srx chris gregoireHere are some highlights – or mostly lowlights – from the transportation section of the Governor’s budget proposal put together earlier in the month. The budget is “balanced” for the next six years, which means that given projected revenue and planned spending, the budget will not require more cuts or increases for each of the next three two year (biennium) periods. The numbers aren’t pretty for that six-year period or the following biennium (2015-2017), where there’s a $850 million shortfall.

This budget will be brought to the legislature, who will make a fair number of changes before sending this back to the governor to sign into law. So don’t take the list below as guaranteed, though it portends of the cuts to come. I wonder how much this will resemble what does get through the legislature, and I hope the few bright spots, shown below, don’t get hacked out of it.

This budget is horrific. Funding for the Point Defiance Bypass is pushed way out, since it’s not in any budget through 2015. That project was already underfunded by $15 million, and now it could be underfunded by $50 million. This means there won’t be Sounder service to Lakewood for at least that long. The Vancouver Rail Bypass is also absent from the budget. The ferry budget is only balanced for 2009-2011, and even that that’s with service reductions and fare increases. After that ferry budget shortfalls reappear in the 2011-13 biennium, and in the 2013-2015 biennium.

There is a massive $30 million, or 43%, cut to the  Regional Mobility Grant Program. These grants are used mostly to fund park and rides and rush-hour transit service. Projects like Community Transit’s SWIFT get most of their capital funding from these grants and the South Lake Union streetcar also got a sizable contribution from this program. A 43% cut to this program is essentially a 43% cut in the state’s contribution to transit capital improvements.

Gory details below the fold.


The budget has $3.0 billion in road construction for the 2009-2011 biennium, and $2.5 billion for the 2011-2013. This is similar to the levels we’ve seen over the last few biennums. For 2007-2009 the budget is $2.5 billion. Still, some major projects are delayed:

The Good:

  • SR 522 Snohomish River Bridge, widening is delayed 6 years
  • SR 14 Camus Washougal widening delayed 2 years
  • The Yelm loop and the new SR 167 freeway are delayed indefinitely.
  • There’s still no plan for SR 520, though pontoon construction will begin in 2009 and a new Grays Harbor pontoon construction factory will come online in 2010.
  • Vanpool funding is doubled, to $12 million, for 460 new vans. Apparently, this will reduce vehicle miles travelled by 15.6 – 27.2 million miles annually
  • Park and rides expansion by 1,000 spaces. This will reduce vehicle miles travelled by up to 33.6 million miles annually.
  • Commute Trip Reduction programs expanded to smaller and medium-sized employers, reducing 25,000 weekday morning trips and 128 million annual vehicle miles travelled by 2011.

Most of these roads projects I won’t miss, and any progress on 520 is welcome news, since there never has been a funding plan. The vanpool, park and ride, and commute trip reductions are an earnest improvement. I pray that these make it into the official budget the legislature adopts.

The bad:

  • There’s no new money for Alaskan Way Viaduct beyond the currently allocated $2.4 billion
  • Kelso-Martin’s Bluff rail project is delayed 2 years, to 2013-15.
  • The Tacoma HOVimprovement project is delayed 2 years. The cost of this series of mini-projects has risen dramatically, from $425 million in 2005 to $1 billion now.
  • The 167/I-405 HOV improvements, a partnership between Sound Transit and WSDOT, is delayed 2 years.
  • Braided ramps on I-405 in Bellevue delayed 2 years
  • There’s a 5.7% or $2.1 million cut in Amtrak operating budget.
  • The previously mentioned Regional Mobility Cut

Each of these could have a series impact on transit or passenger rail service over the next coming years. The 5.7% rail cut is huge.

The ugly, or its proper name, Washington State Ferries 2009-2011 budget:

  • There’s a $15 million or 6% capital budget increase.
  • A $2.7 million, or 0.6% operation decrease, with the following service reductions:
    • Eliminate Sidney run by September, 2009 .
    • The Point Defiance-Tahlequah run will move to a 34-car ship from a 48-car ship.
  • Fares will increase by the maximum amount allowed by law, 2.5%, each year.
  • Only one new ferry is funded, the one already bid on earlier this year.
  • No funding for new 144-car ships in the next 6 years.

Going forward, there are huge gaps in the ferries budget for 2011-2013 and 2013-2015. The cuts are so serious, that the ferries are looking to pass operations on to locally funded ferry districts. By 2015, the Washington State Ferries service will not exist in the same form as they do today.

Help us, Barack Obama, you’re our only hope!

29 Replies to “Transportation in the Gov’s Budget”

  1. Possible reduction in Amtrak Cascades Service. Either a bus run or the second train to Van BC could be cut.

    It’s hard to say exactly what will happen to the Point Defiance Project but I have a feeling that we won’t see Sounder in Lakewood until 2016-2017….

    1. According to the WADOT project page Sound Transit is supposedly taking care of the Tacoma to Lakewood portion of the Pt. Defiance bypass. Furthermore the funding shortfall is fairly small so perhaps the money can be found somewhere.

      1. Sound Transit owns the tracks from Tacoma to at least Lakewood if not all the way to Dupont. Work should begin “soon.” There have been articles in the News Tribune about certain businesses that would have to foot the bill to improve the tracks to their locations if it branched off the ST line. I just hope these cuts won’t effect the Pacific Ave overpass, the main project for rail to get to Lakewood.

    2. I think that if ST gets stimulus money for Tacoma to Lakewood, it’ll happen, we just won’t see the improvements from Lakewood to Nisqually or the second track from South Tacoma to Lakewood. Sounder will still be built – again, assuming stimulus funds.

  2. well the point defiance bypass, the vancouver bypass, and the ferries are all pretty much shovel ready, i’m pretty sure. has the state come out with its list of things it’s asking the feds for in the bailout yet?

  3. Well, Gregoire is tying up priorities into her budget, which is why the AWV is diminished. She can easily say “given the current and future economic situation, I can’t justify leaving the AWV up while spending X amount over our current budget, therefore we’ll have surface (I hope) for the time being.”

    The Streetcar situation makes me pray for a Seattle-specific transit system, if only to cut deeper into those who want to see the SLUS crucified.

    The budget, of course, is tentative beyond the current biennium. Any funding longshots or shortfalls projected at this point are definitely destined to change, especially now that there are resounding calls for a jacking up of the gas tax.

  4. If the state leaders would get the gonads to ask Obama for the money, there are 36 rail projects and 300+ projects that are “shovel-ready” now..

    However, the state as it stands now, has only requested 7 things… Pathetic.

    Our neighbors to the South however are looking very hard at expanding their rail service, they have all of the future Streetcar routes up for the package and the Milwaukee MAX line along with replacing just about all of their buses with new 40 foot coaches.

    1. Well, there’s no way to formally request funds at the moment. The economic recovery plan has to pass first!

  5. So now with Gregoire’s announcement and Obama’s upcoming inauguration, the “rubber hits the road”. I think the next several months will be a mess: Dem politicians are going to have to get over their own policy inhibitions, as well as change their own sense of what is politically feasible. Then they’re going to have to implement/coordinate that policy through a complex federal system, and that doesn’t even begin to address the international aspect of this, or of challenges from libertarian dead-enders (the lynchpin of any economic recovery is the banking system, and that’s going to require a much stronger role from the government. People seem to forget: the Roberts court could send much of the recovery program sideways with a single vote against the Obama banking plan).

    Moreover, we don’t really have any hard information to use for revenue projections. Viable economic scenarios include:
    – a severe recession in 2009, followed by an easy recovery in 2010
    – a severe recession in 2009, followed by a recovery with very high inflation in 2010
    – several years of deflation and stagnation.
    – the Big D

    Notice there’s nothing in there about the strength of the dollar, if it will fall, how far it will fall, how fast it will fall, or when that “adjustment” will take place.

    With all of this variability in mind, how can anyone in December 2008 create any revenue projections that will tell us what the budget shortfalls will be, or what new tax structure there should be to stabilize funding?

    To use just one small example: while I’m not against a gas tax, I would point out that if we enact a gas tax and then pass all sorts of legislation that ties policy to that funding mechanism, only to see commodity prices leap again two years from now because of hyperinflation…I mean, would we then be back at the same position we are now? Falling consumption leading to falling revenues, underfunded programs, etc.?

    Gregoire actually seems to believe that massive cuts to the budget are necessary in the face of drasctically declining tax revenues, and is just hoping the new administration will fill in some of the gap. Lisa Brown seems to favor deficit spending and targeted tax increases. Reading snippets of quotes from different legislators making dire budget predictions, you can’t tell who really is determined to hack the budget, and who is just building a case for broad, radical change in state tax and budgeting policy. Maybe they don’t know themselves, LOL.

    So all this is just a long-winded version of saying that at this point, nothing is for certain, and “Hold on to your hats: 2009 is going to be a wild ride”.

    1. Seattle is the top commercial and residential market (bar condos, ha!) in the country and the dead cat bounce is over so we’re around the floor (+/- 800pts on the DJIA) with little devaluation expected beyond what we’re at. What needs to happen is a re-moralization of the country, something that’s possible with most anything proposed, including infrastructure investment.

      What needs to be done for transit above all else is a re-thinking of the schemes surrounding federal funding. The economy will come back, but will transit follow? It won’t if there isn’t a serious rethinking of the way we fund it on the federal and state levels.

      When a state presents its budget, it knows that the first biennium is the foundation for the following ones. Since there’s a clear lag, it’s likely that funding will remain fairly static from here into the next, but from beyond that point, assuming a standard (or even sub-standard) recovery, it’s hard to say firmly that we won’t get that money back.

      So Gregoire is playing this smart, especially the possum game with the AWV. Federally? Not so well. I think she’s missing a boat by not urging revamping policy in key areas we’re lacking.

      1. We haven’t seen the Alt-A or A-paper (prime) defaults yet.

        I don’t think the market will bottom for quite some time. There are still a lot of mortgages out there that have yet to reset. I don’t know if these interest rate resets will cause rates to go up dramatically anymore, but we’ve only seen a big group of 2-3 year resets and some 5 year resets, as I understand it, and there are more 5 and 7 year resets yet to come.

        I could be wrong about that, but I’m also not the only one to suggest it:
        http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/12/12/60minutes/main4666112.shtml

  6. I thought we just voted through ST2 for funding Sounder to Lakewood. It really makes me sick to the core that the States set up so many expectations that they end up not being able to fulfill.

    Gregoire has been disappointing since her re-election which she said was supposed to be all about preserving the values of Washingtonians against Rossi’s hatchet policies. She has certainly come up with a budget that has no relation to her re-election campaign promises of preserving the values of the citizens of our State.

    I just hope the legislature reinstates some of what we have been asking for on this blog.

    Step inside and up to the plate, Mr Obama

    1. Sounder to Lakewood was part of Sound Move – it’s been delayed several times. The requirement for an overpass is the latest thing driving up the cost.

  7. We have had a long string of terrible governors in this state. Which is painful to admit, as a life-long Democrat. My God, even Mike Lowry (the liberal’s liberal) was absolutely terrible on mass transit.

    Things have only gone downhill since Lowry. In some ways, it would have been better if a roadhog clown like Rossi had won the last election. Then, at least, these lazy pseudo-Democrats would step up for once. Right now, we’re stuck with backwards “leaders” who make fine pronouncements about global warming and mass transit. (house and senate leadership lowers the bar to subterranean levels)

    Then, they do everything within their means to make sure absolutely ZERO progress is made on the most important issues out there.

    It really couldn’t get any worse.

    1. Gregoire is really really bad. She owes her re-election entirely to Barack Obama. She should mail him half her pay checks as re-payment.

      1. I concur Andrew!

        Gregoire seems incapable of making a leadership decision about anything – the viaduct is now the latest to stall her efforts.

        The inauguration of Obama can’t come quick enough but it won’t be all peaches and cream as we know. I still do not see much emphasis on rail expansion and rehabilitation, although as I understand it, Amtrak is funded again and has a capital budget for the first time since 1997 – I believe I read that in the New York Times over the weekend. I lose track of where I have read things these days, such is our anxiety.

        Coming back to Gregoire, I still want to know what happened to protecting the values of the “great State of Washington”. It is really making me angry to say the least of it.

        We need stimulus money to protect the poor, enhance the Puget Sound to viability and to fund so many ‘shovel ready’ projects. I just can’t believe that the Point Defiance bypass could be neglected or that Sounder to Lakewood could be delayed. We can’t keep putting these projects off and delaying them…..

        Tim

    2. The power is behind Seattle and the Seattle Metro area, but the pandering is always and always will be toward Eastern Washington after the Boeing bust. Unless Seattle and King County’s population swells suddenly, it’s hard to imagine that changing anytime soon.

    3. This budget hurts, but I don’t think Gregoire is the problem. The revenue just isn’t there for any of the states, and Obama has yet to come out and promise that he’ll provide federal support not just for infrastructure spending and stimulus but specifically to make up short-term revenue shortfalls at the state level. He should commit to providing federal support to keep the money for the states at pre-recession levels. I think that would be about $100 billion annually until the recession ends. The recovery/stimulus plan should be on top of that, starting with shovel-ready projects identified by the governors. The third tier needs to be infrastructure spending for the long term, and that’s where mass transit needs to be funded.

      The problem is that aside from the dollar number the incoming Obama administration is still thinking too small. Without bolder thinking, the governors are stuck with cutting budgets going into a recession. This will prolong the recession and could very well make it a Depression.

  8. This is government budget 101: Leave important things out of the budget (including SR-520 and Viaduct, or often schools) so that people will scream. Then you can say “well, I guess we have to tax or cut elsewhere” because of the “crisis”.

  9. The situation with the ferries is dire. The ferry system was in need of re-capitalization 20 years ago. Deferred maintenance and the lack of a dedicated capital funding source is really starting to catch up with the ferry system. The Rhododendron and Evergreen State boats aren’t many years or much more deferred maintenance from being in the same shape as the Steel Electrics before they were pulled. Past that the big elephant in the room is the aging of the Super Class. Those boats start hitting 50 years old in 2017. The Jumbo I boats start hitting 50 in 2022 and will need replacement or refurbishment as well.

    Pushing new boats except for the single island home past 2016 means the ferry system is again in a “do or die” situation in 8-10 years if some other crisis prevents the purchase of new boats at that point. Even with the reduced service levels of “Plan B” the ferry system may find itself having to cut service below even those levels.

    The only real good news is many powerful state legislators will be hopping mad about the “plan B” proposal. Furthermore it may be enough to get Rep. Dicks (Bremerton) and Rep. Insley (Bainbridge) involved in a major way, perhaps Sen. Murray as well. Dicks and Murray both have a fair bit of power in Congress and may be able to get some earmarks for the ferry system. Insley is rumored to be interested in running for governor in 2012, helping to line up some Federal money for the ferry system can’t hurt that effort.

    Another thing that might help in securing Federal funding for new boats is both additional Island Home boats and the new 144 boats are pretty much “shovel ready”.

  10. The Amtrak figures seem off to me. If 2.1 million is 5.7% of the WA state Amtrak subsidy, that would make it 36 million or so. I didn’t think the subsidy was that big (but I could very well be wrong)

    Will the grants in the new Amtrak authorization be able to cover some of that loss? Doesn’t it have a lot of money available for state-sponsored lines?

  11. I’m sorry, but I can’t see how the cutting of SR167 is good:

    I live in Milton, whose leaders did not have the gumption in the 50’s to say “Hey, we want an exit too!” off of I-5. As it is currently, you need to drive way down to Fife at 54th Ave or up to Federal Way. There is a serious glut of commuters on 20th St E and Hwy 99 as a result. On top of that you have Fife High School right there on 20th, and all the juniors and seniors that seem to think they are too cool for the school bus anymore. It is a bona fide mess, Way more cars than a 2 lane road was designed for.

    From the standpoint of a traffic calming initiative, I don’t think it get any better than this. You have an unfinished section of freeway that local truck traffic could desperately use, but instead the surface streets are clogged.

    It would be along the lines of I-205 in the Portland area: an alternative route for all the short haul traffic throughout the Kent valley.

    While I am all for Amtrak Cascades and Sounder as much as the next guy that reads his blog, respectfully, I think this conclusion is wrong. We have SR 509 which leads out of the port to just stub at Alexander Ave, and where do all the trucks go?

    We have I-5 which skirts the very tip of the port, only to have a helluva bottleneck at Port of Tacoma road.

    In summation, this is one project that would help the Port of Tacoma grow, and even help the railroads as an extension of that.

    @ Mr Cascadian: If I am not mistaken the money in the new authorization bill is matching money, not just straight funding. It would be nice, but I don’t think we’ll have anything out of that unless the budget for that increases. Also, it is for things like capital projects like stations and track but not necessarily for operations. I may be wrong, this is my understanding.

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