[UPDATE from Martin: This post has long been scheduled, and has nothing to do with yesterday's earthquake. It is a freakish coincidence.]
As we reported in December, this year’s federal transportation budget includes $600 million in merit-rewarded grants that can go to highways but also to transit and even bike projects, much like the TIGER grants from the stimulus. The WSDOT Federal Transportation Issues blog has wonky details on how this $600 million will get rewarded.
The Democratic leadership in the Senate decided to split its jobs agenda into multiple, smaller voters. Last week, the body passed its first jobs bill with a tax break for new hires to incentivize businesses to hire in the rough economy, extend highway funding, and other small measures. It’s expected that the Senate will considering around $15 billion in TIGER-style transportation grants. That’s well below the $50 billion the administration had floated, but is still encouraging. Merit-based grants are a smarter way of doling out transportation dollar compared to giving money to states based on formulas, since state departments of transportation more frequently fund highways than transit.
While Senate first jobs bill funded the highway trust fund for many more months, but the House didn’t pass the bill this week and instead sent the Senate a measure to extend highway funding for a 30 days (so the House could amend the Senate jobs bill, if it chooses). The increasingly dysfunctional Senate was unable to pass the 30-day extension with a simple voice vote due to one Senator’s objection. Oddly enough, the department of transportation may simply not funded past this Sunday and could actually shut down. The House could vote on the Senate’s jobs bill early next week to continuing funding USDOT.
The highway trust fund needs regular advances from the general fund due to falling gas tax revenue.
The Stranger reports that Metro won’t renew its contract with Olympic Security, after a brutal beating of a teenaged girl occurred right in front of guards in the downtown transit tunnel. That beating became national news; Metro and the city have since increased the police presence in and around the tunnel.
It was Olympic Security policy to not intervene and instead “observe & report” altercations. Olympic Security’s president city sent a letter to county and city officials putting blame on Metro staff for that strict policy, saying that the transit agency had told Olympic to not make “physical contact” with others. Metro notes that the prior incidents that led to a clarification of the “observe & report” rules were not assaults, but instances like a skateboarder rummaging through the trash which didn’t necessitate physical contact to maintain safety. Publicola has the full report.
We all know transit funding is a mess – both Pierce and Community Transit are looking at huge cuts in service – their only option now to ask voters for regressive sales tax increases.
Transportation Choices Coalition is stepping up to help, with bake sales for both agencies next week to raise awareness of the issues. The legislature could still pass transit funding as an amendment on an existing bill, and TCC aims to let riders know what they could be losing, and how they can get involved.
The two bake sales are Monday, March 1st, from 7—9am at the Aurora Village Transit Center, and on Tuesday March 2nd from 7–9am in downtown Tacoma (9th and Commerce). We encourage you to go buy a cookie!
by CHRIS KARNES
On Wednesday, the “Build the Streetcar” campaign and the Tacoma City Attorney met to discuss draft ballot language for their citizen’s initiative to extend Tacoma Link. This move signals a go-ahead for a 180-day, 4,000 signature petition drive. This development comes after five years of attempting to use traditional political processes to move the project forward – previously covered on the STB (Tacoma Streetcar on the Slow Path).
The “Build the Streetcar Act” would authorize a 0.2% increase in the sales tax in the City of Tacoma to fund an extension of Tacoma Link from its northern terminus in the city’s Theater District to Tacoma Community College (utilizing a Transportation Benefit District – more on that later). The extension would cover a distance of 8.8 km (5.5 miles), with stops at the Stadium District, Tacoma General Hospital and along 6th Avenue – Tacoma’s most popular transit corridor. The approximately $100 million in funds raised would be added to the ~$80 million in ST2 funds, which voters approved in November 2008. It would require that they City dedicate a staff person as a Transit Director who would be tasked with leading a coordinated effort with Pierce Transit and Sound Transit to make the project shovel ready by November 2011.
Other components of the initiative include creation of a citizen Transit Commission, which would be tasked with overseeing progress on the streetcar extension, while crafting a thirty year transit plan for the city – mirroring current City efforts in Tacoma to improve bike-ped mobility over the next decade.
Initiative petitions will be available at the latest on Monday, March 1st. The campaign kickoff is slated for late March.
More information to available at BuildTheStreetcar.com
Evan Siroky at Tacoma Tomorrow has a detailed report on Pierce Transit’s long range budget situation, and it isn’t good. PT’s reserves run out in 2012, at which point the bottom falls out.
Using current revenue sources, annual service hours will fall by 57% – from 622,000 to 265,000, as the number of bus routes plunges from 51 to 23. The end of service would move from midnight to 9pm on weekdays, and from 10pm to 8 or 9pm on weekends. Weekend headways would increase to 60 minutes.
As the map above indicates, there would also be a substantial reduction in the areas PT serves. Unlike in King County, the PT district is not equivalent with the County. These unserved areas would still be paying taxes to support PT; should the lack of service persist, they would likely pursue the time-consuming and complex “deannexation” process.
PT also provides 33% of service from Tacoma to Olympia, and that would end.
Metro and Community Transit faced potential 20% cuts when their sales tax collapsed. Spokesman Lars Erickson explains that PT’s would be much deeper because “Pierce county experienced the recession earlier and deeper.” The long term deficit is about $50m/year. PTCT saved about $72m through 2012 through staff cuts, fare increases, and deferral of most capital expenses.
The good news is that Pierce Transit assesses a 0.6% sales tax, so they have a further 0.3% they can access with a public vote even if the legislature never comes to the rescue. The chart below the jump pitches what could be done with that money: a gradual increase to 638,000 hours, including a fourth major trunk route. The Pierce Transit board is likely to decide on a course of action this summer.
See also the TNT on this subject.
First, the bad news. We’ve discussed SB 6570 in the recent past. A state bill, it would allow private transit operators, such as Microsoft’s Connector service or airport shuttles, to use transit-only facilities, including such facilities as BAT lanes, flyer stops and transitways. Our Puget Sound transit agencies have responded in a letter to the chairs of Senate and House Transportation, calling out efficiency problems, costs, and safety issues that would be caused by the bill. Potential delays in HOV lanes, for instance, could cause agencies millions in additional operating costs.
The Federal Transit Administration has also weighed in on the issue, pointing out that projects receiving federal funds require a case by case evaluation to be opened to private transit operators, as opposed to the state bill’s blanket exception. The FTA says clearly: “such a use would appear to conflict with FTA’s rules where those transit facilities and highway lanes … were funded with FTA grants.” The state bill has an exception for state projects that receive federal funds, but this wouldn’t cover agency, city or county facilities, as the FTA points out – and Sound Transit, especially, builds a lot of HOV access ramps.
As we stated before, it doesn’t appear that legislators voting for this bill are considering its impacts, or legal obligations regarding receipt of federal funds. Senate Transportation clearly did not exercise due diligence before passing this bill out of committee, and we hope House Transportation does not make the same mistake.
Fortunately, there’s also good news out of Olympia. The state’s regional mobility grant program for transit, recently stripped of funding in the Senate, has seen $14 million replaced in a House Transportation amendment expected on HB 2838, the House Transportation funding bill, which passed out of committee yesterday. Representatives Mary Lou Dickerson (36th) and Marko Liias (21st) led this effort, and reportedly it passed unanimously. These grants have gone to a number of urban transit agencies in the past, generally to fund congestion reduction capital projects, and it’s good to see House Transportation sticking up for transit funding.
I have to admit that I’m a bit conflicted about the McGinn position. In the largest sense, he’s right: 520 will still basically be new car-oriented infrastructure and we ought to have incorporated light rail in the bridge in the first place. His recognition of the fundamental shifts needed in transportation are perhaps 10 years ahead of Olympia’s. On the other hand, he is (through no fault of his own) very late to this party, and there is a safety issue in the meantime. Moreover, although everyone likes to wrap themselves in the transit flag it seems that lots of stakeholders* really have other interests at heart. To call out one example, if Speaker Chopp is fired up about getting rail across the lake he has a funny way of showing it.
There are also some technical concerns. I’ll focus on those below the jump:
We’ve already covered the fight that is being waged against the planned upzoning of a few blocks around the Beacon Hill Link station, but the graphic above that appears in this week’s Stranger just shows how small bore the issue really is. Just one person is holding up the plan for Beacon Hill, reports Seattle’s only newspaper which has Cienna Madrid’s definitive piece on the subject. Overall, there are just six individuals holding up the process for a year at three stations.
The parlor game of watching Central Link ridership continues. Although month-to-month figures are victims of small sample sizes, seasonal variations, and so on, the Times reports weekday boardings are up to 15,965, up from 14,639 in a holiday-filled December. That’s just over 1% short of the all-time monthly high of 16,192, achieved last October in a traditionally high month for transit.
The figure is over 10% short of Ben’s prediction from last month of 18,000. It’s also over 20% short of a years-old projection of 21,000 riders by the end of 2009, although we don’t actually know what assumptions went into that figure; it presumably didn’t foresee 10% unemployment. [UPDATE: This July press release suggests 15,900 by the end of the year, which is right on. I still don't have a document that says "21,000" at my fingertips.]
The County Council has declared this week bus driver appreciation week, partly in response to the assault on a driver last month. This is not to be confused with the international bus driver appreciation day on March 18th.
I guess train drivers, being hermetically sealed from riders, are left out of the love. They certainly have to put up with less from the passengers. I ride enough of the sketchy routes (7, 124) to know that it’s a job I don’t think I could do. Thanks guys!
Tonight will play host to a very important meeting, when the Bellevue city council is expected to make its pick for the B segment. We’ve repeated again and again that the reconsideration of its preferred alternative of B3 modified made last year will possibly change to B7. We’ve also endorsed the B3S alignment over B7/BNSF, an alternative we feel the city has no business changing its mind about, simply because a few council seats changed.
For anyone (South Bellevue residents in particular!) who is available tonight from 6-10pm, we’d urge you to attend this meeting. Comments will be at the held at the beginning of the extended study session, so if you want to speak up, tardiness will not be in your favor. The meeting will be held at Bellevue City Hall in the Council Conference Room.
For those speaking out in favor of B3, I have a list of talking points that has been graciously forwarded to us from TCC:
- Bellevue City council has already picked a preferred alternative – B3. This decision was made a year ago and no new ridership or environmental data has emerged since then that requires a reconsideration of this alternative. Tax dollars have already been spent to study this alternative and move forward with planning. In this tough economic environment, it is wasteful for the council to continue to spend tax dollars despite a decision being reached. Planning decisions should not be politically motivated. They should be based on sound planning and evaluation criteria as well as public benefit. The city’s long term interests and viability should be the top priority.
- Light rail is being built to serve the neighborhoods of Bellevue. It is an asset to our community and will give residents new transportation options. Light rail should serve the most number of transit users and the B3 alignment accomplishes that purpose.
- The South Bellevue Park and Ride is an important transit node and failing to serve this node is a disservice to the residents of Bellevue. The expanded park and ride would accommodate 1475 spaces – a tripling of current capacity. A park and ride at 118thwould accommodate 1000 spaces. How are we going to handle the loss of capacity? Will the additional drivers be forced to drive and further clog up our highways?
- A significant proportion riders at the South Bellevue Park and Ride use the 550 bus service (Sound Transit’s best performing transit service) to downtown Seattle to commute. How will these riders be served if light rail is relocated to the BNSF corridor? Plans for the 550 service to be eliminated once light rail becomes operational will leave these transit riders stranded.
We reported a few weeks ago that King County was forming a transit task force to look at Metro’s policies, in particular the weights to which it assigns various objectives such as ridership, reduction in vehicle miles traveled, congestion relief, serving transit-dependent populations, and so on. County Executive Constantine just released his appointments for the task force’s 28 members:
The geographically balanced 28-member task force includes a mix of elected officials and representatives of business, labor, education, and human service agencies, along with riders…
The task force is being asked to develop policy options for discussion by July and to adopt final policy recommendations by September 2010.
Aside from six municipal politicians, the most recognizable names are probably Rob Johnson of the Transportation Choices Coalition, Chuck Ayers of the Cascade Bicycle Club, and the P-I’s “Bus Chick”, Carla Saulter.
People interested in repealing 40/40/20 will be interested to know that there are 18 slots identified by subarea, with 6 appointees from each. However, Constantine claims that “I deliberately sought a group of people who are willing to put aside political divisions and think creatively about how to plan a transit system that will serve us well in the future,” which I believe is code for being willing to replace the infamous formula with something based on other metrics.
The proposed appointments will go through a Council committee (Environment & Transportation) tomorrow and should go before the full Council next Monday, March 1st.
- More details (and haggling) over RapidRide C.
- Metro’s new vans apparently unsafe, pulled out of service until modifications complete.
- Seattle’s bike plan heavily underfunded. McGinn hoarding taxing authority to fund bike and ped projects.
- Ballard mulls light rail.
- The New York Times has a concise roundup of the tunnel beating story; security at the Renton Transit Center.
- Beacon Hill station closed for hours Saturday, apparently due to a communications system problem. Communications with the media and the public were atrocious, as the link indicates. At least shuttle buses were up and running.
- Smoke in the BNSF tunnel spills into Sounder cars.
- The Senate bill to limit local power to fight highway projects is dead.
- Redmond to discuss growth in the Overlake area on Wednesday.
- Sammamish City Council says no to density.
- A 45-story condo in Federal Way?
- More Sounder parking in Puyallup.
- Probation and a fine for selling defective steel to ST.
- WSDOT Stadium monstrosity almost complete.
- How Washington’s gas taxes compare (text here).
- Detroit’s Light Rail looking at private funding.
- Pictures of HSR in China (1,2,3, H/T: John Bailo)
The Community Transit Board is holding a workshop on Wednesday, Feb. 24th, to discuss the proposed local fare increase and sweeping 15% service cuts, in advance of a decision March 4th.
The Community Transit Board of Directors will have a workshop from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, in the agency’s Board Room, 7100 Hardeson Road, Everett (accessible by Everett Transit Route 8).