Transit News Here’s a one way to market light rail: highlighting the ethnic eats along the route. The new Gold Line in L.A. has mad culinary appeal. In Seattle, Sound Transit’s new “Link” light rail line might also benefit from a promotional campaign highlighting adjacent dining and other neighborhood attractions. Just one of many points of interest: In between the Othello and Edmunds stops, and right across from the Link tracks at Graham Street, is Joy Palace, one of the region’s best restaurants for Hong Kong style Chinese entrees, and the bite-sized savories and sweets known as dim sum. Take it from me, or Yelp fans of the place. In the same urban mall is a wondrous Asian supermarket, Viet Read More ›
Corridor-length Approach Is Favored; I-405/SR 167 Seen As Model Reporter Newspapers covers East and South King County, and has produced a lengthy special section – also available online – delving into the region’s surface transportation challenges. In an in interview for “Navigate King County’s Future,” Washington Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond talks about funding, with an emphasis on beginning to to add variable-rate express toll lanes for the full length of major highway corridors such as I-405/SR 167. She also alludes to the next-generation approach of charging vehicles for all miles driven, with on-board units. In the future, you could be paying for your right to use roads the same way you pay your utilities — a bill based Read More ›
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 ›
West Coast major metro regions face growing population, plus projected increases in total vehicle miles traveled and freight volume. Traffic congestion already exacts a high toll, and without serious intervention will worsen many-fold, harming economic growth and quality of life in coming decades. That means ameliorative strategies and cross-boundary collaboration between the states are more important than ever. So, top transportation advisory panels for California, Oregon and Washington will this week hold their first-ever joint meetings, in Portland and Seattle. In a Washington State Transportation Commission press release, chair Carol Moser (below, right) says:
“These joint meetings are the first ever to occur between the West Coast commissions. These types of engagements are important for building relationships and alliances between the West Coast states. They provide the opportunity for us to partner and identify our shared transportation priorities, which we…intend to continue using as leverage in influencing our collective Congressional delegations in securing federal transportation funding for the tri-state area.”
When all three commissions meet Wednesday, July 22 in Portland, one focus will be the Columbia River Crossing bridge project planned on I-5 to replace the old, dangerous and often congested twin spans connecting Clark County, Washington and Portland. The new structure will include a light rail extension, bike and pedestrian paths, and will be electronically tolled with higher rates at peak hours. The CRC project could lead to a deeper discussion of regional highway corridor tolling in metro Portland, according to some Oregon lawmakers and Portland-area planners. That approach is making inroads in metro Puget Sound, with several related state studies underway. At the Portland meeting the three commissions will also discuss the looming federal surface transportation funding re-authorization bill. The big six-year package will likely be delayed as long as 18 months from its expiration this fall, as the Obama administration and key Congressional members slog through the difficult and politically risky work of figuring out how to replace the failing federal gas tax.
For the second year running, a stopgap infusion will be required to keep solvent the federal Highway Trust Fund, which relies on the federal gas tax. A hike in the by-the-gallon tax is possible when the bill is finally re-drawn, but there is broad consensus its primacy is ending. The gas tax’s ineffectiveness has been revealed after system maintenance and expansion badly lagged during four-and-a-half decades of robust traffic growth, plus related wear-and-tear. Other more recent constraints on gas tax revenues include continually improving vehicle mileage, a trend expected to accelerate with growing production of alternative-fueled vehicles.
Many innovations are likely in the new bill, including greater funding and policy emphases on transit, biking, urban density, tolling, vehicle mileage taxes, private investment, and – the West Coast state transportation commissions hope – freight mobility.
Also on the Portland agenda: federal funding for improved inter-city and high-speed rail; and a presentation on electronic tolling projects in the state of Washington. The meeting will be preceded by an informal discussion session among commission members, also open to the public.
The Thursday, July 23 meeting in Seattle between the Washington and California commissions will highlight several surface transportation priorities the two states share.
State Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36th) makes some key points about the future of state and regional transportation funding in a Ballard News-Tribune op-ed.
After stressing funding shortfalls facing King County Metro’s bus service and declining gas tax revenues for road projects, Carlyle explores several important macro-level policy options for funding improved mobility.
…the long-term, big picture is important and we can’t let the battles over the tunnel, 520 bridge and other mega projects be a conversation killer about our broader structural challenges. Several ideas are on the front burner. Tolling is making a comeback, as evidenced by the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and soon on the 520 bridge. It makes sense for the people who use facilities the most to pay a greater share of the construction and maintenance costs for a specific facility or geographic area….comprehensive regional tolling – with e-tags and other solutions to help make it easy logistically – makes good economic sense so long as we have a real action plan….
Another, if controversial, idea is charging according to vehicle miles traveled (VMT), tracked by a transponder. This would take into account actual road usage, whether or not a vehicle uses gasoline, electricity or something else. It also opens up some interesting new policy ideas such as integrating car insurance, parking (no more parking meters!), tolls, etc., into one system that is able to charge drivers accordingly and accurately. Obviously, a concern about privacy is one major obstacle to this idea, so we’ll have to continue looking at innovative ways to address this very legitimate concern…..
A third option is the car-tab fee model and using the funds for direct transportation services so the money doesn’t disappear into the institutional bureaucracy of government but rather goes for real services on the ground.
Kudos to Rep. Carlyle for highlighting in a community forum the need to develop long-term surface transportation funding strategies. Regional (electronic, time-variable) tolling and further consideration of a vehicle mileage tax – along with a local-option motor vehicle excise tax applied at annual license renewal time – are all important options that our Cascadia Center and others have advocated.
More than that, Carlyle’s commentary is especially timely.
U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. James Oberstar (D.-Minn.) says, enough already with studies and pilot projects. Why not just phase in over the next two years the controversial vehicle mileage tax, in order to supplement and eventually replace the flailing gas tax? More from Associated Press: ..Oberstar…(pictured, right) said he believes the technology exists to implement a mileage tax. He said he sees no point in waiting years for the results of pilot programs since such a tax system is inevitable as federal gasoline tax revenues decline. “Why do we need a pilot program? Why don’t we just phase it in?” said Oberstar, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman. Oberstar is drafting a six-year transportation bill Read More ›
When I was nine I liked to poke a stick into ant nests I’d find in sidewalk cracks. Ants scattered in every conceivable direction. They ran in circles, they ran over and through each other. They screamed without logic. I was fascinated.
The state of professional transportation opinion in the US today is pretty much the same. The stick poked at the nest in this case was the report released by the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Finance Commission this February. The opening ant-scream was the spanking Obama’s Press Secretary Gibbs gave to Transportation Secretary Lahood. We professionals cringed in unison. Gibbs was in turn spanked next day by Congressman Oberstar, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. We cheered. Of course the press went in every ant-direction imaginable for that and for the release of the NSTIFC’s Paying Our Way report 5 days later. Joe Motorist will have gleaned no real insight, and after fears were supplanted by next days’ tedious economic headlines will have simply forgotten, secure in the fact that opinion was sufficiently variable that no leader could possibly find a coherent position.
It seemed to me that in the weeks following the release of the report, US transportation professionals were – among friends – largely in favor of the key message in the report: “The gas-tax is a clever and simple idea whose time has run out and paying-for-use is the tax-shift to fix it.” We mocked Gibbs, commiserated with LaHood, and delighted in Oberstar’s defense – which had just vindicated all of us. On the whole we nodded in unison at the work of Rob Atkinson’s Congressional commission. Of course we would not all recommend spending the revenue the same way, but we all seemed aligned with the principles: meter all road use and pay according to number of miles traveled weighted by when and where the driving happened and of course by type of vehicle used.
With that in mind, I attended the April 14-15 Symposium on Mileage-Based User Fees (updated web page here) hosted in Austin by the Texas Transportation Institute’s University Transportation Center for Mobility, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and Center for Transportation Studies, University of Minnesota. This would be about my 20th symposium dealing with Road Use Charging in five years.
Editor’s Note: Cascadia Prospectus is pleased to welcome as a contributor Bern Grush, chief scientist and founder of SkyMeter Corp., who in periodic posts will share insights on road user charging technology and other aspects of surface transportation and system pricing. Worldwide, the need to toll roads is increasing, whether for sustainable funding, transportation demand management, or emissions management. While this includes the usual toll by segment approach using radio frequency identification (RFID) or dedicated short-wave radio communication (DSRC) many transportation planners are looking to wide-area methods such as Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) in the United States and Time, Distance and Place (TDP) in the EU. This trend will almost inevitably continue, with the end result approaching universal tolling and Read More ›
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 ›