferences for how things are done as the project is improved. This Monday is the new deadline - extended from an earlier benchmark - now (Dec. 8) until 4:00 p.m.; everyone has another chance to share their opinions, concerns, preferences, choices and other perspectives about the BHTRP.

If you having yet caught onto this project - and are a quick study - you have just a handful of hours from this posting to do your homework and make a meaningful contribution. Comments may be online or via email.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Riding the Circuit - the Road to Everywhere

The Transportation Club continues to attract quality speakers with gravitas, featuring Ray Kuntz, Immediate Past President of the American Trucking Association yesterday.

But after his year on the rubber-chicken circuit, our audience was treated to a well polished presentation of the challenges confronting the trucking industry from a front-line fighter, plus a few glimpses into his vision for the future.

As Chairman of the Board and CEO for Watkins Shepard Trucking of Helena, MT, we can be gratified to have a Westerner at the forefront of trucking's issues. There wasn't much doubt that he considers the U.S. infrastructure system to be failing - the foundation of our status as a global power. Kuntz gave a review of several national (and state) systems that have gone to hi-way privatization for infrastructure. Uniformly, he forecasts private tolling fees of $1/mile, forcing trucks to use adjacent arterials systems.

And, he had a special forecast for Mexican trucking issues. There is no low-sulfur diesel refined or planned for in Mexico, although one firm plans to supply truckstops with tanker-trucked diesel. Mexican trucks will use non-low sulfur diesel, making them "dirty" trucks when traveling in the U.S. (via the FTA provisions). U.S. trucks, built after 2007 will have to pay the higher diesel costs of limited supplies when in Mexico. Kuntz laments that the real issues of NAFTA are never part of the public discourse.

Kuntz also is troubled by the cost of the next highway bill, which he puts at $400+ billion. He asks: "How do we fund this?" Plus, he asks how the trucking industry will respond to sustainability and climate change legislation, probably mandating carbon credits. He said the National Association of Manufacturers puts this toll at $1 billion.

Kuntz offers these solutions:
  1. FIX CONGESTION. Focusing on congestion problems will cost $80 billion, with 3/4ths of that in the top 20 metro areas;
  2. NATIONAL 60 MPH SPEED LIMIT. This will give greater fuel efficiency and reduce our consumption;
  3. DO ALL OPTIONS FOR FUEL SOURCES. Do conservation. Do alternative fuels. Do drill more.

His observation - National legislation has proposed to eliminate larger companies (more than 50 trucks) from incentives, yet those larger companies are the ones doing fuel conservation:

  • Adding APUs
  • Buying fuel efficient tires
  • Giving drivers fuel bonuses

These activities are saving his 700-truck firm $500,000/month. And, from us he got more than rubber chicken - he got salmon!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Multi-Colored Thread Ties Community-Post

A quick look at the WSDOT traffic congestion map in the left column, for I-5 as it threads its way between Fort Lewis and the Lakewood-DuPont community often looks a remnant from Joseph's multi-colored coat.

However, it doesn't evoke envy.

At Wednesday's (11-05-08) regular meeting, RAMP looked at Lakewood's efforts to rescue this increasingly congested section of I-5 from the pit to which it has been cast. Melvin Austin, Chief of Base Security and Access Control shared with RAMP attendees the data on those going into the post. He was clear that his concerns were with security, not being a traffic engineer, but that he worked closely and cooperatively with WSDOT. And, he has similar concerns on post with the end-of-day exodus.

With the problem defined, Ellie Chambers-Grady and Dan Penrose, City of Lakewood, briefed RAMP attendees on the draft OEA (Office of Economic Adjustment)/Department of Defense grant they are preparing. (This grant application is the first of part of two components Lakewood is seeking, the second taking a comprehensive focus on community impacts from Ft. Lewis's growth.)


  1. Transportation alternatives analysis

  2. Operational traffic model
    assessment of current traffic conditions
    determine future transportation needs of the expected population increase
    determine short term and long term priorities within the study area
    identify resource needs and potential sources
    provide a coordinated action plan

  3. Project will be coordinated with the assistance of Washington State DOT

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Executive Candidates Debate SR 167 and Tolls

Last Friday, the Puyallup/Sumner Chamber of Commerce sponsored a candidates’ forum for the County Executive candidates. Shawn Bunney, Mike Lonergan, and Calvin Goings were present. Pat McCarthy was unable to attend.

The moderator asked the candidates a couple of questions related to transportation. I did not take notes, but below is a synopsis of what I remember. RAMP members might find this of interest.

Question #1: What will be your approach to finding funding to complete large transportation projects in our area, specifically SR 167 between Puyallup and the Port of Tacoma?

Mr. Bunney: This must be approached on several levels. Federally, there will be a reauthorization bill in 2009. This may be an opportunity, and we can use Sen. Murray's clout. Maybe a special freight account with SR 167 as the centerpiece. At the state and regional levels, we need to fight for our fair share and stop sending our tax dollars to King County.

Mr. Lonergan: I have been working on the planning side for several years with the Puget Sound Regional Council and as Chair of the Pierce County Regional Council. An example is the PSRC plan which looks at transportation for the next 33 years. SR 167 is identified as an important part of the region’s needs. I would use RAMP as a vehicle to bring supporters of SR 167 together to develop and implement a strategy.

Mr. Goings: I will bring together a transportation workgroup within 90 days of taking office. I would like to work other counties for another regional package like the RTID effort. However, if that isn’t possible then we should put together a Pierce County only proposal. Either way, some proposal will be put together to go to the voters next fall.

Question #2: What is your position on using tolling a part of the solution for meeting the region's transportation needs?

Mr. Bunney: Yes, tolling must be part of the bigger solution.

Mr. Lonergan: Yes, look at the HOT lane experiment.

Mr. Goings: No, tolling is unfair to people who can't afford tolls. These should be "public highways."

I hope this is of interest. My apologies to the candidates if I did not adequately report the intent of what was said. If I did, I welcome corrections by replies to this blog.

George Walk

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Transportation Model Illustrates Benefits of SR-167 Completion

The Puget Sound Regional Council has completed some really innovative modeling that examines who benefits most from the completion of SR-167. This information was shared with Cambridge Systematics, the consulting firm examining freight infrastructure funding in Washington state. Cambridge shared this information with the Legislature's Joint Transportation Committee this week.

The first notable data point shared with the JTC is that 85.6 percent of the benefits (as measured by improved travel time, reliability and operating cost savings) would go to passenger vehicles. Light trucks would capture 10.9 percent of the benefit; medium trucks 2.3 percent; and heavy trucks 1.1 percent. In recent years, some have described the SR-167 extension as simply a project to benefit the Port of Tacoma. While it is true that the freeway provides a critical link for heavy trucks traveling between the Port's terminals on the Tideflats with the warehouses and distribution centers in the Kent Valley, what seems to be lost in the discussion is how this freeway would be an enormous boon for the average commuter.

This leads us to the second important data point: a completed SR-167 would reduce the average daily vehicle-hours of delay by about 5.1% in 2020. What makes this number impressive is that it measures improvement not just in the immediate area of the project, but throughout the entire four county area (Pierce, King, Snohomish and Kitsap counties). It would be interesting if the PSRC could narrow their focus to just the SR-167 and I-5 corridor in Pierce and south King counties to see how large this number might actually get.

Nonetheless, the PSCRC data is an important reminder for all of us that finishing SR-167, a project that has been left undone for decades, would greatly benefit the average driver in Pierce County.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Container Tax Debate Heats Up

There have been some significant developments in the container tax debate in Washington State this week. As some may recall, the legislature considered a bill to impose a $50 per twenty-foot equivalent unit tax in 2007 (most containers passing through Washington's ports are 2 TEUs in length). That bill was amended to create a study of potential diversionary impacts of a container tax, as well as other potential alternatives for funding freight infrastructure. The Legislature retained Cambridge Systematics to conduct the study.

Earlier this year, Cambridge's subcontractor, Dr. Robert Leachman, validated industry's arguments that significant diversion would result if a tax were adopted—a 30 percent drop in volumes with a $30/TEU tax. What would this mean for Washington state? A loss of 9,415 jobs and $58.5 million in lost wages.

This week Cambridge concluded that even on major freight corridors, such as a completed SR-167, passenger vehicles, and not freight, received the majority of the benefits from each of these projects. They also found that heavy trucks, a subset of which carry containers, received the least amount of benefit.

Responding to this information, key legislators on the state transportation committees have said it is difficult to provide the linkage necessary to justify a container tax, especially given the potential diversionary impacts.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The World According to the Port

The Port of Tacoma featured its international representatives in a brief briefing just a short time ago.

Now, the Port has posted all the PowerPoint presentations online here, so the public has the opportunity for a more in depth review and reflection greater than that afforded in the short timeline of the briefing session.

Just to highlight the information, I'm sharing with you some of the information that most struck me. This is not necessarily the most important info presented. Some of that's in the eye of the beholder. You've got those online materials to review for yourself anyway.

Akira (Andy) Tatara, Director of Asia Last year China's #1 trading partner was Taiwan, at $62.4 b, up $28.1 b. California ports' new restrictions encourage transfer of cargo to PNW ports.

Jack Woods, Northwest Regional Sales Manager (Covering the Western U.S.) Decline in trade with Japan, China and Taiwan from the weak dollar. Change in exports up 22% in last six months. Looks for growth in non-containerized cargo, singling out the project cargo associated with development of Alberta, Canadian oil sands, over 20+ years.

Bill Wong, Hong Kong & South China Sales Representative Covers an area with 103 million population. Is seeing bulk cargoes moving into containers.

Volker Himmel, Director of Europe EU's GDP is 31% of world output, $16.8 trillion. U.S.'s #1 trading partner.

Joey Zhou, China Sales Representative (Shanghai) China's GDP is $6.9 trillion, #2 in the world. Growth rate in 2008, 10+%. Sees oversupply of carrier capacity and forecasts a merger within three years among Chinese carriers.

Susan Coffey, East Coast Regional Sales Manager (Eastern U.S.) Her region has the top 44 importers. There is an emergence of eastern ports in Asia trade -especially Savannah. Also, Mobile, AL container port, others. Sees a Customs backlog. The Southeastern ports are moving 40 containers per hour.

Daniel C.H. Rim, Korea Sales Representative He expects Korea to experience stagflation through 2008. Korea is the U.S.'s #2 trading partner. Still has the FTA (free trade agreement) subject to Congressional approval (a process delayed by Presidential politics).

Olga V. Romanyuk, Russian Sales Representative FESCO plans to build a 250,000 TEU capacity at Vladivostok.

Vincent Sullivan, Midwestern Regional Sales Manager (Covers Mid-western U.S.) Prince Rupert works! Port of Tacoma has no service to mid-South. Canadian Rail is interested in the Elgin-Joliet-Eastern RR, which skirts Chicago. There are political issues, but Mayor Daley supports the initiative. Inland ports with rail works for bigger customers.

Monday, October 13, 2008

In Chaos Lies Opportunity

Today's speaker at the Transportation Club of Tacoma featured Patrick O'Malley, President, Landstar Carrier Group, whose motto for the times: In Chaos Lies Opportunity.

As intriguing as the look at his company, here's a short snapshot of what he expects in the future of his industry: trucking.

CAPACITY: Those who have capacity will be winners. Since the downturn, 24,000 trucks have been sold overseas. They are not coming back.

FUEL: Some stabilization is ahead. Never a return to the glory days.

INFRASTRUCTURE: It needs rebuilding, regardless of who the owners are (states, cities, federal highways, ports). His company's position is that the feds should fund from fuel taxes.

SECURITY: Need coordination and standardization. Look to California's efforts as a (bad) example.

CREDIT MARKETS: (As of noon), it's irrational. There are 1 in 10 companies now whose market value (stock price) is less than their per share value in cash.

O'Malley thinks the bellwether on a recession will be unemployment, and will drive government economic recovery programs.

Friday, October 03, 2008

RAMP Weighs Potential for SR-167 Tolls and Initiative 985

Attendees of the Oct. 1st RAMP meeting heard presentations on two issues that could have long term implications for mobility and congestion relief in the South Sound.

SR-167 Tolling Study
RAMP was presented with a proposal for a study to determine the viability of tolling SR-167 to pay for the extension from Puyallup to SR-509 in Tacoma. Because of anticipated budget shortfalls in 2009, it appears extremely unlikely that new funds will be available for RAMP's traditional priority projects, such as SR-167, SR-704, or SR-162. There also appears to be a growing reluctance to increase taxes traditionally used to fund transportation projects, like the gas tax or license tab fees.

Last year, the Legislature passed a measure (HB 3096) establishing a task force to develop a comprehensive approach for how to fund the SR-520 bridge replacement, including a detailed discussion of tolling. Because neither state nor regional revenue appears likely in foreseeable future, the 520-bridge bill could serve as a model to determine whether tolling could fund a significant portion of SR-167. This does not indicate a commitment to tolling, but rather an attempt to determine whether tolling is a viable alternative. There was general interest among RAMP attendees to support such a bill during the 2009 legislative session.

Initiative 985
During the second half of the session Kris Sjoblom of the Washington Research Council presented the details of Initiative 985. The initiative’s author, Tim Eyman contends that the details of I-985 are based on State Auditor Sonntag’s recent transportation audit. However, some including former Washington State Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald challenge that the initiative strays from the audit’s findings.

I-985 addresses three primary policy areas: HOV lanes, traffic light synchronization and rapid response to breakdowns, accidents and other obstructions. Sjoblom explained that I-985 proposes to establish a “Reduce Traffic Congestion” account. Account revenue would be generated through allocating 15% of the 6.5 cent sales tax on motor vehicle sales, all toll revenue in excess of construction and maintenance costs, one-half of one percent of the money currently dedicated to the Washington State Arts Commission for art on the highways, revenue generated from red-light cameras. After implementation, during the 2011-2013 biennium the actual revenue generated in this account is anticipated to be approximately $75 million.

Funds collected in the account would be spent on:

  • Signage necessary to open HOV lanes to all vehicles outside 6am-9am & 3pm-6pm
  • Synchronizing traffic lights in heavily traveled roadways
  • Improving emergency roadside assistance
  • Funding the State Auditor to establish light standards and monitor performance
  • “Any other purpose which reduces traffic congestion by reducing vehicle delay times by expanding road capacity and general purpose use to improve traffic flow for all vehicles…[but excluding] bike paths or lanes, wildlife crossings, landscaping, park and ride lots, ferries, trolleys, buses, monorail, light rail or heavy rail.”

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

PT 101: An Educational Workshop on the 2009 Budget Process

In November, the Port of Tacoma Commission will hold public meetings regarding the Port's 2009 budget. To help prepare Pierce County citizens, the Port is hosting a series of educational workshops in October.

Along with providing information about the Port's history and operations, the Port of Tacoma 101 workshop highlights the Port's 2009 budget process. The 90-minute program visits these Pierce County communities on the following dates and times.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Taking It North to Alaska

We are often so wrapped up in our transportation gridlock that we fail to see others also suffer from that gridlock.

In an effort to break our gridlocked perspective, the Chamber's Alaska Committee took the issue of the proposed container tax to Alaska. You might ask "Why?" Well, the answer lies in that Alaskans have already proved themselves interested and involved. When that container tax was originally introduced into our legislative session, Alaskans, including the much-storied Gov. Palin, got involved with discussions with our Legislators and our Governor.

Taking the opportunity afforded by Tacoma's long-standing involvement in the annual Alaska State Chamber of Commerce Conference with a Tacoma Breakfast Briefing, the Port of Tacoma's Sean Eagan was the selected keynote speaker. His topic: What Should Alaskans Care About Washington's Transportation Infrastructure?

Most Alaskans automatically assume Washingtonians are looking for someone else to fund their transportation needs when we talk of a container tax, just making money at Alaskans' expense and never considering their wishes or interests. They see it as another in a long line of disappointments between the economic partnerships linking our two states.

We can certainly be sympathetic with their viewpoint, because after all, we've done this to ourselves. Beginning in 1995, Washington stopped making new investments in transportation. It's true we've begun to try to get ourselves out of the pothole we let time and neglect dig us. Our 2003/2005 two transportation packages of $11 billion, and the 14 cent gas tax are examples.

But overall, we've left a lot undone: SR-520, SR-99 Viaduct, SR-167. And now, we face another budget crunch:
  • $714 million shortfall in an $11 billion package
  • $137 million next year (in a $7.6 billion transportation budget)
  • That 8% of the general fund of $2.6 billion

The container tax proposal was for $50 per TEU (acronym of twenty-foot equivalent unit the once prevalent length for containers, now most typically 40 feet long) or $100, empty or full of cargo, inbound or outbound. Unfortunately, the proposed Freight Investment Account lacked details leading skeptics to suggest its use for other than freight infrastructure. Those who shipped containers quickly yelped, saying why us and why not our competitors for barge, breakbulk, etc. The overall response was a (surprise!) legislative study.

That study, chronicled elsewhere, essentially said such a tax was economic suicide. The so-called Diversion Study postulated a decline in container volumes of 30%, a loss of 9,415 jobs and $591 million in lost wages.

So, what to do? While not making all the above points, Eagan did enumerate the options and the roadblocks for funding:

  • Gas tax revenues are down because of gas prices and staycations. But, would a healthy 40% increase in gas taxes to 37.5 cents work? WA already is way ahead of most of the pack (of states) in its gas tax.
  • Imposition of a license tax fee or vehicle excise tax? Oh yes, we had a 2003 citizens initiative on that subject. Anyone want to tackle it?
  • Another initiative for property taxes, with the declining values in the housing market?
  • A sales tax increase - already recently turned down by voters when they rejected handily the regional transportation package last November.
  • A vehicle weight fee increase - with the numerous increases already heaped upon the trucking industry of recent years?
  • An income tax, prohibited by the state's Constitution, and an albatross for anyone who wants to wear it.

Well, so far the stakeholders have not yet stepped up to the plate with alternatives. Most agree that we have a problem. Most agree that the proposed solutions, especially the container tax, are not viable.

So what is? Eagan challenged Alaskans, in their own best interests, to seek affirmative solutions and not just express opposition. If no container tax, then what revenue source? Without a revenue source, no transportation infrastructure investment. If no investment, we face increasing congestion, deteriorating infrastructure, delays, shifting market shares in throughput and higher prices for delivered goods anyway. And incidentally, deleterious effects on air quality for PM2.5 and ozone.

What's your suggestion?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Monday, September 08, 2008

HOV into View

HOV lanes are coming into view for the near-term future in Pierce County.

As the population of Pierce County grows, HOV lanes are becoming an increasingly important component of I-5 congestion relief. At the RAMP meeting, Eric Soderquist presented a comprehensive overview of the short-term/long-term HOV plan for Pierce County's highways.

You may view the PowerPoint that he shared with RAMP attendees.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Persistence Pays

Ribbon Cutters: Executive Ladenburg, Rep. Flannigan, Sen. Kastama, BNSF's Finn, Mayor Baarsma, Commissioner Petrich (barely), Councilmember Lonergan, Pierce County's Ziegler and FHA's Mathis. Photo credit: PSRC

It was almost a decade in coming since the first steps were actually taken, but the community recently celebrated the opening of the D Street Overpass.

These august personages all played a vital - and often long-term - part in getting the complete package together for what will be multi-faceted benefits to the community, separating rail and road traffic, increasing speeds for intercontinental rail and easing local movement for both E. & W. Foss Waterway as well as Dome District traffic.

And, as Port of Tacoma Commissioner Clare Petrich noted in her ribbon-cutting remarks, sometimes those in at the beginning need recognition too. I too wish to join her in recognizing a small Pierce County cadre that, while serving on the Central Puget Sound Economic Development District Board at the beginning of the decade, got what we believe were the first committed dollars to this project: Commissioner Petrich, Denise Dyer alt. for Executive Ladenburg, Rob Allen alt. for Pierce County Council and Gary Brackett, Chamber staff and private sector representative.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

VOTE! The new Narrows Bridge for America's Transportation Award

The new Tacoma Narrows Bridge project is one of 10 signature transportation projects in the running for the prestigious “America’s Transportation Award,” reflecting the best in management and innovation by the American Association of State Highway Transportation officials (AASHTO).

TNB, an engineering marvel built by experts and craftsmen from Washington and around the world now competes for the People’s Choice Award, decided upon by people across the nation via an online voting process. The winning state receives a substantial cash award to donate to a local or regional community service project of its choice.

Cast your vote today, voting ends Oct. 19: www.americastransportationaward.org/Voting.aspx

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Project named finalist in National Transportation Award Competition

Public can vote for its choice

Contact: Lloyd Brown, WSDOT Communications Director 360-705-7076

OLYMPIA – The Tacoma Narrows Bridge project is one of 10 signature transportation projects named today as finalists for the prestigious “America’s Transportation Award,” reflecting the best in management and innovation by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

Spectacular bridges, toll and access roads, innovative interchanges and interstates will now compete for the Grand National Prize – selected by a panel of community, business and transportation leaders – and the People’s Choice Award – which will be decided by an online voting process.

The America’s Transportation Award recognizes achievement in the development and construction of transportation projects, and instills an appreciation of transportation as a key element of our quality of life. Forty-one projects were entered into the America’s Transportation Awards competition with 23 chosen as regional winners, narrowing the field to 10 finalists. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge project team won the regional competition among 18 western states in the category for "on time delivery" for projects exceeding $200 million.

"We believe the New Tacoma Narrows Bridge was a special project that represents the best of what our people stand for - hard work, determination and success,” said Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. “Now is the chance for the entire region to show the rest of the country that our project - on time and on budget - was the best of the best transportation projects in 2007."

The Grand National Prize-winning state will receive funds to support a graduate-level educational grant in the transportation field. The People’s Choice Award will fund a community service project selected by the winning state department of transportation. Awards will be presented at the AASHTO Annual Meeting in Hartford, Connecticut, October 19.

The competition is cosponsored by the American Automobile Association (AAA), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and AASHTO to bring public attention to transportation projects around the country that make a positive difference to people, businesses and communities.

On-line voting for the People’s Choice Award begins today and will continue to October 19. Cast your vote: www.americastransportationaward.org/Voting.aspx

For complete information on each of the finalists and the voting ballot, go to http://www.americastransportationaward.org/.

Friday, August 01, 2008

WSDOT Breaks Ground on First Segment of Crossbase Highway

On Wednesday, July 30, WSDOT broke ground on Project 1, the first segment of the overall SR 704, Cross Base Highway in Pierce County.

Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, County Executive John Ladenburg and many others were on hand to celebrate this milestone.

Project 1 will be built for $7.35 million and connect Spanaway Loop Road to SR 7, drastically improving safety and mobility. A new dual right-turn lane from Spanaway Loop Road to southbound SR 7 will ease back-ups during peak travel times. The project is scheduled to wrap up in June 2009.

The remaining SR 704 projects will be completed as funding becomes available. The planned six-mile, multi-lane highway stretches east to west between Fort Lewis and McChord military bases, and connects SR 7 to I-5. The new corridor will provide congestion relief and reduced delays on I-5, SR 512, SR 7 and county roads.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chamber Board Supports Top 3

Today, the Chamber's Board of Directors accepted a resolution to support the top three priorities of the East Foss Transportation Study.

The Tacoma City Council, in a study session July 15, remanded the East Foss Transportation Study to two of its Council Committees: Environment and Public Works Committee and the Economic Development Committee.

These two Council committees will be charged with reviewing the East Foss Transportation Study and bringing recommendations for implementation to the full Council.

The East Foss Transportation Study itself identifies these implementation options:
  • incorporate appropriate sections of the traffic study into the S-8 Shoreline Master Plan Regulations;
  • Implement the recommended three priority projects;
  • Participating entities need to take study recommendations back to their boards/commissions (Chamber and Port of Tacoma);
  • Increase coordination of advanced facility planning between the City of Tacoma and the Port of Tacoma;
  • Facilitate partnerships to share infrastructure costs to maintain existing uses and to increase economic development in the study area.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

E. Foss Transportation Plan

As a component of the compromise to resolve the Tacoma Comprehensive Land Use Plan amendment, which resulted in stopping gentrification of industrial lands at the Foss Waterway, an E. Foss Transportation Plan study was authorized. The Plan amendment was adopted in December 2005 and the study begun in December 2006.

The directed objectives of the study were to:
- separate industrial and non-industrial land uses
- address traffic and related issues of the area

The study area is roughly encompassed as the east bank of the Foss Waterway, Commencement Bay to the north, the Puyallup River and Puyallup Avenue. The stakeholders group to oversee the study and provide technical assistance consisted of Don Meyer, Foss Waterway Development Authority, Jay Steward (and others), Port of Tacoma and Gary Brackett, Chamber. Additionally, various City of Tacoma staff participated and Dana Brown, administered the project.

The Thea Foss Transportation Study was presented to a Tacoma City Council study session July 15, 2008. The study contains nine recommended solutions, and a “top three” priority recommendations.

The top three priorities identified in the E. Foss Peninsula Transportation Plan are:
- area-wide street and rail crossing maintenance
- improve the E. 11th St. at E. “F” Street/St. Paul intersection
- move forward with SR-509 at “D” Street ramps feasibility

All recommendations are estimated to cost $23.999 million.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tacoma Narrows Bridge One Year Anniversary Celebration

Save the date! Wednesday, July 16 marks the one year anniversary of the new eastbound Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Please join Governor Chris Gregoire, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste and the Washington State Department of Transportation as we commemorate a year of successes and share stories on the impact of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge across the South Sound.

Where: War Memorial Park in Tacoma
When: Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Time: 11:00 a.m.

The event is open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Questions or RSVP? Contact Ian Morrison, Office of the Governor, (360) 239-4212 or ian.morrison@gov.wa.gov.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bow Down to Foss

Hard on the heels of a NOAA study apportioning a greater share of airborne soot among tugboats and large cargo ships, comes the welcome news that one of our own sets the standard.

Foss Maritime tugboat company, which has its roots and history in Tacoma, announced that it has been awarded the 2008 William M. Benkert gold award for marine environmental protection by the US Coast Guard. Foss was also chosen by the California Air Resources Board Carl Moyer Program to fund the Green Dolphin hybrid tug project.

According to the NOAA study, tugs put out more soot for the amount of fuel used than other commercial vessels. Large cargo ships emit more than twice as much soot as previously estimated, it said.

Friday, July 11, 2008

WSDOT Releases West Coast Corridor Transportation Study

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has released the West Coast Corridor Coalition Trade and Transportation Study Final Report. The study conducted an analysis of freight, trade, and transportation trends in the West Coast, and outlined the identification and description of key chokepoints, constraints, and issues in the region.

Some of the key findings of the report include:

  • West Coast seaports - led by Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle, Tacoma, and Oakland - handled over one-half of all containerized shipments entering and departing the United States in 2006. Locally, the Portland/Vancouver, WA to Seattle trade flow accounted for $23 billion in total value according to the (Federal Highway Association) FHWA Freight Analysis Framework in 2002.
  • In the same year, the West Coast’s airports handled nearly 8.4 million tons of overseas freight, accounting for 42 percent of the U.S. total.
  • The region’s north-south transportation infrastructure, with I-5 as its backbone, has emerged as a crucial trade corridor for both domestic commerce and international trade, connecting West Coast metropolitan areas and serving increasing volumes of NAFTA-related shipments. Total domestic trade among these major West Coast metropolitan areas totaled over 145 million tons, valued at more than $254 billion in 2002. The majority of goods movement among the West Coast mega regions and their major metropolitan areas- approximately 75 percent- occurs by truck, primarily on the I-5 and SR-99 corridors.

The West Coast Corridor Coalition Trade and Transportation Study Final Report can be reviewed here.

Pierce County Seeks Input on Transportation Plan Update

Pierce County Public Works is seeking input on an update of the Pierce County Transportation Plan. The Plan maps out the County's strategy for meeting transportation needs over the next 20 years. Planning of this sort is required by the State Growth Management Act.

This year’s update will be the most comprehensive update to the original transportation plan since it was prepared in 1992. Unlike previous updates, this Plan will address all components of the transportation system -- maintenance, operations, preservation, improvements, and administration (collectively referred to as 'MOPIA'). This year's plan is intended to represent project and services that the County can realistically afford to implement over the next 20 years.

Click here to learn about the draft alternatives.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Transportation LIT

The Prosperity Partnership toured the logistics and international trade (LIT) industry beginning the morning at the Port of Tacoma after an orientation/walk-thru at the REI distribution center in Pierce County.

The Prosperity Partnership was conducting the second of its annual quarterly orientation for civic and community leaders. This session focused on one of the region's targeted market clusters: Trade and Logistics. Greeted by PoT Commissioner Dick Marzano, who began by telling all what we already know: the economy and the PoT business are down. But he quickly followed with what we don't know: the weaker U.S. dollar has lead to the highest export volumes ever right now. The question for everyone is: Where have the containers gone? (We wonder what are the implications for Washington's high value agricultural exports? Or even more so, the many lower-value agricultural products that have taken advantage of the bargain-basement container rates available when so many were being shipped empty?)

Marzano let everyone on the tour know that the PoT entered the late '80s transshipping about 1.4M TEUs. The Port now has the capacity to ship 4M, and the potential to ship 15M TEUs. He notes that rail capacity is needed, especially when regional expectations for growth are factored into projections as this region's ports are "discretionary," meaning 70% of the cargo into here leaves for other destinations and can thus be shipped thru any available port.

Terry Finn, Government Affairs manager for BNSF said the PNW transcontinental line is the 6th most important in terms of container volume, he said. Noting that one railroad serving the Pacific Northwest (PNW) (Union Pacific being the other in the U.S., but also noting 2 Canadian railways that serve Western Canadian ports), has 1,500 miles of track in Washington. At present, he said, there are only small segments of Puget Sound's rail lines that have a Level of Service of "E", meaning they are significantly congested. Finn shared that Stampede Pass, restricted from carrying double-stack containers due to the low crown of the tunnel, carries an average 6 trains per day, while the Columbia River route carries 34-35 per day. A fairly recent state study said the Class 1 railroads need $39 billion capital investment by 2035, short $13.5 billion. There is an internal competition for all projects within the railroad for capital.

Tour participants piled back on the bus for what tour guide Tim Farrell, Executive Director, PoT called the "surge pile" -- his speak for the process of unloading ships before loading trains. Farrell went on to explain that it was faster to unload ships than to load trains, plus it was more expensive to have ships remain idle, all of which determined the work order. A few interesting points Farrell made:

  • A typical Panamax ship like the K Line vessel then unloading at the PoT will fill 5-6 trains with its cargo of containers.

  • Ships are very fuel efficient, moving 1 T of cargo 1,600 miles on 1 gal. of fuel

  • The grain terminal at the PoT holds a comparable volume equal to 1 ship. It takes 5-6 trains to fill the terminal and 3-5 days to load the ship. (One vessel was at the terminal and one was anchored in Commencement Bay at the time.)

  • Only low-sulfur fuel was available at the local truck stop such was the demand and the implications for environmental accountability.

Although this wasn't the chronological order of the day, Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani presented his staff for a discussion of several topics, to include cruise ships and air cargo, avoiding a repeat of the TEU focus of the morning. Yoshitani spoke (justifiably) proudly of the four new international air carriers adding direct flights along with Northwest Airlines adding additional direct service.

Diana Parker says the 3rd runway is "complete," and scheduled to open in November 2008. That third runway is actually the 2nd "all-weather" runway, as it allows our airport to land two jets side-by-side simultaneously.

Tom Green gave some valuable insights into the air cargo services of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, especially that air cargo is non-discretionary (locally originated or destined). Most intriguing was this first-heard conversion for comparing maritime container volumes with air shipments:

1 TEU max 20 tonnes and one 747 freighter max 110 metric tonnes

So, the region's ports volumes of about 4M TEU's can be compared with the airport's 319K metric tonnes. A very useful resource for those interested in air cargo is the PSRC's air cargo study.

There were other noteworthy reports that either have been addressed in previous blogs, like the challenges before the trucking industry, or perhaps don't exactly fit the purpose of this blog, like foreign direct investment. An especially worthy subject was the presentation by Susan Crane of Port Jobs and readers are encouraged to visit the website for their 2006 study Employment in Logistics and International Trade.

Although not all speakers during the tour are presented in this blog, my personal kudos for their participation in helping our regional leadership attain a better understanding of this most important growth industry for our region: Logistics and International Trade, not a lite subject.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Environment Trumps Growth and Development

J. Christopher Lytle, Deputy Executive Director and CEO of Port of Long Beach (PoLB) said at today's Transportation Club of Tacoma that environmental challenges trump container volume growth or infrastructure development.

Lytle, well traveled among international lines, including some time in Tacoma, spoke of the overriding concerns the Port of Long Beach had with its future development. Their priorities are of no small import (pun intended) given their prominence as a premier port on the West Coast. Begun in 1911, the PoLB is now the 2nd busiest U.S. port, and the 16th busiest in the world. It has 3,600 A., 7 container terminals, 72 cranes. 82% of its revenue comes from containers. Along with 70 million tons of bulk cargoes, the port handles 7.3 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units). That represents $140 billion in cargo value. For the future, the forecast is that containers at PoLB will increase from 15.7 million in 2007 to 42.7 million TEUs by 2030.

Lytle said projects aren't getting done because of environmental issues, and air quality is the top issue of the top environmental issues. In 2005, the PoLB adopted its Green Port Policy, and in 2006, its Clean Air Action Plan, along with its regional partners including the Port of Los Angeles (PoLA). Among its goals, reducing San Pedro Bay pollution by 45% within 5 years, cleaning up trucks and equipment, adopting shore-side electricity and low-sulfur fuels.

PoLB recognizes that vessels are 50% of its problem with trucks 25%. To accomplish these goals, the PoLB has adopted an incentive plan to encourage vessels to reduce speed, and 90% of lines have complied to get reductions in fees. The port has also instituted green leases, a new locomotive fleet and low-sulfur fuel incentives. (The PoLB will pay the difference between low-sulfur and other diesel fuels, a $10 million expense.) The port has even partnered with others in funding a hybrid tug!

Lytle also said the PoLB expects its lines to be good community partners. (I suggest joining the Chamber.) He gave examples of OOCL donating $140,000 ($100,000 to an ADA-park; $40,000 for school computers) and Hyundai $100,000 (for a local high school).

To address that 25% of the problem that are trucks, the PoLB has instituted an incentive program to remove all pre-2007 trucks by 2012, to replace dirty diesel within 5 years, and to use a TEU fee to refinance/retrofit truck replacement/participation loans.

He was questioned about the move to convert truck owners/operators to employees. He said the PoLB and the PoLA have different philosophies. The PoLA is supporting the change in the economic model for owners/operators becoming employees of truck lines. The PoLB believes the users of truck services should have choice as part of their economic model. He did agree the old model is broken, and spoke of the concession agreement of providing $150/company or $100/truck for the replacement program. A link quid pro quo is required that truckers meet all federal standards, truck maintenance and NO STREET PARKING that upsets the neighbors. Lytle did clarify that owners/operators would be subsidized with $1,400, splitting 50% each, with the revenue source as the TEU fee (paid by the beneficial cargo owner). And finally, that trucking fees must go up - significantly.

A final question to Lytle was concerning the nature of container fees. While he saw no reason such fees couldn't be used here - (he's been gone too long) - several in the audience quickly explained to him the nature of discretionary cargo (low metro population) and close international competition (Vancouver and Prince Rupert).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Intermodal Conference: Part Uno

Thanks to both the proximity and success of the Port of Tacoma, and their initiative as Principal Sponsor, the Tacoma metro enjoyed recent presentation of the Northwest Intermodal Conference May 19-20. Presented by Cargo Business News, this had to be one of the better transportation conferences.

The NWIC focused on the essential factors that affect the volume of intermodal traffic through the Pacific Northwest gateways and the development of strategies that will successfully drive this business. Attendees learned about the future of the intermodal business through Northwest ports from a panel of experts including business leaders hailing from every sector of the industry - ports, shippers, ocean carriers, railroads, intermodal marketing companies, third party logistics, equipment suppliers and other service providers – as well as from expert panelists from the fields of economics, academia and public policy. Issues discussed included the future of Pacific Northwest intermodal, trade trends, infrastructure development, industrial real estate solutions and shipper perspectives.

Tim Farrell, Executive Director, Port of Tacoma, began the conference with opening remarks, challenging the attendees to notice the opportunities and competitive advantages of the Port of Tacoma. Capacity, environmental quality and political support are all in the strong hand held by the Port of Tacoma.

The opening keynote by Walter Kemmsies, Chief Economist, Moffat &Nichol, called to mind just how important it is for a community to be ready when the economic tide rises. Not all boats rise the same; those rise highest and fastest that are prepared to take the flood at its crest. Kemmsies expects a return to the long term trend in late '08, although his forecast is for slow growth through 2011. Nevertheless, slow growth is positive growth. And Kemmsies particular insight is his expectation that north-south trade could hold the greatest surprises.

Kemmsies, noted, as did other speakers later in the conference, that global trade has grown 2x GDP growth since 1950. This growth he attributes to containerization, trade agreements, the world wide web and offshoring. He cites tht the number of ports that can handle containers has increased from 75 in 1970 to about 550 in 2007.

For the U.S., Kemmsies says TEU (20-ft. equivalent units, a common denominator for container length) has increased 5x for our GDP growth of 2x between 1982 and 2007. His forecast is for PNW ports share of the North American volume to grow by 15% in the next decade. The current division on container volumes is due to the nature of cargo from origin to port of entry. West Coast ports receive household goods from Asia. East Coast ports receive medicine, toys, etc. from Europe, up 22%.

Kemmsies forecasts a 3.1% GDP growth and a 7.8% TEU growth until the next decline (recession) in 2011 (as the economy follows its pattern of 8.5 year cycle).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

EIS Scoping for Blair-Hylebos Project

The Port of Tacoma is gathering input as it begins considering potential environmental impacts of redeveloping terminals, roads and railways on a Tacoma Tideflats peninsula.

Redevelopment plans on the Blair-Hylebos Peninsula include:
· Relocating the Totem Ocean Trailer Express marine terminal
· Building a new container terminal for NYK Line
· Widening a section of the Blair Waterway
· Lengthening a wharf at Washington United Terminal
· Improving road and rail infrastructure

Given the scope of the redevelopment proposal, the Port of Tacoma plans to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). The environmental review process provides several opportunities for the public to comment on the proposed project:

· May 2008: Scope of environmental analysis
· September 2008: Draft Environmental Impact Statement
· February 2009: Final Environmental Impact Statement

The Port has scheduled a meeting May 29 as part of the public review process for the redevelopment project. The meeting is set for 4:30 to 7 p.m. in Room 104 of The Fabulich Center, 3600 Port of Tacoma Road in Tacoma. Sue Mauermann, Director, Environmental Programs says staff from the Port’s Sustainable Development department will be available in an open house format to discuss various aspects of the project. Project managers are scheduled to deliver a short presentation at 6 p.m. and take public comment.

Comments on the scope of the environmental analysis, to be prepared later this summer, must be received by 5 p.m. June 6 to be considered in drafting the EIS. Comments may be sent by mail to: ATTN: Matoya Scott, Port of Tacoma, PO Box 1837, Tacoma, WA 98401-1837, or by e-mail.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Meeting Dates Set for ST2 Public Outreach

Sound Transit has scheduled seven open houses throughout Pierce, King and Snohomish Counties to inform the public and get feedback on the new, ST2 proposal. If you are interested in regional equity and insuring that Pierce County gets its fair share of transporation dollars please attend one of the following meetings.

Two Open Houses will be held in Pierce County:

Sumner: Tues., June 3, Daffodil Valley Elementary School, 1509 Valley Ave.
Tacoma: Tues., June 10: Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave.

Open Houses outside the County include:

Thurs., May 22: Lynnwood Convention Center, 3711 196 St. S.W., Lynnwood
Wed., May 28: Highline Community College, 2400 S. 240 St., Des Moines
Wed., June 4: Northgate Community Center, 10510 5 Ave. N.E., Seattle
Thurs., June 5: Meydenbauer Center, 11100 N.E. 6 St., Bellevue
Wed., June 11: Everett Station, 3201 Smith Ave., Everett

All meetings run 5:30 - 8:30 p.m.; presentation at 6:30 p.m.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Sound Transit Seeks Public Input on Transportation Package

One of the primary take aways from last year’s failed Roads and Transit initiative, Proposition 1, was that voters want a transportation package that will provide real congestion relief in a reasonable timeframe and at a cost that will not burden future generations.

Sound Transit’s response is a scaled back transit-only proposal in which all projects can be completed within 12 years for 62 percent to 67 percent less than the total price tag for the roads and transit projects that formed Proposition 1.

Sound Transit staff will be providing an overview of the proposal at the next RAMP meeting May 7th, 8am - 9am at the Fabulich Center at the Port of Tacoma.

The scaled back proposal includes the following projects:

Link light rail: 18 to 23 miles of light rail expansions to the north, south and east, potentially serving communities including Bellevue, the Overlake area of Redmond, Mercer Island, Des Moines and Seattle’s northern University District, Roosevelt and Northgate areas. Connector light rail service would link Seattle’s International District, First Hill and Capitol Hill areas.
Sounder commuter rail: Increases of up to 90 percent in Sounder service between Tacoma and Seattle, potentially including 12 additional daily trips and platform extensions to allow longer trains.

ST Express regional bus: Service increases of 10 to 15 percent in key corridors, bus rapid transit service on State Route 520 and up to 20 miles of new arterial transit lanes.

Improved station access: Funding to increase access to transit facilities in Auburn, Edmonds, Everett, Kent, Lakewood, Lynnwood (including Ash Way and Mariner), Mukilteo, Puyallup, South Tacoma, Sumner, Tacoma and Tukwila. Projects will be tailored to the needs of each location and may include expanded parking; pedestrian improvements at or near stations; additional bus/transfer facilities for improved feeder service to stations; bicycle access and storage; and new and expanded drop-off areas to encourage ride-sharing.

Partnerships for expanded transit: Partnership funding for Eastside passenger rail on existing freight tracks; as well as for potential extensions of Tacoma Link light rail and projects in Bothell, Burien, Kirkland and Shoreline.

This month Sound Transit will launch a major public involvement effort to get input on the new plan. The public outreach includes meetings around the region (to be scheduled in Mid-May) as well as opportunities to comment in an online survey and by mail. In June and July the Board will consider the public priorities that are identified and whether to move forward with a 2008 ballot measure.

In the mean time you can e-mail your comments to future@soundtransit.org.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

2008 Pierce County Projects

At the next RAMP meeting (May 7th, 8am - 9am, Fabulich Center at the Port of Tacoma) George Walk, the Director of Government Relations for Pierce County will be providing an overview of the transportation projects in Pierce County funded in the 2008 Supplemental Transportation Budget.

A summary of the projects is provided here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Local Infrastructure Not Only a Local Option

NDTA did it again with an outstanding choice for its meeting topic so as to understand the strategic issues behind the South Sound Logistics Center (SSLC) proposal by the Ports of Tacoma and Olympia.

Today's meeting featured John Wolfe, Deputy Director of the Port of Tacoma and Kari Qvigstad, Marketing and Business Development Director for the Port of Olympia, both project leaders for SSLC for their respective organizations. Qvigstad also serves as President of the local NDTA chapter.

Eschewing the traditional method of telling the audience what they wanted them to know, both relied on questions from attendees. Overall, an effective approach as questions kept coming beyond the scheduled adjournment time.

The first, and understandably so, question was: "Why?" The answer, also of course, was a multipart response. Chief among those reasons was the expected volume growth as supported by terminal development and expansion by the Port of Tacoma, but also by private parties including the SSA/Puyallup Tribe's partnership. But often overlooked were other reasons like the infrastructure impact of 65-70% of cargo moves by rail outside the metro and that land availability for a rail yard competes with terminal development (terminals must be on shoreline, rail yards not).

To this set of reasons were added facts like cargo volume is predicted to triple by 2025, rail capacity is projected to fill by 2015 and population is shifting under the Puget Sound Regional Council Vision 2040 Plan, now under final development.

Of course, local citizens and economic developers must realize that our two Class 1 railroads are commercial enterprises subject to the demands of their customers and answerable to their stockholders in their national marketplace. Their capital investment will go where it produces the most benefit to the railroads, their customers and their owners - not to the wishes of a regional economy even if it is a cog in international trade.

For instance, it is generally understood that for various reasons a recent prospect for crowning Stampede Pass is not being actively considered. This is in spite of the pressure from coal unit trains forcing Port of Tacoma freight through Stampede Pass rather than along the Columbia River route as was common until recently. The reasons here are myriad, and count among their number the lack of participatory state funding.

As you might expect from a NDTA meeting, questions arose about military freight; although this question was more an rhetorical question that an inquiry. Fort Lewis is the sole Power Projection Platform on the West Coast. The Army has surface requirements in freight movements and infrastructure mandates to support that need. Federal cooperation might be sought, independent of any specific site.

There's Still No Decision

Popular Mechanics May 2008 issue has a cover feature on fixing American infrastructure. Within a special supporting story listing the 10 Things to Fix Right Now, we can appreciate the listing of the Alaskan Way Viaduct (in no particular order). While Chicago has the distinction of two projects on the list, those here might wonder why the magazine ever had to go out of state?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Peel(ing) to the Core

Thanks to my membership of the LeMay Museum, I receive an online newsletter from Ken Martin's Sports Car Market. Always full of at least one entertaining article, the recent edition contained a gem.

For those of you who remember our earlier blog on the Opel mileage king, take a gander at this prize auto that makes a Mini look like a Suburban.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Which Little Truck Went to Market How

WSDOT has just released the 2007 Update for the Freight and Goods Transportation System.

A common resource for local jurisdictions, the study examines the volume carried by routes with the state. Freight Corridors are defined as those routes that carry four million or more gross tons of freight annually (coded T-1 and T-2). Codes go from the T-1 of more than 10 million tons per year to T-5, of at least 20,000 tone in 60 days.

In 2007, a total of 2,607 state routes were designated as either T-1 or T-2, 37% of all state routes. T-1 routes accounted for 1,093 miles, 16% of all state routes. This update also provides info about county road and city street classifications.

The study does NOT provide info on the users of the route system, their economic performance, performance requirements, system needs and future trends. Other planning documents and reports expand this analysis and can be accessed through the WSDOT Freight Systems Division.

Friday, April 11, 2008

New Commercial Driver's License Rules Proposed

The Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) is in the process of gathering stakeholder comments on a proposed rule setting minimum training requirements for applicants for a Commercial Driver's License (CDL). Under a law passed in 2007 (SHB 1267), the DOL is required to establish rules for professional training programs.

The new law exempts employer-trained drivers from this requirement. However, there has been some discussion of the training requirements eventually applying to employer-trained drivers as well. There is also a proposed federal CDL training rule, which is currently in its public comment period. That proposed rule does not exempt employer-trained drivers.

When the new Washington rules take effect, an applicant who has been trained by his or her employer will have to present a certificate to the DOL stating that he or she has the skills and training necessary to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely.

The Washington Retail Association has had several stakeholder meetings with the DOL regarding the new training requirements. The Department would like some feedback from retailers on this subject.

· How much time would retailers need for outreach efforts before the new rule goes into effect? The Department is suggesting six months.

· What would be the most effective methods for retailers to get notice of the new requirements?

· What would be the most convenient way for retailers to obtain the certificate for their CDL applicants? The Department has suggested it might make the certificate available on its website.

If you have any comments or questions, please contact Vicky Marin at (360) 943-9198, ext. 12.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

When Ports Compete: Will the Loser Please Step Back

This immediately past Washington Legislative season saw a renewed effort by advocates for port consolidation that was reflected by various legislative efforts to do so.

The recent announcement by NYK line to relocate from the Port of Seattle to the Port of Tacoma , gave some new legs to the issue. The contention of consolidation advocates is that competitive ports waste taxpayer dollars and just results in a shuffle of the center of economic activity 30 miles.

For a state dependent upon international trade, that is a rather parochial view of international logistics based on the assumption that the only two ports serving the Pacific Northwest or points east are Seattle and Tacoma. Not so. Obvious competitors are the Port of Portland and the Port of Vancouver.

The hot commodity and the center of competitive activities demanding public finance (if not taxpayer dollars, dollars of public enterprises - ports “owned” by citizens) have been containers. And, the measure of what the taxpaying public’s success is is not investment but rather returns on the public investment. Given the database’s ability to support an extensive comparison between all the major ports in the Pacific Northwest, the easiest comparison for return would be size and growth of container volume measured in 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

Yes, that’s right. Port of Portland is only in the low hundred-thousands for TEUs, with essentially no-growth over the last decade. The Port of Portland was long the contender with the Port of Seattle for the dominance of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Perhaps their stagnation might be attributed to container lines reaction to the 1982 Mt. St. Helens eruption and the resulting problems on the Columbia River.

However, without a doubt, the Port that as suffered through competition is Portland’s. Its “rightful” growth has arguably gone to upstart Tacoma. But, overall container growth has gone to the other Pacific Northwest ports rather than the established Port of Portland.

True enough the Port of Seattle has been forced to compete, but not with Tacoma alone. Container lines that have moved south were taking advantage of infrastructure. If the Port of Seattle had not invested, neither it nor the Port of Tacoma would have grown. Long time maritime watchers can remember when the Port of Seattle’s vision for the Port of Tacoma was as a coal and log export center. (There’s a whole thesis worth on image and vision there.) Our premise is that any complacency by the Port of Seattle would have resulted in the Port of Portland’s growth just as competition has resulted in its stagnation.

Readers are encouraged to delve further back in the history of container growth and to look for other benchmark activities like investment or the timing of new line calls and submit their arguments pro or con. And don't forget to note the tremendous growth at the Port of Vancouver during this time.

And now comes Prince Rupert - competition changes faces.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A $30 Impact

The state’s Joint Transportation Committee continues to grapple with the question of how to fund freight mobility infrastructure.

A consultant study, mandated by SSB 5207 (2007), is evaluating existing fees paid by the freight industry and seeks to identify other income sources to finance freight congestion relief investments. This includes an evaluation of other states and countries' programs and their impact on competitiveness. Originally findings were to be completed prior to the 2008 Session; however the Committee has extended the study to coordinate with highway and rail freight project work being done by the Department of Transportation and will present its findings to the 2009 Session.

A piece of this research includes an analysis of the diversion of container traffic that would occur as a result of fees or charges that are imposed on containers moving through the ports of Tacoma and Seattle. Conducted by Dr. Robert Leachman, and independently reviewed by BST Associates of Kenmore, WA, the study verifies what industry insiders have long argued: a state-imposed container tax would result in the diversion of both cargo and jobs from the Pacific Northwest.

The study found that a charge of $30 per Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) would drive away over 30% of cargo passing through the state. According to Dr. Leachman, “Even a small container fee at Puget Sound may drive significant amounts of traffic away from the Puget Sound ports.” BST Associates went on to note that “The report focuses on imports from Asia. However…there could be an equal or greater loss to other international traffic (specifically, exports and empty containers).”

It is important to remember that diverted cargo means diverted jobs. According to an economic impact study completed in 2005 (based on 2004 data), Port activities generate 43,100 jobs in Pierce County that pay 41 percent more than the county average. Statewide, 113,000 jobs are related to Port of Tacoma activities, an increase of 11 percent from 2000. The Port’s cargo-handling, construction and leasing activities generate $91 million in state and local taxes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Trend Setting Environmental Initiatives

The ports of Long Beach and LA Boards of Harbor Commissioners will vote Mar. 24, just four days after getting public input on other environmental programs, on an incentive program to pay vessel operators to use cleaner-burning, low-sulfur fuel in their main engines.

Cargo ships generally use highly-polluting bunker fuel. The Ports propose to pay the difference between the price of bunker fuel and the selected low-sulfur distillate fuel.

Even though the Washington State Department of Ecology has recommended to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the port-industrial area be included in a proposed designation for a Wapato Hills-Puyallup River Valley non-attainment area, the marine related contribution is thought to be only about 10% of the PM2.5 contamination as measured by the Alexander Avenue sampling station. And, that's of an area that continued monitoring through 2007 is demonstrated to be below the new, lower allowable limit as set by EPA.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

LA's Clean Truck Program

The Los Angeles Harbor Commission is about to consider a new Clean Truck Program at its next meeting March 20.

This program, to be financed by a $35/TEU (20-foot equivalent unit) container fee, seeks to transform the drayage industry rather than fix transportation infrastructure as a similar proposal before Washington's 2007 legislature. The LA CTP addresses public safety (by upgrading the trucking fleet), public health (by requiring clean emission vehicles) and workforce equity (by requiring employee drivers).

These issues were recently surfaced in our community by speakers at the National Defense Transportation Association and the Transportation Club of Tacoma, covered in this blog.

The recommendation from the Washington State Department of Ecology to include the port-industrial area in the non-attainment area for PM2.5 opens the regulatory door for similar actions here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Practitioner's Challenges

Ed Tolan, Nippon Paper Industries rose to his own challenge by the Transportation Club of Tacoma and challenged members attending today's meeting with evaluating their strategic planning for the future.

Basically, Tolan listed a dozen strategically important future issues. Listed in no particular order and condensed around similar topics:

  1. Railroad stock is transitioning to 60 feet lengths from the former standard of 50 feet. Companies should be asking how they will manage this change as it will impact their bay access points, with car lengths overlapping the physical location of openings, etc.
  2. The looming debate of re-regulation, especially as it applies to railroads. At first, railroads were totally unregulated, then totally regulated, now unregulated again. The question that looms is will the pendulum swing back to regulation and if so how far.
  3. The aging workforce presents its challenges more as to the retention of a skills base, both in technical and professional knowledge base so as to provide good customer support, effective workforce actions and sufficiency to match demand. The workforce shortage is most acute in the truck driver job. There are a host of factors affecting the ability to pay and retain drivers. Included are: immigration issues, professional criteria and work environment.
  4. Steamship lines also have challenges ahead. The weakening of the US dollar has spurred exports, which has lead to a shortage of containers, once only 20% filled on return voyages but now approaching parity. The growth of international trade has also lead to the adequacy of ship capacity to carry containers. As an overall result, lower value products are being priced out of the export market.
  5. The planned improvements to the Panama Canal, which was said is using Chinese financing, will give Chinese shippers the opportunity to miss both U.S. West Coast ports, roads and railroads.
  6. Citing a string of just Washington State bridges, the point was made that our infrastructure is facing both capacity and adequacy challenges. In the relatively short term, all should expect pre-tolling and its additional cost pressures.
  7. Vehicle and equipment costs, especially for the small business owner/operator is getting out of an affordable range. And fuel costs was an "oh, yeah..."
  8. Shippers and receivers need to form a partnership with carriers to do an overall better job. The issues of workforce and benefits must be addressed in the expected driver shortage. Other issues favor cooperative problem solving.
In responding to a question about the Green movement, Tolan said that the industry should be cautious of paperwork that only documents what's already being done and is not an impact on environmental issues.

Contact Gary Gieser if you wish to know more about the Transportation Club of Tacoma.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tell the Legislature Where to Park It

WSDOT's Freight Systems Division is seeking participants for on-line truck parking survey that concludes March 23, 2008; information needed from drivers and carriers.

WSDOT's Freight Systems Division is currently working to develop truck parking in Washington-especially along the I-5, I-90, I-82, and SR-167 corridors.

This on-line survey is designed to gather input from:
  • both drivers and carriers;
  • those who use truck parking facilities regularly and
  • those who are periodic users;
  • those who utilize facilities for their rest periods and
  • those who only stop to use the facilities or grab a quick bite to eat

WSDOT needs your recommendations on how to improve truck parking:

  • along I-5, I-90, and I-82
  • your truck parking and services requirements
  • your current truck parking practices and
  • where truck parking improvements are needed.

The survey will take between 10 and 15 minutes to complete.

Please complete the survey by March 23, 2008.

If you are a truck driver please click this link (or paste it into your browser): http://www.watruckparkingsurvey.com/

If you represent a truck company with more than one driver please click this link (or paste it into your browser): http://www.watruckcompanyparkingsurvey.com/

Your views are very important to WSDOT's next steps to guide the development of proposed improvements to present to the Washington State Legislature. Thank you for your time!

For more information, please contact:
Dale A Tabat, WSDOT Truck Freight Programs and Policy Manager.

House Funds 520 - Shorts Pierce

The Association of Washington Business, among a report on other legislative action and business issues, reported the action by the Washington State House of Representatives for its transportation budget proposal.

The House approved a transportation budget with $2 billion of the $4.38 billion cost of replacing the State Route 520 bridge with a more modern, six-lane successor. Users of the bridge could pay tolls as early as 2009 to cover the remainder of the project’s funding. Under that budget, however, other highway projects face delays, including the highway crossing Fort Lewis between Frederickson and Lakewood, the extension of Highway 167 from the Port of Tacoma to Puyallup, and a Highway 509 link from Interstate 5 to Sea-Tac International Airport.

Relevant links: HB 2878, sponsored by Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island. Contact AWB’s Amber Carter at (360) 943-1600.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Who Cares? We All Should!

The Chamber’s Board of Directors was briefed by John Wolfe, Deputy Executive Director, Port of Tacoma about the proposed South Sound Logistics Center at today’s breakfast meeting.

Gleaned from his presentation, we can say the Port is responding to two forces:

  • the envisioned future competition from new trade routes being developed from Mexico, widening of the Panama Canal and Canadian ports
  • the short-term anticipated doubling to a 4-5 million TEU container volume within 5-6 years, from services such as the NYK relocation

The Port is now in the process of clarifying the regional need for the proposed SSLC as well as looking at alternatives to the Maytown site.

The Port views rail as a key component to support growth. The question before them is how to maintain service. They see a need for additional rail infrastructure. In assessing that need, they are evaluating the criterion for 8,000 feet of flat trackage for train configuration and queuing. Although other rail infrastructure is needed and will be accommodated here, there is no ability to place that footprint in Pierce County.

In looking at other alternatives than the Maytown site, the Port will be broadening its stakeholder outreach, better defining beyond present conceptualization how to develop the logistics center, continuing the exploration of other sites like those proposed by Lewis County and reaching out to community groups to assure their perspectives and concerns are evaluated and considered.

The Port’s target benchmark date to accomplish these tasks is June 1.

Wolfe was asked about perceptions that might exist in Thurston County that the Port is taking advantage of that community. He answered that the Port is partnering with the Port of Olympia. Effectively, our port is asking if that community wants to be involved significantly in global trade. Other actions taken by aspects of the Thurston County community, i.e. restricting warehousing development, makes this an unknown. When that answer is given, then we will know if the Maytown project is a viable option.

Wolfe was also asked if the Port is considering in-land options (100+ miles) like some ports in other parts of the country are developing. He answered that each set of options carries its own unique benefits. Presently, the railroads are saying they need local infrastructure where they can “land” trains.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Going With the Flow

Transportation fluidity was the topic of today’s roundtable at the National Defense Transportation Association (NDTA) Puget Sound Chapter meeting.

The overall theme was how will we keep freight moving. These viewpoints dominated the conversation:

  1. that the driver workforce is becoming the biggest challenge for the trucking industry,
  2. that technological and operational responses to the challenges of freight movement will also change the local industry, and
  3. that our regional infrastructure has the potential to meet the needs of the future.

Moderated by Lt. Col. Lydia Reeves, Commander, 833d Transportation Battalion, Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC), observed in conversation that the commercial and military freight share the same ground. She added that national responses to priority objectives can result in hardships to either of these sectors. And, that it is relevant for the military to be involved in regional transportation issues.

The panelists themselves provided much of the insight into the challenges of moving freight, as they were charged to do. Dennis Hedlund, General Freight Services, representing transportation services, Dan Gatchet, Washington Trucking Assn. representing the trucking firms and Eric Nowak, Performance Team, for warehousing and distribution centers.

Gatchet early on identified the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) requirement by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as precipitating a crisis in qualified, certified drivers. In the LA area, many drivers are eastern Europeans, using English as a second language. Along with other criteria for the TWIC, as many as 15-20% of all LA's drivers are forecast to fail to qualify. This result will itself put upward pressure on wages as companies strive to attract, qualify and train drivers.

Also, Gatchet spoke to the clean air initiatives being implemented in the LA basin. The recently imposed container tax will drive up costs. The application of the revenues from the container tax back to the industry is being encouraged to mitigate fleet requirements imposed on these independent drivers and rigs. The goal is to have all or newer 2007 engines by 2012.

Together these impacts may have the unintended consequences of shifting freight to the Pacific Northwest. However, the size of the local LA market will command the large volume of containers be delivered there.

Speakers expressed concerns that the PNW can handle any freight shift. In round numbers, the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma throughput 4 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) each year. Concern was expressed that the physical limits of port gates and operational standards would allow an increase of 1 million TEUs. Those operational standards reflect the hours of operation; warehouses are open 24x7 and ports are daylight operations only, they said.

The forecast was made for operational changes that will have workforce impacts. As companies respond to incentives to move freight during off-peak hours, as is being done in LA now, workers must be found to work those hours and supportive industries must also shift to accommodate the new routine. Already mini-economies are developing in LA as independents will rent their trucks to drivers during their off hours.

When asked what logistics innovations are proving good, speakers replied:

  1. TWIC cards will prove beneficial in the long run because it will lead to operational efficiencies.
  2. The usefulness of GPS, to know where loads and equipment are, even down to the location in the yard will become a big improvement.

As for Canadian port competition, speakers believe they are very close to becoming competitive and are now mainly bargaining chips in negotiations involving U.S. ports. However, as the needed infrastructure is built-out and Canadian regulatory initiatives gain more value, they will be competitive.

Finally, for an observation about the PNW surface network, speakers offered:

Eric Nowak: The potential is there. There is a need for industry attention to interface with the community to solve or avoid issues like in LA.

Dennis Hedlund: We need to maximize the physical infrastructure and the technology that is available.

Dan Gatchet: The trucking industry needs to engage with the community and embrace training for its drivers.

For those who wish to learn more about NDTA and its Puget Sound Chapter, contact Susan Pearson