At a meeting in Seattle last week, lawmakers heard that the funding gap for replacing the storm- and seismically-vulnerable, crowded four-lane SR 520 bridge across Lake Washington can be shaved from $2.6 billion to $2.38 billion through a sales tax deferral of $220 million. They also had a look at the current menu of gap-closers. It includes more borrowing against electronic tolling revenues, plus higher toll rates on the 520 bridge, and especially, tolling of the parallel I-90 bridge. As ever, tolling’s a flash point, but it needn’t be ugly. It can equitable, and farsighted. Metro Puget Sound needs a comprehensive regional highway corridor electronic tolling plan, typically with express “HOT” lanes aside free lanes, and higher rates at peak hours.
Yesterday in Crosscut, the Northwest online daily journal of politics and public policy, I published a piece titled “Time to Go ‘All In’ On Tolls.” It starts this way: The four-lane Evergreen Point Floating Bridge across Lake Washington on State Route 520 is a relic of a bygone era, congested and disaster prone. How urgent is the need for a planned six-lane replacement? The Washington State Department of Transportation has gone so far as to graphically model on YouTube how the bridge might buckle under duress, threatening lives and paralyzing the region’s highway network. And is the region stepping up to the challenge? Less than half the funding is secured. The Seattle-side configuration is still being debated. More broadly, the project begs a Read More ›
In a significant return to a controversial topic – the positive mention of which once earned him a sharp public rebuke from President Barack Obama’s press secretary – U.S. Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood today in Chicago reiterated the possibility of vehicle mileage fees to help pay for mounting U.S. surface transportation needs. His remarks indicate a softening of Obama’s official position against the idea. Underscoring evolving bipartisan support, Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, the ranking minority member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, explains to a Florida paper today why the mileage tax makes sense, long-term. No such policy will be enacted anytime very soon, but could begin to move more seriously toward eventual mainstream adoption as part of Read More ›
Article as published at Crosscut
Population in the four counties of Central Puget Sound will have grown from the 2008 total of 3.6 million by another 1.4 million in 2040. Jobs will increase by 1.1 million, and – based on the region’s collective proclivities to date – total vehicle miles travelled (VMT) by more than 40 percent. Barring some big paradigm shift, the percentage of daily “passenger” work trips (freight vehicles not included) which occur on transit will grow from 8 percent of the current (2006) total to only 9 percent in 2040. For far more numerous non-work passenger trips, the transit market share stays at a scant 2 percent between 2006 and 2040, according to recent modeling. The vast majority of daily passenger trips occur in cars now and then. For work it’s more than four of five, for non-work, about nine of ten. (The rest are split between transit, walking and biking.) On the upside, there’s a lot more ride-sharing for non-work trips; plus, per-capita VMT will continue to stay flat; and we can shave a bit off the expected growth in total VMT by meeting (elusive) regional growth strategy targets.
These are some of the conclusions in a March 2009 background paper that’s part of the Puget Sound Regional Council’s “Transportation 2040” planning effort. Future projections may change slightly under new computer modeling in a draft environmental impact statement due out at month’s end. But you get the idea. The PSRC’s 2040 picture begs a huge question: what to do about it all. And, as we’ll see in a moment, it turns out that, away from the big transportation headlines it made last session, the state legislature has some ideas of its own.
My own take: A comprehensive approach to managing peak-hour highway capacity in Central Puget Sound should be launched by bravely establishing – and soon – a seamless regional system of variably-priced, automated and ultimately, corridor-length tolling on highways and major state routes. This must be folded into a broader plan to develop stable long-term funding for the region’s surface transportation network.
Reuters reports that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a senate committee the administration of President Barack Obama will not sign off on any hike in the increasingly ineffective federal gas tax, though Congress may propose that. LaHood’s declaration signaled that the Obama administration will take the same stance as former President George W. Bush. Revenue generated by the tax of 18.4 cents on each gallon of gas sold in the country goes into the Highway Trust Fund to fix U.S. roads and public transit. That fund has already been depleted once and Congress had to pass emergency measures last summer to replenish it. The tax has not been raised since the early 1990s… The Bush administration also opposed a Read More ›
(Article as published at Crosscut) When California recently resolved its mammoth budget deficit, it presciently moved to ease restrictions on transportation public-private partnerships, which over the long run could help control costs to taxpayers of improving overloaded roads, rails and freight facilities. P3s, as the arrangements are called, draw from among construction, engineering, highway management firms – plus infrastructure investment groups often funded partly by public employee and building trades union pension funds – to form consortiums that get important transportation projects built more efficiently, and sooner versus later or never. A P3 consortium may provide consolidated services such as designing and building a toll bridge or highway section, and can also provide upfront capital if public funds are constricted, Read More ›
A committee hearing is schedule today for a bill (HB2211) introduced in the Washington State House of Representatives to effectively exclude the Interstate 90 bridge from an east-west bridge corridor tolling plan that would help fund replacement of the dangerously windstorm-prone and earthquake-prone parallel State Route 520 Bridge. The bridge replacement is estimated by the state to cost between $4.6 and $6.6 billion, as the Seattle Times has reported. Both the I-90 and SR 520 bridges connect Seattle with major Eastside job centers and will have to shoulder more traffic in coming years as population and employment grow, even if transit and vehicle trip reduction gain market share. Dropping I-90 from the corridor tolling plan is something with which the Read More ›
Earlier this month, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and King County Executive Ron Sims announced an historic accord to replace the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct on SR 99 along the downtown Seattle waterfront with an inland deep bored tunnel. (The last page of this state summary provides details on all project components and planned funding – the tunnel is expected to cost between $1.2 and $2.2 billion). State legislative approval is required. Now, Washington State Senate Majority Caucus Chair Ed Murray, State Senate Transportation Committee Chair Mary Margaret Haugen (pictured, right), the committee’s Ranking Minority Member Dan Swecker, and committee member Fred Jarrett of Mercer Island have introduced Senate Bill 5768 to get the tunnel built. Read More ›
The much-hyped federal economic stimulus package isn’t looking like it will do all that much for surface transportation. The New York Times reports that the House stimulus bill contains a scant $30 billion for roads and bridges and $10 billion for transit. Turns out most of the infrastructure spending in the bill is not for surface transportation. The new administration has weighed in, supporting the bill. Washington State would get $530 million for highways, roads and bridges and $216 million for transit from the bill, according to D.C. correspondent Les Blumenthal. To put that in context, we have about $38 billion in unmet transportation funding needs, as shown on p. 5 of this overview from the Washington State Transportation Commission. Read More ›
Proposals for highway congestion pricing and electronic tolling advanced this week in the San Francisco Bay Area, metro Portland and Seattle-Puget Sound. Here’s a rundown. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that in the Bay Area, the Municipal Transportation Commission yesterday approved a funding plan that would establish regional High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lanes on 800 of the region’s 1,200 miles of highway lanes by 2025. Existing and under-construction carpool, or High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, would be converted to electronically-tolled HOT lanes which would be free to HOVs, transit and motorcycles and also open to solo drivers for a fee that varies according to time of day and congestion level. In addition, new HOT lanes would be built, creating Read More ›