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

Hummers Beware. Opel rules.

A combination of hot rodding and mechanics tricks led to a record 376.59 mpg – 35 years ago! And accomplished by an Opel of all makes! By an oil company – Shell!

This legendary car, the stuff of urban myths, a 1959 Opel T-1 was rescued from the unappreciated obscurity of the Talladega museum and the uncaring cohorts of Ricky Bobby. The rescuer, Cosmopolitan Motors, has the car up for sale. Maybe another attraction for the LeMay Museum!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Rich Get Richer

Now comes the time when Pierce County reaps its unjust rewards.

The failure of Proposition One last fall can be fairly laid to the feet of King County politicos who either lead or passively allowed action to defeat an opportunity for regionally coordinated road and transit planning and improvements.

Now, that example of regional leadership is being rewarded by the legislative transportation budget. The House transportation budget HB 2878 clearly takes money from Pierce County and gives it to the 520 bridge project. Examples:

  • While the Governor's budget proposed $300 million for SR-167, the House budget, HB 2878, cuts that to $114.720 million. Other funds were supposed to come from an anticipated container tax, which thankfully appears to be dead.
  • The Port of Tacoma interchange with Interstate 5 has been delayed.
  • The SR-704 Cross-Base Highway has been FURTHER delayed.

The regional perspective seems lost on most newspapers. Both the Seattle Times and the Seattle PI focused on the potential for early tolls on the 520 bridge and gave no attention to where the subsidy came from. Only The News Tribune examined the source of the massive flow of funds to the King County project.

As an aside, some $40 million has been earmarked for the Murray Morgan Bridge from the Puyallup's land claims settlement fund. This is understood to be in addition to any monies from the proposed 0.2% increase in the sales tax to be apportioned from the state's share of sales tax monies.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sound Transit Survey Link Up Here

Sound Transit is asking all to take the transit system expansion survey.

On Thursday, Sound Transit began asking the public to help shape plans to expand the regional transit system. They did so by launching a Sound Transit Web survey. The survey runs through March 9.

Following the death of Proposition 1 last November, the Sound Transit Board this winter is taking a renewed look at regional transit system expansion with the potential of going out for another vote this fall. In the survey, they’re asking such things as what are people’s highest priorities, when a package should come back to voters and how ambitious the transit package should be.

Postcards that are arriving in mailboxes this week are also inviting ideas and urging people to take the survey.

The results of the survey will be presented to the Sound Transit Board in mid-March. Residents who prefer to take the survey in a written form rather than online can call 1-866-511-1398 to receive a copy by mail.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

SSLC 2nd Meeting Siting Incites

The Port of Tacoma and Port of Olympia have scheduled a second Joint Commission Study Session regarding the feasibility of siting an integrated rail logistics center in the South Sound region (South Sound Logistics Center). A previous Study Session was held Jan. 31.

The upcoming meeting will be held Wednesday, Feb. 20, from 6-9 pm, at the St. Martin's University, Worthington Center, 5300 Pacific Ave. SE, in Lacey.

At the meeting, the Ports will briefly summarize why a South Sound Logistics Center is being considered, outline future planning steps and address key questions raised by participants at and subsequent to the first Joint Port Commission Study Session. The remainder of the meeting will be dedicated to hearing additional public questions and comments.

The Port Commissions will not make any decisions or take other action at the Feb. 20 session. The primary focus of the meeting is to take public comment and identify any additional questions related to findings from preliminary concept studies, including a market analysis, integrated logistics center research study and an alternative sites analysis. Questions received at or subsequent to the Jan. 31 session will be addressed in a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document to be posted on-line at prior to the Feb. 20 session, and provided in hard copy at the meeting.

This public process is part of the Port of Tacoma's research into the concept of a South Sound Logistics Center to determine what it might include, how it would function, what benefits or impacts it might generate, and where it could be sited. The Port of Olympia joined the Port of Tacoma in this research effort through an Interlocal Agreement. The agreement, valid through June 2008, provides a means for the two Ports to work collaboratively during the exploratory stage of the project.

Additional information about the SSLC process may be found at the project website, or by contacting one of the Ports directly.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Innovation in Bridge Financing

The Chamber has reviewed the legislative digest of HB 3158, which provides funding for replacing a bridge so narrowly defined that it can only be the Murray Morgan Bridge (formerly City Waterway Bridge or 11th Street Bridge).

It appears to us that the proposed legislation takes the additional allocation of .2% sales tax allowed to be authorized by the City of Tacoma as a credit against the state's portion of the sales tax already existing.

Your thoughts on this interpretation are most welcome.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

HB 3158: A Bridge to Bridge Funding?

Jason Hagey reports today in The News Tribune that Washington State legislators are considering a bill that would allow the City of Tacoma to tap sales tax revenue for fixing the Murray Morgan Bridge.

Introduced this Session by Representative Dennis Flannigan, HB 3158 would allow Tacoma to create a transportation improvement district and impose an additional 0.2 percent sales tax for maintenance and operation, generating $54 million in new funds of the bridge. This new revenue, along with the $26 million set aside for demolition, would bring the total funding available to $80 million--enough to bridge the current funding gap forestalling full rehabilitation of the 94-year-old structure.

The Washington State Department of Transportation closed the bridge, which connects downtown with the Port of Tacoma across the Thea Foss Waterway, last fall after an inspection found it unsafe for traffic.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Gaggle of Bad Ideas?

Tomorrow afternoon beginning at 3:30, the WA Senate's Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on several bills:

SB 6772 - Concerning regional transportation governance.
SB 6667 - Establishing high-capacity transportation corridor areas.
SB 6543 - Creating a central Puget Sound regional tolling authority.
SB 6771 - Eliminating regional transportation investment districts.
SB 6495 - Requiring the appointment of nonvoting labor members to public transportation governing bodies.
SB 6569 - Permitting public transit vehicle stops at unmarked stop zones under certain circumstances.

Several of these are bad ideas already panned in past posts to this blog. SB 6772 would implement the recommendations of the Regional Transportation Commission, which RAMP opposes. SB 6543 has a misleading title; what it really does is overthrow existing transit agencies to set up a "central Puget Sound regional transit authority"--another aspect of the RTC's agenda. SB 6771 kills the RTID--which most observers think is already effectively dead--but offers nothing in its place; this is a vaccum that the RTC's proposed uberagency would undoubtedly have to fill. Is a theme starting to appear?

RAMP participants are encouraged to testify, sign in, and/or contact their respective senators.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Tacoma-to-SeaTac Light Rail on the Siding?

Sound Transit has not decided yet whether to press for a three-county ballot measure in 2008 as it responds to the failure of the Roads & Transit package last November. A recent survey conducted for the agency showed most voters found the construction plan too big and expensive, and many said the projects would take too long to complete.

One option under consideration is to send a smaller transit-only package to voters this coming November that would build less but complete improvements by 2020. Sound Transit staff yesterday unveiled a list of projects that could be done quickly and on a smaller budget, including:
  • Running Tacoma Link light-rail line from downtown west to Tacoma Community College and east to Fife;
  • Increasing frequency of commuter rail and bus service to Seattle;
  • Putting light rail from Sea-Tac Airport to Tacoma on hold.