Blog Sonntag: Regional Decision-Making Needed On Transportation
State Auditor Brian Sonntag – whose office recently issued a performance audit of state and regional transportation management – is now urging the legislature to take stock after defeat of the big roads and transit ballot measure, Proposition 1. In a Tacoma News Tribune op-ed, Sonntag urges lawmakers to ensure the state re-establish congestion relief as a top transportation priority; and implement coordinated regional decision-making on transportation in Puget Sound. Sonntag writes:
Clearly, Proposition 1 was not what the public wanted. The first step in moving forward should be to ask citizens about their needs and what they are willing to support……the recent performance audit on traffic congestion in the region should serve as a good starting point for any discussions…..We learned from our extensive citizen outreach that congestion clearly is the primary focus of the public.
…The audit recommends a single agency to oversee transportation planning in the region. It identifies 128 public entities with responsibilities for transportation planning and spending in Puget Sound. This complex mix of agencies is awkward at best. Quite understandably, their interests are narrowly focused. At the same time, congestion knows no boundaries. One organization needs to coordinate the myriad of transportation planning activities and be positioned to decide what is best for the Puget Sound region. Planning for public transit and new lane capacity must be done together instead of independently.
That’s one reason that while Cascadia Center supports the King County Council’s recent and somewhat controversial move to levy a small property tax increase to help fund several passenger-only ferry routes, we also recommended in our written testimony to the council that a regional interlocal agreement be executed. It would stress pooled resources among different regional foot ferry stakeholders; route coordination; private sector partnerships; and next-generation, low-wake, high-speed foot ferries. The same principle of greater coordination and cooperation applies to the broader roads and transit choices facing the Puget Sound region.
In Cascadia Center’s Transportation Action Plan for Puget Sound, we take up tolling, funding partnerships with public employee and labor union pension funds, and more – including regional decision-making on transportation in Western Washington. On that topic, Cascadia recommends in its plan that……
A regional transportation board of directors should:
1) Consolidate current regional transportation agencies;
2) Consist of elected and appointed members;
3) Include an advisory council;
4) Propose transportation projects and funding voters will approve
5) Maintain oversight and accountability on current projects, while continuing to plan for the future.
County borders are increasingly irrelevant. Alter (state) statutes to establish regional transportation decision-making bodies for Central Puget Sound (King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, Thurston), North Puget Sound (Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan), and Southwest Washington – for the purpose of multi-county transportation project planning and funding. Snohomish could be part of two different regional groups, if it so chooses.
The three regional transportation decision-making bodies would be tasked to coordinate and pool resources with WSDOT for these programs: I-5 enhancements (including cross-Columbia River bridge), freight and passenger rail improvements (coordinated with British Columbia and Oregon), multi-county and special needs transit, and corridor-based technology improvements (i.e. truck parking, diesel emission reduction and alternative fuel/plug-in stations at I-5 highway rest areas).
There should be little lingering doubt about the need for bold steps to fund and manage Puget Sound transportation. Witness the current funding and decision-making stalemates on urgent safety replacements for the State Route 520 floating bridge, and the Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99. Look also at the lack of funding for vital safety improvements to U.S Route 2 in Snohomish County, the crumbling South Park Bridge in Seattle and the Murray Morgan Bridge in Tacoma.
Any new regional transportation ballot measure must start to get the transit part right (preferred modes is a whole ‘nother conversation) and focus on completing key road and bridge projects to improve safety and reduce congestion. Knowing that there will be future spending needs beyond any next ballot measure, a long-term financial plan must be produced at the same time, so there’s a road map that wary voters can see.
This means that regional tolling – and specifically, congestion pricing – plus innovative financial partnerships with pension fund investors will be essential.
What entity can really pull all the big pieces together, other than a regional transportation board?
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