Susan Hutchison
Susan Hutchison

Ah, opposition research.  The Constantine campaign is spreading around a 2008 video of County Executive candidate Susan Hutchison effusively praising the Washington Policy Center’s report, the “Policy Guide for Washington State”:

Let me tell you about this book. I have read it cover to cover and it is one of the most extraordinary pieces of work about Washington State and the policies that make our government run. It hits on 10 different subjects from health care, education, transportation, tax policy and others. But let me tell you, folks… if you started this book tomorrow morning and read it through you would be smarter by dinnertime tomorrow night.

The Hutchison campaign’s comment last week on the report as a whole is at Publicola:

Lastly, I have never waivered from my positions that transportation policy should focus on congestion relief, integrating all of our transportation modes.

That’s not really disavowing the transportation recommendations in it.  The Hutchison campaign did not take the opportunity to clarify their agreement or disagreement with the transportation components of the report.

The transportation chapter of this report is incredibly retrograde stuff straight out of 1955.  It’s so funny/scary it’s probably not worth even bothering to rebut for this crowd.  Anyway, the choicest recommendations from the report are excepted for your reading pleasure, below the fold:

1) Implement performance measures that tie spending to congestion relief. The legislature should require state and local transportation departments and special districts (like Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District) to reduce overall congestion by 50 percent in 25 years. Policymakers should also require annual audits from the State Auditor on the performance of state and local transportation officials to measure their progress, if any, in meeting the 50 percent reduction target.

2) Respect people’s choices and allow for a greater freedom of mobility by actively working to reduce traffic congestion. Officials should adopt a policy that places congestion relief ahead of other spending considerations. Restrictions on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and deliberately or passively increasing traffic congestion to force people out of their cars should be avoided.

3) Reduce spending on costly, ineffective fixed-route mass transit. Policymakers should change spending priorities that heavily favor mass transit systems despite chronically low ridership. Riders of these expensive systems, like light rail and the Sounder Commuter Train, are being heavily subsidized by automobile commuters, yet research shows that fixed rail does nothing to reduce traffic congestion.

4) Increase general purpose lane capacity while focusing on fixing chokepoints. Focusing transportation funding on key chokepoints by adding general purpose lane miles will help move the most people at the least cost and least impact on the environment.

5) Do not allow local transit agencies to use government subsidies to take business away from private citizens. Public transit agencies not only work to preserve their own monopolies, but often seek to take business away from private carriers. Washington should follow Michigan’s example by prohibiting local transit agencies from using tax subsidies to duplicate routes served by private carriers.

6) Hold a public vote on whether Sound Transit should collect taxes beyond the ten year limit of its original plan, based on the agency’s performance in fulfilling promises made to voters in 1996. Voters have not received what Sound Transit promised to them under the original ten-year plan. Instead, services have been cut back and costs have soared. The elected officials of Sound Transit’s board should allow voters to have a say about whether the agency should continue collecting full taxes beyond the ten years authorized by the 1996 vote.

7) Require Sound Transit to maintain its promise to voters by rolling back phase one taxes. Sound Transit must maintain its promise to voters by rolling back its first phase tax rate. Voters rejected the agency’s second phase capital program, which should have triggered the taxpayer protection clause the voters authorized in 1996.

8) Require that Phase One of Sound Transit Light Rail be completed and its effectiveness measured before more ambitious light rail projects are considered. Before more property is seized and torn up, and billions more of taxpayer dollars committed on extending the line, policymakers should perform an independent cost/benefit analysis on the 1996 plan’s effectiveness and on any future expansion plans.

9) Adopt Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as a more effective alternative to light rail. Buses operating in a dedicated travel lane provide frequent, flexible and high quality service at much less capital cost than building fixed light rail. BRT service creates less impact on the environment, less disruption to neighborhoods and functions at significantly lower operating cost than rail. Policymakers and transportation officials should adopt BRT services as a more cost-effective alternative to meeting Washington’s mass transit needs.

10) Policymakers and the public should consider whether diverting significant transportation taxes toward light rail transit and away from other programs and services is worth the cost. Based on the data, this analysis concludes that it is not. Spending significant amounts of transportation tax revenue on projects that have no effect in reducing congestion inevitably makes traffic worse.

38 Replies to “Susan Hutchison and the Washington Policy Center”

  1. Point number 9 is why “transit advocates” that support BRT over all else raise the ire of those of use that really believe in transit. In fact, the context is perfect. Every other point is anti-transit yet when it comes to BRT they think it is a great idea.

    1. Just a thought, maybe it’s cuz BRT is the best transit idea?

      On a related subject note that with the current viaduct proposal we now have a ‘Roads and Transit’ proposal that is totally Seattle Centric, whereas the original ST2 was regionally ‘fair’?

      Also curious about how McGinn’s transit proposal is being called so dangerous for business by the Mallhan camp – especially since Seattle would be paying the full freight for its own projects!

      That said, best finance strategy for McGinn’s Seattle plans might well be a ‘roads’ TDR with South King County….!

      1. BRT actually works as a transit solution, as long as you don’t set your horizon year for the C/B analysis too far into the future (>30 years).

        We found that out on the I-405 Corridor Program.

      2. Adam says, “Every other point is anti-transit yet when it comes to BRT they think it is a great idea.”

        Douglas responds, “maybe it’s cuz BRT is the best transit idea?”


    2. This has probably been discussed somewhere before, but I wonder how they would feel about BRT if it was implemented such that it took away from lanes on currently existing roads. I guess it would violate “Dictate 2”, but if the goal in implementing BRT was to reduce cost expenditures to develop public/mass transit, then I wonder on what basis they would reject such choices.

  2. Point 5 is really silly. If you had private operators competing for routes, but prohibited the public service from operating on routes the private operators chose, the net effect would be that all the high productivity routes would be run by the private operators and the public operator would just have a worse balance sheet. And you can bet that the private operator wouldn’t want to operate with high frequency or at less popular times of day.

    1. I also enjoyed how Point 5 states: “Washington should follow Michigan’s example…” Is Michigan really the place that we should be looking at for our transportation policies?

      1. Outside of Grand Rapids, not sure if Michigan even has any good bus systems. Detroit has two separate bus systems, one for the city, operated by the Detroit Department of Transportation, another for the suburban counties. They are not exactly models for coordination. I heard somewhere that Grand Rapids has built a good bus system, and they are considering streetcars.

      2. Grand Rapids is studying a more suburban oriented bus program with links to the metro area on the lake shore. There is a privately led funding initiative to build a city street railway which may extend in the far side neighborhoods.

        Transportation in Michigan is a joke. Funding transportation in Michigan is a joke. Transportation planning and vision in Michigan is a joke. However, I am proud to note that West Michigan encompasses an entirely different philosophy which has gave way to a superior model for transportation for the rest of the state.

    2. I also wonder if that means if say Grayhound “serves” a particular route say Tacoma Dome to Seattle or Everett to Seattle that public transit agencies wouldn’t be able to offer service on the route.

      More to the point would we end up with a situation like we have with Mariners, Huskies, and Seahawks games where because Starline is “willing” to offer game shuttle services Metro and Sound Transit can’t.

      I’d also like to see just one example where a public transit operator in Washington has “taken business away from private carriers”.

      1. Actually, I was wondering if that suggested tearing up Link since super shuttle will take you to the airport…oh, and there are taxis “everywhere” so we should just scrap the whole notion of public transit. We could use Metro’s and ST’s operating budgets to build the AWV tunnel and more tunnels (…hah, ya right) which would help speed up our new public transit system: orange cab.

      2. That’s where you can see that these policy goals actually are how Hutchison thinks. She suggested that there’s no reason to build light rail when people can take a cab.

    3. Also, private carriers would charge high fares, making it impossible for low-income people to get around and making people who would switch to transit not because it would cost too much.

    4. Yes it’s all so scandalous but let’s be honest here, implementing this policy would require a public vote that wouldn’t stand a chance of passing. Not to mention it contradicts many previous voted initiatives that are still in full effect.

  3. As to “congestion relief” I guess they don’t realize you can’t build your way out of congestion. Many other cities have tried that and ended up with worse traffic congestion in the long run.

    Also for many locations in the region especially Seattle you have the problem of what to do with the cars once they exit the freeway. There often isn’t surface street capacity to add more cars. Then you have the problem of where you are going to park them.

    If these idiots think light rail and buses are expensive, just take a look at what widening I-5 by 3 lanes each way through Seattle would cost.

    1. Chris,
      Actually, you can build your way out of congestion. There’s an old civil engineering axiom: “Given enough money and concrete, anything is possible”.

      At every chance, people with ideas like ‘congestion relief through lane building” should be encouraged to lay out CONCRETE PLANS (pun intended), of specific road projects tied directly to a votable funding source.

      Include in this package to be put before the voters, the costs, who benefits, and exactly HOW it reduces congestion.

      Not nebulous social costs and benefits, but specifically how much that road project costs, who benefits, and WHERE the money comes from.

      Sub-area equity would be perfect for said plan.

      I encourage everyone here to prompt public officials to lay out their congestion relief plans.


      1. Jim,

        Where in the world, except underground or on an elevated level, are you going to add extra lanes to I-5 anywhere in Seattle between Royal Brougham and 85th?

        Even if you find places to tuck in a lane or two (perhaps between 50th and the Lake City Way off ramp or along the elevated section north of the Mercer interchange), you’ll have to merge the cars back in at the end of it.

        And what about the Ship Canal Bridge?

        I guess you could convert the breakdown lanes and narrow the existing lanes like happened in the reversible roadway to add one lane in each direction for the entire distance.

        A cheaper solution would be to pay people to carpool.

      2. Anandakos,
        Actually I think that is more or less Jim’s point. Those advocating “congestion relief” or massive road expansion need to put up or shut up. Most of the time they just bitch about how much is spent on transit, imply road building would be so much cheaper, waive their hands when it comes time to proposing specific projects, or just pull unrealistic numbers out of their nether regions.

        If every idiot who suggested further widening of I-5 or I-405, or who advocated for “I-605” was forced to talk about a realistic budget and funding source for such things, they wouldn’t get very far.

        Transit advocates are used to having to answer critics with specific projects, costs, funding, and construction timelines. Isn’t it about time the road advocates had to face the same level of criticism and skepticism?

      3. Thank you Chris.
        Exactly my point.

        And the questioning can be done without prejudice.

        Simply ask them to supply cohesive numbers.

        That is, don’t let them just cherry pick a large number here, and a small dollar amount there.

        An interesting view on this spending is when you compare ‘apples to apples’.

        In other words, clearly define what you mean by ‘new rider’ for instance. In transit, it’s someone who moves from a non-transit conveyance. In ‘congestion relief’ you have to either assign ‘new rider’ to the capacity of the new lane used by the people in the adjacent lanes, or the ‘induced demand’. If a ‘new rider’ in a new freeway lane is good, since it reduces congestion, then the induced-demand folks are hogging up good congestion relief space. This essentially reduces the vehicle-per-hour count (from 2100 to about 1400, given that 1/3 of new lanes usage is induced demand).

        A major problem I see is that we use different metrics for our different modes. We need to correlate them so that better decisions can be made.

        That would be an interesting exercise. Maybe a thread on how each metric in one mode compares to another. (e.g. new rider(above), or farebox recovery vs. tolls/gas tax, etc.)


      1. Actually, I have no trouble with the concept of tolling such that the end-user pays at least a portion of the cost of a new commodity.

        However, I do take issue with what appears to be a de facto State policy of using tolls for certain projects in Seattle/King County, but not using tolls elsewhere in the state. Where, for example, are the tolls on the new Nalley Valley Viaduct/interchange or the tolls on the new North-South Freeway (Corridor) in Spokane?

        Fair is fair. If we are going to use tolls in Seattle/KC, we should use them equally throughout the State.

    1. This isn’t a new idea from McGinn. WSDOT has been studying closing the Seneca Street on and off ramps and using the road space for an extra lane each way through downtown.

  4. Who is this washington policy council? This definaly has overtones of certain eastside intrests, general contract everything out intrests, and is total nonsense.

    There are a couple of shining points

    3) End the practice of the state charging itself sales tax for transportation projects.

    2) Increase heavy rail capacity to allow medium and long range freight distribution greater ability to shift from roads to rail.

    but than others are pretty much a total crock. It’s quite clear whomever wrote this piece is represnting the intrests of corporations whom would like to profit off of public work, yet in nearly all examples given, atleast my general experence has been that the private contractors provide an inferior quality of work, often times cutting corners and abusing the equipment they are provided to do said work with.

    In the cases of the contract out all public transportation and dont compete with privates; if there was money to be made in providing fixed route transportation independantly, we wouldent even be discussing this subject now. Fact of the matter is there is not. However, there is money to be made in subcontracting. This is often at the expense of the taxpayer whom provides capital facilities and equipment needed for this service, and they supply the labor. More often than not their standard of pay is less than what it would be if it were oprated in house, the the end result usually shows that. Fixed costs aside, they still need to make a profit so in reality what you may save in labor costs you wind up loosing to the contractor’s profit margin and increated employee turnover rates.

    As for the supplied capital equipment and facilitys they more often than not show less than ideal maintenace, and often have battle scars on them from hard use. Having a coach where the rear panel is held on by duct tape (evidenced by this unit in denver operated by Laidlaw), or without front heat (as i rode in denver), or in any other condition thats less than good will detract from the operation as a whole and probally tend to attract other problems as well.

    There was also a statement about contracting out public work such as highway mainteance, and encouraging healthy competition for the services. It’s quite clear to me whomever wrote this is a shill for such intrests, as it’s been my experence that aside from captial construction projects, that vendors come in, do their work, and leave and usually leave a mess behind. Really, its all an economic of scale. If you dont do something a whole lot than it’s probally cheaper to find someone to do it for you, whom has the training and capital equipment. Now if you do a certain task a lot, than it’s going to be cheaper for you do to the work yourself, acquire the capital equipment and training to do so. Also, depending on the task it may be a mission-critial task (like snowplowing) which you wouldent want to trust to some 2-bit company to do for you. In the case of highway maintance BC has such a scheme going, and you can really tell when you are in a area thats maintained by a vendor. the care and pride in their work is far less than where the province maintains the highways.

    Theres another statement about using Toll roads and HOT lanes to expand freeway capasity. This i’m not opposed to, however i dont think WSDOT’s HOT lane experement has been very successful in generating large amounts of revenue (Except mabye from the one guy who paid $9 to drive from Auburn to Renton).

    1. Could be worse, First Transit now owns Laidlaw, and they also are operating buses for Community Transit, wonder if they brought the genius from Denver that did duct taping of the bus to Snohomish County? I know some look at contractors as the way of getting around the Union, but recently, the ATU organized the contractors in Denver too! The photo you posted was taken in 2004, it might be different today, might not.

      1. I’m not very pleased with First Transit. They operate the ST 535 for CT and the bus never seems to be on-time whenever I ride the route. It caused me to miss my connections at Bellevue TC which had a 10 minute cushion in the schedule.

      2. Seems like one trucking company that pulled in to the warehouse I was working at the past couple weeks. They seemed to not show, and when they showed, three trucks at once. At least First has not put the Greyhound brand on their buses they operate under contract for transit agencies. Although it was tarnished a little by security incidents on Greyhound Canada buses last year(including one passenger murdering another), it still is a proud name in transportation. They are applying it to other operations First owns worldwide.

  5. Gawd, it’s like every zombie movie you ever saw is happening in King County this year. First the mayor’s race and now Susan Hutchinson, kinda like Sarah Palin, but in contrast Susan is a ‘fast zombie’ who can read.

    Not that she actually had to read, of course, to focus on congestion- that’s the only thing the news broadcast ever does focus on, and they wouldn’t even do that if cars didn’t have radios and broadcasters didn’t have helicopters.

    There’s actually sociological study of the ways in which wealthy behind-the-scenes oligarchies use attractive personalities and media propaganda to manipulate the poorly informed masses into misusing the processes of democracy. This sociology likes to imagine that these tricks won’t work where a highly-educated workforce is necessary to run a complex society like King County.

    I guess we’re about to find out.

  6. A news broadcaster’s job is to sit at a desk and talk to a piece of glass. That is literally what they do. As such, I’m not surprised that a former broadcaster is completely clueless as to effective means to solve transportation problems in King County. If she gets elected, this county is screwed.

    1. To be fair, Susan Hutchison has done more in her life than read news, although that’s why she’s famous. And not being a transit wonk doesn’t disqualify you from higher office.

      The problem is her flirtation with these kinds of incredibly retrograde ideas.

      1. I’ll add that she seems woefully ignorant of what King County actually does and of how to get it done. Furthermore she’s not shown a particular interest in correcting that ignorance.

        While she’s claimed much more moderate views during the campaign, my concern is once elected she will return to the views she’s seemed to embrace in the past. Which for the most part seem pro-automobile, pro-sprawl, and anti-transit.

      2. Well, I don’t know if “flirtation” I’d use when she uses words like “one of the most extraordinary pieces of work about Washington State and the policies that make our government run”. To me that’s beyond heavy petting and getting close to NSFW.

        Of course, it’s possible she doesn’t really mean it! There seem to be a number of events in her past that we’re not supposed to take seriously, now.

        And how is it that our candidates for public office are not expected to have informed opinions about the biggest thing in King County, roads and congestion? Is there any subject people talk more about? Aside from marijuana prohibition, is there any area in which we have more obviously created the problem ourselves by continually building more roads to “cure” congestion?

        Let’s raise the bar. Not knowing something about transit should disqualify you for higher office.

  7. adding general purpose lane miles will help move the most people at the least cost and least impact on the environment.

    Are you serious, crazy report author?

  8. Now this is really appalling. Not only do we learn, with a little reading that people who support public transit are socialists, but with a little more reading we learn that, as a foundation head, Hutchison directed $100,000 to global-warming deniers at the Washington Policy Center. This is how the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences “supports” environmentalism.

    Gives you some idea of how public money would be managed if she gets into office.

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