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    We don't need a plan. We need to finish the highways part

    We have the regional plan, but we only enacted the transit part of it. Now we have to fund the highways portion we somehow forgot.
    Projects on the November ballot in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. (Regional Transportation Improvement District)

    Projects on the November ballot in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. (Regional Transportation Improvement District) None

    Sometimes even the smartest people have a hard time recognizing change. Doug MacDonald is one of our state’s foremost experts on transportation, but his recent article in Crosscut completely misses the new transportation reality: the war is over and the rail zealots have won. But with most of the old debates now over, one big question remains: Will we complete the freeway grid in the urban core, and if so, how will we pay for it?

    MacDonald’s main argument is that the Puget Sound region needs a comprehensive, multi-modal transportation plan that addresses funding and a new form of governance. We have heard this argument for years, and maybe MacDonald and others were right. The problem, however, is that the voters have just effectively ended this debate. Voter approval of Proposition 1 in November committed the region to building 55 more miles of light rail and another expansion of Sound Transit's express regional bus service. Like the outcome or not, the great light rail debate is finally over (after 40 years). We are going to spend at least the next 15 years building the rail system that proponents have always wanted. With voter approval and the sale of bonds, Sound Transit light rail is on a path that can’t be stopped.

    Sound Transit’s victory also effectively ends the already anemic debate over governance. The only real energy behind the push for a new region-wide transportation agency was a desire by rail critics to stop the Sound Transit Board from getting light rail approved. The state is never going to give up authority over state highways, so what is the point now of a bruising debate over governance of what’s left?

    Meanwhile, through our a la carte non-process a de facto plan has emerged. Sound Transit will build a light rail system up the spine of the urban core and over Lake Washington, and will operate regional bus service. King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties will operate local bus service that will, in part, feed the rail system. The state will continue to govern the freeways, while counties and cities will continue to build local roads. The Puget Sound Regional Council and our various local regional committees will provide rough coordination of the various systems. Like it or not, that’s the plan.

    But there's a missing link. While transit is fully funded, there is no plan in place to fund the mega-projects needed to complete the freeway system in the urban core. Does anyone still care?

    As I argued here in a 2007 article, the region needs to expand the general purpose capacity of its freeway system. Our leaders recognized that when they put the roads and transit package on the ballot in 2007. The roads package, developed by the now-extinct Regional Transportation Improvement District (RTID) would have, among other things, widened 405 and Hwy 167, linked Hwy 509 with a widened I-5, and funded the new 520 bridge. When the roads and transit plan failed, the Sound Transit Board rescued the transit piece and put it back on the ballot, where it passed by a surprisingly large margin last fall. The roads package, however, has become a political orphan, with seemingly no champion.

    Gov. Chris Gregoire supported the RTID plan, but now only seems interested in the Alaskan Way Viaduct and 520. The business community still supports the RTID projects, but certainly isn’t pushing very hard for them, at least not this legislative session. Many greens and liberals will oppose anything that might lead to more cars on the road, and no one right now seems willing to challenge them openly.

    If the political will does emerge to revive the RTID projects, how will we pay for them? The gas tax is a declining revenue source, and voters despise the motor vehicle excise tax, which is why we needed RTID in the first place. Tolls on individual projects don’t produce enough revenue, and they are a political battle to get enacted. That leaves two options: region-wide tolling perhaps based on miles traveled; or the option advanced by Dino Rossi in his governor's race, dedication of a small portion of the general fund to transportation.

    Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 7:07 a.m. Inappropriate

    The other unfunded element is the repairs and maintenance on what we already own. I5 repaving, South Park bridge, and the like. I was hoping the so-called stimulus would address some of those items, but at this point it is really hard to tell what factors are guiding any priorities in that budgeting process. It would be interesting to know how many of the bridges of Washingon State in the worst shape would get any type of funding.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 7:26 a.m. Inappropriate

    Mr. Vance argues that "Many greens and liberals will oppose anything that might lead to more cars on the road..." As one of those green liberals, let me say it's not that simple. What I oppose is highway expansion projects whose only justification is increasing the number of single-occupant vehicles during peak commute hours. I drive our urban highways more than I like to, and it's rare to find congestion -- or any "need" for expanded highway capacity -- outside of weekday morning and afternoon commute hours. I can't support adding highway lanes that get utilized only 30 hours a week and sit effectively vacant the other 138 hours each week. Let's develop an urban highway priority plan that focuses on overall travel needs, not just peak-hour commute problems. I suspect it would be a much smaller and more manageable list.

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 8:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    When you speak "Highway Funding", the State Constitution says you have to consider the unfunded needs of the State Ferries. Unlike hihway tolling, ferry riders don't object to paying 80% of the costs. Yet under the proposed Plan B, state funding would shrink, and eventually "sink" the system. The advantage of Highways and Ferries over rapid & mass transit, is the ability to move Joe the Plumber and his truck and tools to the job site. Passenger route expansion means modifying a local dock and operating a boat. No right of way or heavy construction costs.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 8:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    I doubt a "capacity" series of megaprojects has the votes. We greens would join the anti-tax crowd, nimbys, and a subset of transportation experts who say new capacity ends up jamming up pretty soon anyway. That's quite a coalition, and the slogans write themselves.

    Our current capacity might not be liked by drivers, but it's good medicine. It encourages people to live closer to work, and to be efficient in their trips, all of which is helpful given global warming and global oil demand, with all the vast implications of both.

    We should fund the two replacement projects -- the 99 tunnel and a six-lane 520 (including 2 HOV). Otherwise, capacitywise, I'm hoping for little other than bottleneck projects.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 8:48 a.m. Inappropriate

    The voters have spoken on new highways as well by rejecting the Roads and Transit ballot measure in 2007 and then overwhelmingly passing Sound Transit in 2008. The public is not prepared to tax themselves for massive new highway projects, but they will tax themselves for transit. The reason no one seriously challenges the greens is because on this issue they are well-aligned with the public.

    The public does support taking care of what we have. And regional tolling is on the horizon as the only realistic way to fund repairs and maintenance, and to scale up transit on the scale to meet public demand for transit. And as evidenced by this article, the new highway advocates still believe their projects have merit, even if they do not have public support. I predict the regional governance question will come back. This time it will not be about Sound Transit, it will be about who controls the flow of money from tolling.

    Doug MacDonald's analysis remains pretty relevant in thinking about that question.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate


    As R says, rush hour is really when the case can be made for capacity. But work-home trips are easiest to serve with transit, and can also be addressed with location decisions (unlike trips to visit friends, vacations, etc.). We can ease the pressure by continuing to add transit, and by our personal decision-making about where we live.

    Of course, when oil prices rise long-term, as I assume they will, gas prices will put downward pressure on long car commutes as well.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 9:05 a.m. Inappropriate

    Remember, no one is talking about new freeways like I-605. These are all improvement projects to existing corridors. And these are projects both Republicans and Democrats believe are needed. Go back and read the RTID report http://www.rtid.org/

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 9:17 a.m. Inappropriate

    MacDonald is, diplomatically, pointing out obvious failures of politics over planning. Fine details will always be subject to disagreement, but the examples he cites are obvious - the worst of which may well even evidence the political equivalent of felony fraud.

    I'm definitely a balanced transit/roads guy, and I opposed ST2 due exactly the financial politics MacDonald is circumspect about. Sound Transit has passed and it is imperative that we all support the project - heck even the full completion of it. Costs are always up for debate and it would be better to constructively insist on higher productivity from all aspects of the project team, not obstructionism that only raises the costs.

    Road expenditures are important, but for good land use planning we also need to figure out costs before we determine priority growth areas. It may well be that additional growth in our urban areas is most affordably accomodated in a sattellite model as opposed to a centralized hierarchical system.

    We also need to realize that the next phase of freeway projects may well be the last chance to widen freeways. Future improvements will likely come from enhanced traffic management technologies, as D.M notes.

    Let's get it right, and get the people who abuse the system out of here. There are laws about this sort of thing, too bad we don't use them.

    I wonder why that is?

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 10 a.m. Inappropriate

    It may be true that in the short term finding money for specific road projects, including major repairs to existing highways and city streets, is going to dominate the transportation debate. But in the next 20 years this region, it is estimated, will add one million residents. Their transportation patterns, given uncertainities in the cost and technology of both personal and public transportation, are hard to predict. But it seems clear that a mix of new road and transit capacity will be needed.

    So taking a longer view, we need to get real about how key transportation decisions are made and priorities set. The current governance system is a balkanized mess with every agency and jurisdiction trying to be first in reaching into the taxpayer's pocket, with very little coordination with other agencies and needs.

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 10:12 a.m. Inappropriate

    I see the sidebar of "related stories" did not include the living tribute to Jan Drago's streetcars she desires.
    How about overlaying Chris' story on the tunnel "solution" and ask ourselves if supporting pass through traffic in any city should have such a high price tag, and center a great deal of revenue on the autos of people that have mistakenly purchased homes in King County?
    Still have the comprehensive feeling?
    With ST being the defacto backbone solution maybe all these other "the solution"'s offered at a variety of levels can refine their roles, responsibilities, and relationships, to get the parts to work together.

    Mr Baker

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 11:57 a.m. Inappropriate

    It's very easy to dictate to others that they must live in locations that light rail planners find convenient. That assumes, however, that people are fungible "workers" waiting to do the bidding of the state, and not free agent individuals with roots, families, friends, communities and history in the places they choose to live. Rational people every day decide to endure long commutes in automobiles because it maximizes their utility in ways that central planners never consider. The problem of all this talk about making people live where others dictate is that it's certain death to the economy that must be milked to pay for these transit projects. Trying to manufacture ideal people to fit the priorities of the state has been tried before. It has always failed, and rightfully so. Transit is fine for people who can use it. For those that can't use it, it's a big tax burden for which those people realize exceedingly little if anything. People need alternatives, not compulsion, in transportation policy.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 12:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    At some point in the future -- well before the end of the coming decade of tunnel and floating tracks construction -- the Seattle-centric light rail spine on which so much popular hope rides will reveal itself as not having enough capacity and ridership where and when needed to provide the "transformative" effect on mobility that boosters hope for.

    (This realization will be slowed by the State Auditor's finding that several booster organizations are financially supported, illegally, by Sound Transit's tax dollars.)

    At the same time, the ever growing construction and operating costs of the rail spine -- more like a cancer than a spine -- will foreclose other solutions unless and until ST2 is rolled back.

    All the Vision 2040 ridership and traffic delay forecasts of the Puget Sound Regional Council, as well as the forecasts of Sound Transit in the draft Environmental Impact Statement for light rail to Bellevue and Redmond, speak to this coming reality.

    Consider East Link Light Rail across I-90: $5,000,000,000 for 5,000 additional round-trip transit commuters. Breathtaking, if you know long division.

    A perfectly good I-90 bus transit roadway is now funded by voters for destruction, but a new SR 520 bridge with a transit roadway and higher transit demand is billions short. Doug MacDonald grasps the relationship between the two bridge plans; so does Chris Vance, I hope and trust.

    At some point folks will realize that we have bought a slow, four-car tram for a multiple of the price of fast, ten-car San Francisco BART.

    For a hint of Sound Transit's coming cost problems, read the Sound Transit Citizen Oversight Panel's end of year 2008 report at http://www.soundtransit.org/x2199.xml .

    When these men and women are worried, you should be worried.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 12:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    dbreneman, nobody is trying to dictate to anyone about where they live, work, etc. I just don't see this compulsion you fret about. People will forever be free to choose home/work combinations that result in a long commute for reasons, as you suggest, because it "maximimizes their utility" somehow.

    What people do object to is for these long-distance utility maximizers to then stand up and demand that all taxpayers fund road improvements to improve their commutes.

    If people choose inconvenient commutes, as you suggest, they must realize the public at large is not going to step in and bail them out of their imprudent decision.

    The freedom agenda you appear to embrace includes living with your decisions, be they good or bad.

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 12:48 p.m. Inappropriate

    Is this really the time to be pushing highly expensive road projects? That means a big drain on the treasury, and heavy use of Eminent Domain to take people's houses and land away to widen roads. None of that is cheap and none of it is popular with the public. It's bad enough that we've got our own 4-billion Big Dig project now.

    Don't forget how expensive gas was last year -- when the economy recovers, it'll be that expensive again, or more, and again people will be driving less and using transit more.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 1:13 p.m. Inappropriate

    Mr. Vance - good solid analysis. File cabinets are full to bursting with
    plans and planning documents. If only we could turn all that paper into asphalt. You mentioned several regional projects that need to be done. I would add that all of the projects in the Regional Plan for Snohomish County add currently needed capacity and safety improvements.

    You're in Auburn, I'm in Stanwood. I get so tired of all the Seattle -centric critcs who see transit/rail as a solution for all transportation

    Most of the time, I'm not driving TO Seattle, I just want to get THROUGH

    Ross Kane, Warm Beach


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    dbrenerman, Ayn Rand is getting a bit stale, don't you think? The world has gone through several sea changes since resisting Soviet tanks was in vogue. Yet, backwards thinkers just can't let go of outdated paradigms.

    Why, just look at Chris Vance! He was a rigid ideologue for many years (much of it was probably for show - he's a pretty smart guy) but now plays the role of "voice of reason and realism" on often-goofy Crosscut.

    Vance's no-nonsense approach to covering the nexus of transportation & politics is far superior to the loopy theoretical diatribes Doug MacDonald throws at us every couple months. It also beats Ted Van Dyk's uninformed, angry and repetitive rantings. These two Crosscut contributors form their theories in a vaccum of grudge and (perceived) self-importance; even worse: an elitist east coast strain which permeates nearly all of their pie-in-the-sky theories.

    In contrast to MacDonald and Van Dyk's predictable emotional outbursts, Vance uses his brain to explain the most daunting local/state issue of our time. I wonder if Vance will wake up one day, and realize he's practising pragmatic, Obama-esque common sense?

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 2:58 p.m. Inappropriate

    "The only real energy behind the push for a new region-wide transportation agency was a desire by rail critics to stop the Sound Transit Board from getting light rail approved."

    You are entitled to your opinion, of course, but this does not and has never been my position. I've never found the conversation to be anemic, but instead, I think it's fascinating to try to figure out how to get better, faster decision making and better performance of the system.

    Your argument revives a win-lose way of looking at our mobility needs that makes me kind of sad.

    Deb Eddy

    Deb Eddy

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 3:59 p.m. Inappropriate

    "No plan needed" really hasn't served me well, and throwing your handsin the air and yelling Sound Transit and build more roads as driving a comprehensive solution has all the brainpower of yelling Yatzee and thinking that has it solved.

    Mr Baker

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 4:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    Where's the oil going to come from to gas the cars that will be allegedly using the highways in the future? Please name the new oil fields discovered recently (lets say within the past ten years) that aren't already declining.

    City Light gets 98% of its power from renewable (and price-stable) sources [ http://www.seattle.gov/light/FuelMix/ ].

    Unless one can fuel those cars at a price people can afford, there's no point in building highways to stand idle (unless one is just providing makework). Odds are, the value of real estate within walking distance of light rail will climb. The value of all other real estate in the region -- with the possible exception of land returned to agricultural use -- is almost certainly going to fall.

    Even light rail will become prohibitively expensive once oil hits $300-$500 barrel. Right now, the only thing that looks like a brake on that happening is a permanent reduction in demand if our current "temporary emergency" turns out not to be so temporary.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 5:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    Cars don't have to run on gasoline....

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 5:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    Chris, a survey about what people want has little to do with what they'll vote to tax themselves for. It also doesn't suggest that they've thought through the implications of their wants.

    jniles, one great thing about light rail is that you can expand capacity on an existing line relatively cheaply and easily. You simply add trains. I've seen frequencies down to 70 seconds in other cities. (If that's not enough, then clearly the ridership projections aren't optimistic enough!)


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 5:47 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Cars don't have to run on gasoline..."

    True enough. What did you have in mind? At what price point? And using how much fossil fuels to produce what one does use (the main problem with tar sands, ethanol, fuel cells, etc)?


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 5:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    I've come to believe Deb Eddy was the one member of that goverance reform effort who never figured out the whole purpose was to sharply limit the expansion of light rail in this region.

    Getting to John Niles' perpetual scare tactics: the Citizen Panel he cites is supposed to be "scared.". That's their job. If John Niles really wanted to get people to believe he is an honest and consistent transit watchdog, he may wish to comment some day on the major Metro operations costs meltdown which has been underway for over a year. Instead, the BRT bunch just sweeps impending doom under the carpet. A mess somebody else might wish to comment on, and maybe fix.

    While bus costs are spinning out of control, and while auto-caused congestion inflicts more damage on the rubber tire model Niles, Van Dyk and MacDonald like to parade around, all they can do is complain about trains. Ignoring the big problem isn't going to help make that problem go away. Similarly, pointing fingers at other problems won't divert our attention from failed ideas, and failed models you've been promoting for decades.

    I'll conclude with a question: does Metro or the other transportation agencies have a similar oversight committee? I can't find anything on their websites. ST will hopefully take this citizen committee's warnings seriously. But what about the agencies which don't even empower similar groups?

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 6:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    Chris -- it is incorrect to suggest that everyone supports roads because the projects in RTID are ones that "both Republicans and Democrats believe are needed." Elected leaders logrolled their way into a Roads and Transit measure that got clobbered by the voters. ST alone passed handily when not yoked to the RTID projects. Those RTID projects included road widening, road extensions and new roads (405, 509, Cross base). While not quite as egregious as 605, they are wrong for the same reasons. Expanding highways is a bankrupt transportation policy that makes global warming worse.

    Figuring out how to cobble billions of dollars together to build more highways is the exact wrong path for an economically and environmentally sustainable future. The age of big highways is past. Efficient use of our roads, smarter land use, and transit is our future. That will probably require an integrated approach to how we use our current roads and our dollars.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 6:14 p.m. Inappropriate

    alge & electric

    Gregoire says car tabs not required for tunnel, Sims' chair not even empty yet and the car tab/bus portion is stripped from the tunnel.

    Mr Baker

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 6:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    dbreneman: "Rational people every day decide to endure long commutes in automobiles because it maximizes their utility in ways that central planners never consider."

    Oh, if only it were so.

    See, the thing about a free market -- or even a market subsidized by great big whomping tax write-off, like the mortgage interest deduction -- is that price indicates demand.

    So, what't the most expensive housing? Apartments in dense, multi-purpose downtowns.

    What's the least expensive? Cookie-cutter, SimCity Classic, monoculture Burbland.

    That's because discounting those "houses" is the only way to get people to buy them.

    People endure long commutes in automobiles because they'd rather eat than not. {shrug} Supply the market with sufficient rail and dense housing to drive the price point down, and people will almost certainly take advantage of it.

    The thing about Burbland is that a), it's familiar -- not just to the customer but to the construction guys; b) it's quick to build; c) it's cheap to build. It really is the physical equivalent of fast food.

    But a residence with texture, with feeling, with depth behind it -- the structural equivalent of haute cuisine -- is still pretty much only possible in places like London, or Paris, or the Upper West Side, or Queen Anne/Capitol Hill, or Vancouver, or the Strand in Stockholm, or San Francisco, or Sydney, or... Well, you get the idea.

    But what I really object to is the idea that people are getting what they want. I think people are both smarter and more sensitive than that. They know they want something better, but are willing to muddle through with the limited pallette of choices presented to them.

    And (he said, coming full circle), I think Burbland's low, LOW prices reflect that muddling through.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 6:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    Algae bio-oil has an advantage over the price point debate, the price can be fixed and known over a much longer period of time. The large scale industrial user needs that as badly as they do cheap gas. That economy if scale is going to be flying over our heads more, and more, often.

    The smarter freeways with right-sized transportation choices, that includes more busses, and cars, running on the same infrastructure, not burning petrolium, is the cost effective, cost fixed future.
    The monuments ST is hoping to build have limited application, and high cost per mile.

    Build more roads, make the mass transit bits actually work together.

    Mr Baker

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 6:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    talking down one preference and up another just described your point of view, and not much else.
    The misery of living where people choose to, even at the expense of a longer commute may not be you cup of tea, but it has no less value to them than does your imagined Queene Anne = Paris (ha!) life style.
    Between the low income set asides, and the endless business write-offs building a sea of cubes up and down Greenwood along bus lines is the cheap urban result, not so strange a choice as the reviled suburban cookie cutter.

    Let the elites buy their own busses.

    I reverse commute, and have to go to at two locations north, or south, when I do not telecommute. The metro bus I used to take was stopped and replaced with two ST busses that almost go 3/4 the distance, now I have to drive when I have to be at work (or add 2 more busses and 75 minutes in commuting to my day).

    Mr Baker

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 7:23 p.m. Inappropriate


    Expanding capacity on Sound Transit's Link light rail by adding trains --thus reducing the time between trains -- is going to be blocked from happening by built-in bottlenecks along the line that slow down the trains: the 90 degree bend in the downtown Seattle tunnel, the 18 signalized intersections in the Rainier Valley, and (probably) the bending track joints in the rails at both ends of the floating segment across Lake Washington on the I-90 bridge. The eventual downtown Bellevue alignment may be a speed-reducing bottleneck as well.

    You are right that the Sound Transit train capacity is sufficient for the official ridership projections out to 2030, but my point is that the upside expansion toward a light rail market share that would signify a truly transformative shift away from autos to trains is limited by the system design.

    Again, in summary, four-car Link will never be ten-car BART. Link was sold to voters by Mass Transit Now as having capacity for a million riders per day. The BART heavy rail subway in the larger Bay Area region with longer, faster trains carries less than half that number per day.

    Another example: the heavy rail Metro subway in the increasingly congested Washington, DC urban region is now capped in its peak hour capacity, with all future transit expansion into the urban core planned using buses, according to a briefing I received from an official there last month.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    Chris Vance is right about this: voters have not shown much support for the highways included in regional plans. And he's right that transit essentially won the years long debate about what to do with sales tax dollars: spend them on roads or Sound Transit. They will be spent on Sound Transit.

    MacDonald is clever, by half. He attempts to use conventional wisdom about the craziness Viaduct Follies to advocate for congestion pricing everywhere, with everywhere tolls that would not only fund roads, but also pay for more buses he likes. Every other place in the nation has these sorts of freeway fights. They are old news, been happening here for over 40 years. They are not some unique Seattle civic quirk. (And every poll, including polls by Ron Sims, has concluded that congestion pricing on most every road has very little support among real people around here.)

    Yet MacDonald's vague congestion pricing scheme (under a new government) does not do anything to reduce the a la carte decisions he is critical of, like the Viaduct Follies. Nothing. No regional government proposal has ever actually solved the types of problems attached to the Viaduct or the 520 bridge, or any other decision between states and local governments, ever.

    But that hasn't stopped promoters of various governance schemes from saying they have a solution to these types of problems. Nobody in the know ever bothers to call them on it, because the new governance schemes have never had any real steam behind them. Never, ever.

    Vance has a history of opposing tolls. Yet every other scheme for paying for the new roads he seems to like has failed. Will he support something new that might work now?

    Is there common ground possible somewhere between Vance and MacDonald on this? Maybe. But let's start by coming clean with what each is really all about.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 8:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    It's very easy to dictate to others that they must live in locations that highway planners find convenient. That assumes, however, that people are fungible "workers" waiting to do the bidding of the state, and not free agent individuals with roots, families, friends, communities and history in the places they choose to live. Rational people every day decide to rent apartments in the city because it maximizes their utility in ways that central highway planners never consider. The problem of all this talk about making people live where others dictate is that it's certain death to the economy that must be milked to pay for these road projects. Trying to manufacture ideal people to fit the priorities of the state has been tried before. It has always failed, and rightfully so. Highways are fine for people who can use them. For those that can't, it's a big tax burden for which those people realize exceedingly little if anything. People need alternatives, not compulsion, in transportation policy.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 10:10 p.m. Inappropriate

    there is considerable reserve alone in the oil sands of Canada and their are other reserves waiting to be discovered - and then there is the current available technology to extract such resource without impact.

    the liberals of greater seattle try to link the the fraud of CO2 warming to a need to forsake the above energy source and their nonsense comes at a great current and future price for all of us.

    at the same time, the conversion to electric vehicles is, at last, beginning. these autos are non polluting in all senses and as the population accepts electric technology AND the population increases the need for highways / freeways will not lessen.

    light rail will never be scalable, reconfigurable OR efficient, in any sense of these parameters. light rail is a BIGGER tax burden, that over 90 percent of the population will never use. roads are a right of way that can be shared by buses and trucks. what is light rail ?

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 10:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    "talking down one preference and up another just described your point of view, and not much else."

    Really? And what is my preference? Please give a quote showing the same.

    I was talking about market preferences, expressed in price per square foot.

    Here are the thumbnails for Zillow's heat maps for a number of cities in the country:


    There're pretty much only two variables here: Is one close to density? Is one close to the water?

    If you have better data -- regardless of my, your, or anyone else's preference -- please show it.


    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 10:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    When John Niles is trying to scare people with the "death train from hell," he emphasizes the speed and length of Link trains speeding through the Rainier Valley. When Mr. Right Wing Think Tank trying to scare people (the 11 people who take him seriously) with capacity concerns in 2030, the mega-death-train suddenly becomes a toy trolley.

    I had no idea MIT offered a MS degree in hyperbole.

    Niles has literally spent two decades obsessing over these low-level complaints, which often contradict the low-level piddling he achieved last year. At some point, the average human being should get bored with this pattern.

    There was a discussion - years ago - over the choice of proper rail technology for our region. A BART-like system was considered - but rejected, because of cost. Full grade separation ain't cheap. It also isn't very flexible. Now, John Niles whines endlessly about the costs associated with rail. At the same time, he demands more capacity. Which would cost more. Talk about a consistent argument!

    But, here's the real kicker: when an incredibly high-cost / low capacity technology was introduced to the region (monorail) John Niles was either supportive, or agnostic.

    It doesn't take a lot of brain power to see right through this ideological garbage. What amazes me is the lack of shame exhibited by those who keep using the same old disinformation tactics.

    If Niles needs to step out of his ivory tower for a minute, and discover - for himself - just how absurd his theories really are, I would suggest a rush hour trip on one of the low-capacity / low-reliability buses he's always over-selling.

    The mono-modal anti-rail zealots decided years ago they were going to dress buses up to look and act like trains. The result has been a system stretched to its limit. Not in 2030. Now.

    Posted Mon, Feb 2, 11:07 p.m. Inappropriate

    I know John Niles won't find any need to defend his horrendously inconsistent record on transit on the grand scale. But, maybe - just maybe - he will link to this grand plan he refers to out of DC. The one where buses fill the future capacity needs of his former metro region. Forever, apparently - if we are to believe Niles' propensity for hype.

    Posted Tue, Feb 3, 4:23 a.m. Inappropriate

    Mr.Vance generally speaks the truth, in the clearest of terms -- this article is no exception. During the debate on Prop 1, I tried to make the point that with its passage, "transportation spending would be turned on its head.".
    Transits share of all transportation spending is currently about 30%. With Prop 1 it gradually increases to about 70% over the next 40 years without any increases in general road funding. Yet roads will still be depended upon to carry the vast number of trips in the region -- upwards of 90%.
    You can only withhold watering a plant for so long, before it whithers and dies in place. John Niles has correctly pointed out the inherent limitations of ST2 to pick up much of the slack.
    I think Chris has correctly framed the next debate over transportation funding, and the metering of limited resourses.


    Posted Tue, Feb 3, 9:37 a.m. Inappropriate

    LRT?, I'll let someone else check your numbers. But:

    1. At best they only include public cost, not private cost, such as (a) the astonishing percentage of personal income most drivers spend owning and using their cars, or (b) the huge additional cost of high amounts of parking for all types of real estate.

    2. In the denser parts of our region, adding capacity to roads is usually disastrous for those neighborhoods (when it's not a tunnel!). Many of us would like to handle capacity in ways that don't make our city suck.


    Posted Tue, Feb 3, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

    Light Rail Loons of the Rotten Urbs use big capital projects to enslave the exurbs with taxes. There is no justification.

    What the exurbs of Kent, Renton, Covington need is highways.

    There are no valid East West highways north and south of I-90.

    Somehow Washington "forgot" to build the interstates and also enhance the limited access highways (167) that are ferrying the real commuting workload.


    Posted Tue, Feb 3, 4:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Cars don't have to run on gasoline..."

    True enough. What did you have in mind? At what price point? And using how much fossil fuels to produce what one does use (the main problem with tar sands, ethanol, fuel cells, etc)?

    hbobrien, as mentioned above, biofuel from algae is one possibility. I am personally in favor of nuclear. Yes, neither is a panacea, and yes, fossil fuel is still probably required as an input to some degree.

    jabailo: US-2, US-12? Or do you mean just in King County?

    Posted Tue, Feb 3, 6:59 p.m. Inappropriate

    "But with most of the old debates now over, one big question remains: Will we complete the freeway grid in the urban core, and if so, how will we pay for it?"

    With tolls and tactics: One piece at a time. The anti-road voters are probably being self indulgent but they won. Adapt or move.

    Or wait for this whole mess to work itself out. Improvements to the internet will further reduce the need for face-to-face interaction. Rail or highway, how important is it to spend billions upon billions to put workers into cubicles in order to send each other emails, while simultaneously surfing the web and texting friends on a hand held?

    How often do you meet with your boss in the cube farm? Could you work at home, or at a satellite office, and drive in to the meeting twice a month? Right now all the writers at Crosscut could get together for dailing staff meetings if they wanted to. In their underwear. (Until the video improves.) Or as avatars. (Never get old, never gain weight.)

    Building highways will not change that reality but may cut into your ability to save for retirement or pay for health care (due to unecessarily higher taxes). These are real opportunity costs.

    And the one thing that rail provides the region is insurance against the next energy crisis. Do you doubt we will have another one?

    Posted Tue, Feb 3, 7:20 p.m. Inappropriate


    The graphics for the informal briefing I heard on the Washington DC area plans for bus improvement are at http://www.gobrt.org/WMATA_PriorityBusCorridors_Jan12_2009.pdf .

    A sketch plan of improved bus services inside the District of Columbia limits is the D.C. Govt brochure at http://ddot.washingtondc.gov/ddot/lib/ddot/masstransit/dcaa/execsumm_2008-03-11.pdf

    All the official planning documents of the main regional transit agency there, WMATA, are posted on a library-type page at http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/planning_dev.cfm . I've not read them all. Heavy rail to Dulles Airport, light rail across the northern tier of Maryland suburbs, and bus improvements are among expansions and improvements under consideration. Funding is an issue. Funded "grand plans" do not exist for the DC metro region. As here, rail expansions are controversial. In the meantime service cutbacks in existing transit service are looming, according to the Washington Post.

    How limited capital funds -- mostly from the U.S. Government -- will be divided between maintenance/rehabilitation and new construction is an ongoing issue in National Capitol region. The existing 30 year old MetroRail system now has significant rehab needs, budgeted at billions, and the funding sources are not identified.

    Various documents cited above along with the comment -- not a "grand plan" -- I heard when I was in DC last month confirm a picture of transit there that aligns with funding realities: quicker improvements in capacity and ridership are more quickly achievable and less costly with bus service improvements than with rail service expansions. Just like in Seattle, that won't keep National Capitol area elected officials from pushing for rail line extensions such as those I mentioned above.


    Posted Sat, Feb 7, 2:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    Vance missed some critical factors.

    SJenner is correct, maintenance of both local and state roads is underfunded; that should have a higher priority than capacity expansion. we need some "eat your broccoli" leaders to fund maintenance. After the 2007 Prop One failed and South Park bridge replacement was left unfunded, the county council increased taxes for mental health, dikes, and speculative waterborne transit.

    MacDonald, Hallenback, Sims, and the Sierrac Club are correct to advocate for region wide dynamic tolling of the limited access highways. that is our hope to manage demand and raise funds for maintenance. WSDOT needs billions for I-5 maintenance while the attention is on SR-520 and the AWV replacement. We do not need new governance for that, just Olympia leadership.

    Vance asserted that transit is fully funded. Of course it is not. Only ST2 is funded. the local buses are fuller. Link LRT is many years away.

    In the face of global warming, an infrastructure need more important than Vance's highway expansion is improving the network of sidewalks on arterials in areas developed after WWII. It is important for both mobility and safety as our population ages and fuel and parking prices escalate.


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