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    Seattle casts a lonely dissent on regional transportation planning

    There is more trouble in the regional sandbox. Seattle Mayor McGinn has weighed in against a long-term transportation plan heavily favored by other municipalities and elected officials.
    A train moves freight at the Port of Tacoma

    A train moves freight at the Port of Tacoma Courtesy Port of Tacoma

    One of the most important organizations in Puget Sound is one that gets little public attention. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is generally only in the news following a big vote or some other controversy generated by the elected officials who make up its four-county membership.

    Recently, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn joined the mayor of Port Orchard, Lary Coppola, in opposing the PSRC's Transportation 2040 Plan — albeit for very different reasons. They were the only elected officials to vote "no" out of a group of 32.

    McGinn was not convinced that the plan did enough to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and was not heavily enough invested in transit. Port Orchard's Coppola had concerns that the 2040 Plan was heavily influenced by King County and Seattle and didn't reflect the needs of his constituents. In comments submitted by the city of Port Orchard, the plan was referred to as "arrogant" and needing to be “scrapped.” He also disagreed with the emphasis on tolling to pay for transit in addition to roads.

    What gives? And what is the purpose of the Transportation 2040 Plan and why should we worry about it? After all, a large majority of the PSRC supports it.

    First, we should care because the PSRC, as a federally recognized metropolitan planning organization, selects projects for federal funding — about $160 million each year, with two-thirds of that for transit. Second, the federal government requires regions to have a 20-year planning horizon as a precondition for receipt of federal transportation funds. The region's current plan, Destination 2030, will not meet this key federal test beyond this year. And finally, this plan will help influence the next big state transportation funding push in the 2011 legislative session.

    It also gives Seattle an easy opportunity to show that it can play well with others. Our friends in other cities and counties around Puget Sound &mdash with good reason &mdash sometimes feel we do not respect their opinions or care about their cities and neighborhoods.

    The major roads projects in any transportation plan these days are the most controversial. But this plan smartly places the emphasis on strategic roads investments: maintain/replace existing infrastructure; complete projects that were started years ago and not completed; provide better connections between communities.

    Consider two examples of projects in the Transportation 2040 Plan. First, Pierce County and the Port of Tacoma officials have been trying for years to get state route 167 completed. For the port, it would mean shorter and more efficient trips for trucks carrying containers to distribution centers in the Kent Valley. It would also dramatically shorten commute times for residents of Tacoma. Some transit advocates are claiming this is a road for cars and therefore a bad investment for the region. I would argue that this road for cars and trucks is exactly the kind of strategic investment that is needed for our future economic prosperity. Thirty out of 32 elected officials in the region seem to agree.

    The other example is the South Park Bridge. This bridge is not only an essential freight corridor but a lifeline to the residents and businesses of South Park, in Seattle's south end. The neighborhood is one of Seattle’s most diverse. Immigrants have settled in the community, opened small businesses, and are entrepreneurial and cultural assets for the entire region.

    King County must close the unsafe South Park bridge in June, and some small businesses will fail as a result. Keep in mind here that 109 years ago another immigrant, John W. Nordstrom, opened a small shoe store in Seattle's University District. It is smart to care about small businesses and help them thrive by making the public investments on which they depend.

    SR 167 and the South Park Bridge were both in the Roads and Transit package that failed on the ballot a few years ago. (Mike McGinn, heading the local Sierra Club, was a leading opponent.) Admittedly, the package was huge and was reviled by those who thought it was too roads heavy and those who thought it was too transit heavy. There were also many who thought the taxes were just too much. It failed, and a subsequent Sound Transit-only measure passed in 2008. But that leaves funding roads still undone.

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    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 4:22 a.m. Inappropriate

    Jordan I think you make a good case coming from your perspective. Free flow of freight is essential for a strong and prosperous economy. At the same time new road construction that increases accessibility of rural and less developed areas at the fringe of the UGA will only encourage sprawl, exactly the opposite of the goals of the PSRC and the GMA. If facilities were built solely for the movement of freight what would be one thing, however the fact is that freight mobility projects 99% of the time means new freeways and new lanes that are open to all cars. Advocates and people like Ray LaHood don't have a vendetta against freight, they just don't like all the other things that come along with improved freight mobility. If those these issues can be separated I believe you would see that many current opponents become allies.


    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 6:56 a.m. Inappropriate

    I heard Mayor McGinn was the only one from Seattle to vote no and that the majority of Seattle's votes were in favor. In other words, McGinn didn't even prevail in Seattle.

    That seems to be the new Seattle, a lonely voice from the new Mayor, and 7-9 members of the Council who work pretty well together and prevail.


    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 7:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    McGinn is a newcomer to the PSRC and doesn't have all the experience, and baggage, that long-term members have. He made a principled vote on this plan.

    How many of the proposed new lane-miles of urban highways are REALLY there simply to provide commute capacity for single-occupant vehicles? -- full during weekday rush hours and empty the other 140 hours each week. I suspect it's many.

    Thank you Mayor McGinn for stepping outside the group-think. The region would do well to re-examine this plan from a broader perspective.

    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 8:11 a.m. Inappropriate

    The typical Seattle voter's phobia of rubber-tired vehicles will ultimately spell the economic decline of the Puget Sound region. I just hope we can stumble on for another 20 years. Then I'll be retired and they can all go to hell in their eco-friendly hand basket.


    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 8:30 a.m. Inappropriate

    From the piece: “We are 30 years behind on building a regional light-rail system”.

    That is a popular line in some circles, but does it mean anything?

    The thirty years ending in 2006 were relatively prosperous, for most people and many businesses around here. There wasn’t any light rail during that period.

    If the Forward Thrust light rail measure had passed and there was some kind of rail line around the south end of Lake Washington by 1979 would we be better off now? In what ways?

    Now that we do have light rail, are we better or worse off for it. Sound Transit is slamming the people here with extremely high regressive taxes. It has taken about $5 billion in tax revenue out of peoples’ pockets since 1997, and it plans on confiscating tens of billions more over the next several decades. In light of the miniscule reduction in car miles driven these trains will cause, how can such a staggering cost possibly be justified?


    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

    crossrip is correct. I always laugh when I read a stupid statement like, "We are 30 years behind on building a regional light-rail system and continually argue over whether we need buses or trains. We need both."

    Why do we "need" both? The author makes not one argument why we "need" trains. The insanely expensive lite rail system that Sound Transit is building in our area is absolutely NOT "needed." What will it accomplish? Basically, nothing. At an astronomical cost.

    More and more cities are choosing bus rapid transit systems instead of light rail, because you can accomplish the same things with buses that you can with lite trains at a fraction of the cost. Las Vegas is one of the latest examples of a city that has chosen bus rapid transit instead of light rail:


    "The ACE Gold Line, which runs down Las Vegas Boulevard from downtown to the Strip, has been averaging 20,000 people a day, Snow said."

    That is Vegas's new bus rapid transit line, which cost about $6 million per mile (compared to $160 million per mile for Central Link light rail) and is already carrying more people per day in buses than Central Link carries in light rail trains.

    We are just flushing billions of tax dollars down the drain with Sound Transit light rail.


    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

    Could be the Mayor actually read the documents.

    Could be the Mayor has also read "Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller, Oil and the End of Globalization," et al—the curiously short list of serious thought being given the next economy, you know the one that comes after debt-based everlasting growth—assuming humans are lucky stiffs and still around then.

    Or the Mayor, hung up on trains, could have just stumbled into the right decision for the wrong reason.

    Cheers to Crosscut, who alone seem to have any interest in getting the public interested in what's up at PSR before deals are baked. Time is short though and commenting is over. You too can read what the Mayor may have read: http://www.psrc.org/transportation/t2040/


    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 12:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks to Jordan Royer for shining a light on the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Transportation 2040 Plan to be approved on May 20 at a General Assembly of elected officials.

    The Plan is marvelously educational for those officials, like Seattle Mayor McGinn and Port Orchard Mayor Coppola, who apparently have read it closely.

    I've read it closely also, with a focus on transit: The PSRC Plan's computer modeling forecasts Sound Transit's already approved light rail and commuter rail program will be less influential on regional travel choices in 2040 than was claimed by Sound Transit's campaign claims for the 2008 Prop 1 vote that doubled this agency's tax collections.

    Specifically, Sound Transit claimed for the 2008 Mass Transit Now campaign that rail boardings in 2030 would be 312,000 per day.

    PSRC's new Plan forecasts 164,000 per day in 2040 -- ten years beyond 2030 -- with even more light rail than citizens approved in 2008. What?

    At the same time, the new PSRC Plan specifies additional billions for premium bus transit expansion so that bus boardings in 2040 at 717,000 per day exceed rail boardings by a ratio of four to one. Yay!

    The new Plan shows that the future money put into expanding bus transit all over the vast geography of the four-county region is much more efficient for growing transit ridership than Sound Transit's investment in a few rail lines -- more riders per dollar will come from investing in bus service than in trains, according to the PSRC Plan.

    Hint: the PSRC plan details how main roads will flow a lot better in 2040 than they do now, so that buses on expressways and specific bus priority arterials will be less "stuck in traffic." Read the Plan to find out how this is done. As Jordan Royer knows well, making the roads work is critical for freight mobility in trucks.

    At the same time, the more than 50% of all regional transportation resources that are specified for public transit -- buses and rail -- barely move the needle on transit market share for the region as a whole. The computer modeling in the Plan shows the proportion of total daily trips taken on transit grows from a starting point of 3% in 2006 to 5% in 2040.

    Certain corridors in peak commuting periods will show much more transit ridership, to be sure. The Big Idea in Transportation 2040 is that more and more people need to live, work, and play close to transit.

    However, solo driving in PSRC's four-county region for all trip purposes stays at a market share of approximately 43% from 2006 to 2040. Thus, more clean, green electric cars are a crucial societal requirement. Aside from transit and solo driving, the Plan shows that the bulk of regional travel both now and in the future comes collectively from multi-occupant cars and vans, cycling, and walking.

    Read the Plan at http://www.psrc.org/transportation/t2040. After approval on May 20, it sets the table for more debate and future adjustments on taxing levels and resource allocations for the different modes of mobility.


    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 3:18 p.m. Inappropriate

    Well, having read the article without learning anything more than industry talking points, I don't know why I expected anything else from the comments.

    This article is a good example of why a PR guy really can't do an "article", especially on the subject they're paid to flack for. The tidal pull of influence moving the flood of vacuous adjectives is not educational.

    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 3:40 p.m. Inappropriate

    Regarding the projected 43% use of single-occupancy vehicles through 2040: JNILES is correct that this underscores the need for innovation in small, non-polluting (or nearly so) vehicles--with the explicit admission that there are huge benefits to some users, such that their "addiction" will not disappear, and must be addressed by a different cure.

    Mass transit is terrific--when it works for the user with respect to location, time, and cost. When it doesn't work, it's virtually useless, leaving the citizen to fend for her/himself.

    Bicycles: fine, for some. Segways: ditto. Walking: great. E-scooters and the like are also good, and acceptance of these and other nontraditional commuting options will grow.

    But for many (the 43% projection for 3 decades is probably fairly accurate), those alternatives just won't work. Those people need options that will get them out of 2-ton, fossil-fuel vehicles and into efficient and convenient miniget to work, shopping, etc. on their own schedule and through routes that aren't preplanned for all.


    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 7:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    Tax bikes to pay for moving sidewalks.

    Mr Baker

    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 10:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    To me Transportation 2040 looks more like a transportation grab-bag than an actual plan. While predictive models are a bit helpful, the future does not always cooperate with the models' assumptions.

    I'd rather see a plan that updates itself based on observed data. Do we need SR-167 now for freight access? Great, but what do we do if it fills up with cars and causes backups on nearby roads? Maybe the model could recommend a change, like switching a lane to HOV or HOT or truck only. The sad thing is that WSDOT already has the whole ITS infrastructure but it takes decades-out planning to make useful changes based on the data:


    Posted Mon, Apr 19, 10:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    I've studied the Tranportation 2040 plan. It's biggest problem is that it totally ignores Peak Oil. It predicts future growth by extrapolating from the last few decades instead of developing "no growth" and "degrowth" scenarios.

    On the other hand it reads very well to Sierra Club types like myself, a big improvement on transit and green house gases. Yet it is still heavily loaded with new road lanes that won't be needed. Most people will no longer be able to afford long SOV commutes and well paying jobs will be harder to come by. We'll see a dramatic downsizing of cars, with many switching to transit, motor scooters, electric carts, bikes,and walking. Some will switch to hybrids or electric cars, but the high cost will deter many. Many will move closer to work and services.

    But this benign-sounding "relocalization" still assumes that we'll avoid the worst of the full scale collapse predicted by the "business-as-usual" scenario of the famous Lmits-to-Growth studies. Global warfare, hot or cold, and failure of our political and financial systems to adapt to degrowth could make things far worse.

    Posted Tue, Apr 20, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'd like to clarify Port Orchard's position on the 2040 plan.

    We disagree with many of the basic assumptions outlined in the plan. Many of the ideas being advanced in the Vision 2040 plan may be acceptable, and actually pragmatic, for parts of King County and its highly-populated environs, but we strongly question the validity of what amounts to little more than a “King County Solution” being forced upon other parts of the state. Due to geography, topography, and existing population distribution, what works for Seattle, King County and other portions of the I-5 Corridor, clearly doesn’t even begin to work elsewhere — especially here on the Kitsap and Key Peninsulas.

    We see many of the proposed “solutions” as highly punitive, punishing people for “doing the right thing” where the environment is concerned. One example would be switching from gas-guzzling SUV’s to hybrid vehicles — and in all cases paying a premium price for those vehicles — usually about $10,000 more. The purchasers will then be punished with the proposed Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Tax, because they now consume less fossil fuel, generating less gas tax revenue.

    We view this as a fundamentally unjust financial outcome, especially for people whose original goal was to try and protect our environment, consume fewer natural resources, and who were originally willing to step up and “walk their talk,” by paying the increased purchase price of a hybrid vehicle to do so. We believe a VMT Tax will discourage these people from making that same mistake in the future. We also see the VMT as over the top social engineering on a grand scale.

    Additionally, the while the state collects less in gas tax from these people, it also collect substantially more in sales tax revenue from them when they purchase a hybrid vehicle. However, instead of applying that differential in sales tax revenue to transportation, it goes into the black hole of the general fund.

    We disagree with tolling in general except for major projects such as the 520 bridge — and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which has a direct economic impact on our City. If you read the plan, you will find it also proposes to create HOT lanes — which are fine — except it doesn't create any more traffic lanes, instead, relying on existing lanes. The end result will be additional traffic congestion in the "free" lanes, while penalizing people with a toll to use traffic lanes they already bought and paid for.

    We disagree with the proposal to toll city streets to pay for maintenance of them. This is an additional tax on every driver. Maintenance for city streets are part of what you pay your property taxes for.

    We disagree with the proposals to toll I-5, I-90 and I-405, as well as many state roads. All this will do is motivate existing business to move out of state (can you say Boeing?, can you say Chicago? South Carolina?).

    On Page 53, the report states, “…decision makers have been deliberately examining an approach to fund transportation through fees and tolls that apply to users of transportation systems and services.” We are not at all convinced this is a good idea, and believe it will actually be a severe detriment to long-term economic development.

    States experiencing the greatest amount of economic development before the nationwide recession — places like Texas, Nevada, Idaho, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and more — are all states with excellent and ample roads — and no tolls. The states with the greatest amount of toll roads — New Jersey, Florida, and Ohio for example, are all states in spiraling economic decline with deteriorating infrastructure. They are also all states with environmental issues related to air pollution, much of which can be directly attributed to the sheer number of cars spewing toxic gases into the environment while waiting at toll booths — in spite of the advances made in electronic collection of tolls.

    Should such a level of tolling as outlined in the plan eventually be implemented, business will also reach a point of rethinking the benefits of continuing to be located in this region and explore other options, such as relocating to more business-friendly locales, and taking the jobs they create with them. The majority of jobs in not only this state, but in our entire nation are created by small business. Small businesses usually locate in the area where the entrepreneur lives, often, but not always filling a local niche. However, it is the technologically innovative jobs of the future that will be the highest paying, and an overly taxed transportation infrastructure will eventually chase those jobs away, and/or eliminate our region from consideration for expansion by local companies already here, as well as severely handicap our recruitment of high-tech companies from other states.
    While this may disagree with the thinking that users of the infrastructure should pay for it, the economic reality is that entrepreneurs — who we need to retain to create and provide the jobs for the future population we anticipate — are highly mobile. They won’t stay married economically to an area where the cost of doing business reduces their profitability. Entrepreneurs also pay the most in property taxes, which at the local level fund transportation infrastructure.

    We also question how the tolls collected will be allocated. Will tolls collected in Port Orchard be spent directly in Port Orchard and Kitsap County, or will they be aggregated into prioritized projects covering the entire region? If so, those areas with the densest population will benefit most, and first, and be unfairly subsidized by the lower prioritized areas such as ours, which are already getting the short end of the stick as far as addressing our existing transportation needs.

    The so-called “solutions” offered in the plan will have their own set of unintended consequences, including severe, long-term economic decline, because job-creators are not going to make substantial investments in Washington if all we have to offer them are mass-transit and congested toll roads as the primary means of moving people and freight. If there aren’t enough jobs to support the increased population, because job creators choose to invest in more business-friendly places where they can move their goods to market efficiently and cost-effectively, the workforce will follow the economic opportunity those job creators offer in other, more forward-thinking locales. If that happens, the projected population increases won’t materialize, and this entire document will become moot.

    Posted Tue, Apr 20, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

    To complete the above commentary...

    The so-called “solutions” offered in the plan will have their own set of unintended consequences, including severe, long-term economic decline, because job-creators are not going to make substantial investments in Washington if all we have to offer them are mass-transit and congested toll roads as the primary means of moving people and freight. If there aren’t enough jobs to support the increased population, because job creators choose to invest in more business-friendly places where they can move their goods to market efficiently and cost-effectively, the workforce will follow the economic opportunity those job creators offer in other, more forward-thinking locales. If that happens, the projected population increases won’t materialize, and this entire document will become moot.

    Posted Tue, Apr 20, 8:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    Lary Coppola, above, is actually calling for an end to the Washington State Ferry system.

    The state ferry system depends on tolls. And lots of other taxes from the rest of us, including people living in King County.

    The ferry system is a state highway system that depends on tolls. Just like the state highway system in Texas, which relies on tolls. Unless you believe Lary Coppola, who also believes you'd be better off in Nevada, Georgia and Missippi, and who doesn't appear to know much about the reality in those places.

    Oh. And the other thing. The plan Coppola complains about is not proposing any of those tolls he complains about until about 2030, which is simply a planning device with no clout.

    But in the meantime, the plan's fundamental usefulness to Kitsap County is to bolster efforts in the next couple of years to support and sustain funding for Washington State Ferries, a basic.

    Lary Coppola opposes that. He opposes what really matters in the near term, because of a meaningless point about long term ideas?

    What's up with that? Why is he elected?

    And. If he's so sore about the plan, why hasn't he proposed any alternative to pay for things? Not one? Other people did. Not him.

    Should he be taken seriously? Or is he simly pandering to a special interest?


    Posted Thu, Apr 29, 9:03 p.m. Inappropriate

    Essay on PSRC's Transportation 2040 Plan in the Kitsap Sun online, with lively discussion in the comments following: http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2010/apr/28/my-turn-inconvenient-truths-about-transportation/


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