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.”