Now that the Stimulus Bill has finally passed, we move next to spending the money. In the Central Puget Sound, area the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is going to have a huge role in deciding how the transportation money gets spent; they’ll choose how to spend most of the $200 million or so for transit our state will get, and another $50 million or so in roads money. If you’re wondering what the PSRC is, and how they got that power, read on.
First a history lesson. In the early 20th century, interurban railways and later the automobile enabled American cities to grow past their political boundaries and bleed into each other. Sprawl became a major issue in transportation planning and some metropolitan areas struggled to coordinate that planning across the political boundaries. In 1962, Congress required any urban area with more than 50,000 people to have a “Metropolitan Planning Organization“, to plan transportation and to allocate federal funding for local transportation projects. You can read more about the history of MPOs here.
In our area, the PSRC has evolved from the “Puget Sound Regional Planning Conference” which was created by King, Pierce, Kitsap and Snohomish counties in 1956. The PSRC predecessor released regional transportation studies every decade, and worked on coordinating land-use and growth patterns. It took on the duties of being our area’s MPO in 1973, and in 1991, the PSRC was empowered by the state to enforce the Growth Management Act. That same year, the Federal Government passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which gave MPOs more power over decision making and better funding.
In terms of organization, the PSRC looks a lot like other transgovernmental agencies like Sound Transit or the now-defunct RTID. The PSRC has a 32-member executive board consisting of elected officials from local governments in the four counties, plus a staff of about 70 planners and administrators. Their funding comes from member fees of the communities in the area, a small amount of state support, and large federal contribution. Each year, the PSRC distributes $160 million in federal dollars for transportation projects in our area, you can see the list of projects funded by the PSRC here. Here’s a link to their TOD studies, here’s one to their transportation study, and here’s one for population and employment trends.
Now with the added stimulus cash, the PSRC is going to get a little more than a typical year’s worth of funding to distribute, with some tougher requirements than normal. In addition to the PSRC’s normal project funding requirements, the stimulus cash needs to be pushed toward projects that create a lot of jobs, and half of the funding needs to be spent within 180 days. Here’s the list of all projects (PDF) the PSRC is considering for stimulus cash. The list is $3.815 billion worth of projects, and there’s going to be something like $180 million in cash all told for roads, transit and ferries. Here’s the list pared down to just transit, there’s $1 billion worth of projects, and likely just $120 million or so in cash. So only a fraction of the projects will get any funding, and the big ticket items like North Link acceleration or the Central Streetcar are unlikely to get anything.
The rest of the $500 million or so in roads money is going to be decided by WSDOT, and here’s their list if you want to get depressed. WSDOT recently pushed the work of fully building the two-way HOV lanes on I-90 out to 2017-2019. The two-way HOV project is a prerequisite for building across I-90, and if the project is pushed off that far, East Link will either open late, or will not connect to Seattle when it first opens. An Eastside-only light rail line would have less than half the ridership of a rail line connected to Seattle, and the lower ridership would hurt any federal funding request for the project. WSDOT has asked for just $9 million for the HOV lane project, and is expecting Sound Transit’s stimulus request to cover the rest. I-90 two-way HOV lanes also increased the overall car-carrying capacity of I-90, and it’s shameful that WSDOT expects transit dollars to pay for most of the whole project.
I’ll post again as soon as I know anything about which projects have been short listed. I hope this post helps you understand a bit better how the stimulus projects are going to be award.