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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