On Thursday, the Senate Transportation Committee held a ‘work session’ in order to receive public comments on their proposed transportation package. I took the trip down, along with several other STB readers. So first, thanks very much to Jon, Alex, Allison, and Mark for joining me!
There isn’t much actual news. Elected officials from all over the state came on Thursday to ask for highway expansion, and while some of them asked for transit authority, I didn’t hear any of them ask the Senate to start funding transit directly, nor did I hear any testimony at all for passenger rail. There were individuals and organizations saying the package was a non-starter, but they were far too few.
There’s no way to know right now what’s going to happen, but with King County preparing to go to ballot with a Vehicle License Fee or sales tax package to save Metro, they’re no longer reliant on the legislature passing a package. If the package does pass the Senate, it’ll do so with enough Republican support that it may pass the House, so my hope is that the package is killed before it leaves the Senate.
For most people, context completely disappears when an issue drags on this long, so this also seems like a good time for a recap:
The last time the state passed a major transportation funding package was in 2005. That package funded everything from highway expansion to passenger rail improvements. It also started many projects without providing the funding to complete them, a typical strategy that causes the state to look for other funding sources, and brings legislators back to the table for another round later.
Since then, there have been transportation budgets that moved around existing funding, altered projects, or reacted to grants, but little new revenue.
The 2005 package continued a long tradition of ignoring maintenance and older structures, preferring to target those that could be ‘maintained’ by replacing them with larger highways. Unfortunately, this is incentivized for any regularly elected legislative body – it gets them more votes to build a shiny new project and call it ‘congestion relief’ than it does to fix what we have. This is especially true in more conservative areas, where legislators are often elected on a platform of reducing government ‘size’. The least visible, and therefore least defended, needs are those that get cut first.
You can tell the Republicans are in control, because it’s far worse today. While the Democratically controlled House passed a package similar in makeup to that from 2005, the package on the table in the Senate today shifts even farther toward direct highway spending, with far smaller proportions for passenger rail, transit, pedestrian or bicycling needs than even the 2005 package. Ironically, in their familiar refrain for more lanes to ‘move freight’, congestion will only worsen.
The package also does damage to labor, by cutting funds for the state’s apprenticeship program and at the same time allowing lower wages. It exempts transportation projects from paying sales tax, starving education and social services to build more highways. Finally, it diverts stormwater treatment and Superfund cleanup funding from transportation to the general fund, where the barrel tax that funds them can easily be killed later – a handout to oil companies when we can’t even maintain our roads.
To a large extent, this is on us. Our own city council went forward with the SR-99 tunnel rather than fighting for a great opportunity to reduce pollution, help us shift to healthier modes of transport, and get our waterfront back years sooner. Working against highway expansion grew during Roads and Transit, but it faltered after Referendum 1. We’ll need to organize much more to shift the status quo.
45 Replies to “Possibilities in Olympia”
Note my criticism of an invalid limes-to apples comparison of public priorities vs proposed budget allocations that I posted below Sightline’s ridiculous graphic at http://daily.sightline.org/2013/11/18/olympias-whacked-out-transportation-priorities/#comment-42942 . The graphic is now being used by an Environmental Priorities Coalition that includes Transportation Choices Coalition.
I presume a transportation alternatives fan would not be against an 11 and 1/2 cent per gallon gas tax, which seems to me is a pretty good tax on our state’s largest source of carbon emissions. With the price of gas floating up and down in 10 cent per gallon increments, I urge making that tax even higher.
However, Ben is writing about how the money is spent. So why not put a state-funded Seattle Subway on the table and have a real debate about sensible spending? This kind of specific would cut through the details of state vs local spending roles and the general relationship between spending and priorities. (Just because you think public safety or defense is the highest priority of government does not mean we should spend most of the tax dollars on cops and armies.)
In other words, I suggest those who prefer more state-funded transportation alternatives to cars and trucks take the argument to specifics — for example, which road expansion project from the list would you knock out of the proposed package, and which bike lane or interurban electric trolley projects would you build instead?
You make a good point here John.
I think Ben incorrectly characterizes the 2005 Transportation Package. He says:
“The 2005 package continued a long tradition of ignoring maintenance and older structures, preferring to target those that could be ‘maintained’ by replacing them with larger highways. ”
The 2005 package hardly ignored maintenance or older structures. It included funding to replace the viaduct and the SR 520 floating bridge. There was money for quite a few small-scale safety projects, including the installation of cables in medians (to arrest deadly rollovers in places where there isn’t a jersey barrier) and badly needed road repairs, plus railroad track upgrades. The focus of the package was not bigger and wider highways, it was principally safety and taking care of needs made worse by the reenactment of I-695 in 2000 by the legislature.
Just to further elaborate. Here is the list of projects from Chelan County funded by the package. As you can see, the focus is safety/maintenance. These are just some examples. The list for other areas of the state was similar.
You can add up $200,000-$1m projects for quite a while in an $8.5b package and not even scratch the surface. Our maintenance backlog increased in size since TPA – a lot. The major projects you mention are both expansions, exactly as I point out.
Many of the Wenatchee projects made it safer and have added a small amount of much needed bike infrastructure. They also added a lane on the G.S. bridge and multiple lanes on either side. I can’t say I wasn’t pleased to know I could finally safely ride my bike to many places that were inaccessible before, but I really would have loved more. Maybe there will be more bike/ped infrastructure in the future without the addition of multiple lanes for cars.
Replacing functionally obsolete or structurally deficient bridges isn’t the same thing as adding lanes Ben. This is what I am trying to say.
It seems to me you’re implying the 2005 package had the wrong focus and I do not agree with you, if that is your point.
Do you not remember during the 912 campaign Wilbur and Carlson saying they did not like the package because it was not geared towards highway expansion? If the gas tax was going to be raised they wanted it to be for new pavement, which is what they considered real congestion relief. Opposition to 912 included slogans like keep Washington rolling and Safety First.
When WSDOT replaces an old bridge, for example, the new one may have wider shoulders, a passing lane/turning lane, etc. The new structure may have a wider footprint, which certainly has implications.
But I consider *expansion* to mean new lanes, new corridors, and bigger corridors. Replacing a bridge that’s unsafe/dangerous/not designed to support the amount of traffic it is handling with a bridge that can is not a project I’m opposed to. Particularly when environmental mitigation/fish passage/wildlife crossings are part of the project design.
We do have a maintenance backlog and it’s getting worse, and I think it should be addressed. I am opposed to widening highways and building new ones. We have too many unmet needs thanks to the implementation of I-695 and I-776, the recession, and declining automobile use. It’s hurt revenue.
If you think there is plenty of money available for road maintenance in this state, then tell me why when I moved my car here from Chicago that the entire stretch of I-90 from West of Spokane until the Columbia gorge was an embarrassing stretch of lumpy asphalt? It was the worst stretch of road in my entire nearly 1800 mile trip. Idaho and Montana maintain the highways better than we do.
Why major arterials such as Rainier Ave South between Seattle and Renton also in a crappy state of repair with major potholes and rough pavement?
Why are the roads in southwest washington so bad? I’ve taken to driving to the Oregon coast via Longview and then on the Oregon side, where a nice, well maintained, relatively flat and straight road exists versus SW Washington side’s, curvey, and uneven roads that make driving challenging.
Why after 23 years is the Mt. Baker tunnel so filthy inside from accumulated soot, whole sections of missing or crumbling tile? They should power wash this tunnel at least twice a year. I don’t imagine it’s ever been cleaned? They should be maintaining both the aesthetics and the structural integrity of this tunnel with the money they’ve been collecting. I remember driving into a glistening, brand spanking new tunnel 23 years ago.
The state collects billions in gas taxes yet spends precious little on it in maintaining our existing roads and bridges. Yet, supposedly the States tax rate is “tapped out”.
Here’s a solution: A moratorium on all new highway construction for 10 years and instead use the collected tax money for repair of our existing infrastructure. Not capacity increases, but maintaining what we have. And change the law so that some of this money can be used for transit that will effectively increase the total transport capacity of our regions.
The most salient term here is “replace”. ‘Maintenance’ of existing infrastructure today is usually equated with complete replacement instead of actual maintenance. Tax receipts from those low density settlements are not enough to cover plain old maintenance. Thus, the local authorities can’t pay to fix the old stuff so they get the state to build gold plated new roads/highways/sewer lines etc. which are even more expensive to build and maintain in the long term. The state somehow in turn is eager to fund those sexy projects. Usually, if you’re in a hole you should stop digging but the financial incentives being what they are, it is no wonder that local representatives show up at those hearings and demand new highways. The only way to maintain the fiscal facade for those communities is to keep growing exponentially or get the state to ‘rescue’ them.
But at some point this ponzi scheme will fail. So the state will have to decide to put real maintenance of existing infrastructure first. Or it will start encouraging, incentivizing types of settlement that can generate value and pay their own way. Or the state will at some point throw their hands up and lots of local communities will fiscally crater. The coming transportation package is a long-term decision about which of the three options will be most prominent in the future of the state.
It’s interesting to view this from upstate NY. Our expressways are hideous washboard pavement. Our country highways are better, but not great, pavement — mainly due to having less traffic than the expressways, I suspect. Our country roads are a disaster. And our city streets… are a disaster in most cities. A few cities are beginning to get on top of city street pavement replacement, but not many.
The state DOT *still* wants to fund idiotic expressway expansions, but it’s mostly given up and stopped doing so due to lack of funds. The next push from the state government is road-widening of country roads, which *everyone* hates, so that’s been stymied sometimes too… but it’s just not clear how to make progress when you’re stuck between “no money” and “no sense”. The only way forward seems to be for individual jurisdictions to get their act together and do it on their own dime.
The 2005 package only gave a quarter of a penny of gas tax to counties and cities, and the 2003 package gave zero. That is a big reason our local roads have such a maintenance backlog, and King County is looking at turning paved unincorporated roads back to gravel. I, for one, drive mostly on city streets while my gas tax is disproportionately funding over-sized interchanges and cracked 520 pontoons with beer bottles acting as filler in the concrete! Small jurisdictions also must apply for competitive grants when they don’t have the bandwidth, rather than getting a set amount of gas tax to spend as they need. While the 2005 package included grant programs for Regional Mobility, Safe Routes, etc., these were a drop in the bucket compared to the loss of the MVET post-Eyman initiative. The average state spends 22% of transportation revenues on transit, while we are left in WA to fund the vast majority at the local level. TPA had several small steps in the right direction but was still out of scale with the day-to-day needs of the state.
Why gas is taxed per gallon while everything else is taxed as a percentage of its purchase price, is beyond me. When other items increase in price, sales tax revenue increases. Only gasoline does not.
Taxing gasoline by the gallon is a good thing.
A gas tax is a sin tax, but it is also a regressive tax. Any increase in the cost of gas hurts the poor. It gets worse when the poor can’t see it coming and adjust accordingly. So, right now, Washington has a gas tax rate of close to 40 cents, which works out to about 10%. It doesn’t make any difference if the cost of gas stays the same. But imagine if gas goes up to $5. Now, instead of a 40 cent tax, we are taxing at 50 cents. Everybody has to pay an additional 10 cents per gallon (on top of the extra dollar). This is a pretty big hit when you assumed that gas prices wouldn’t rise. Of course, if the price goes down, suddenly it goes way down (because the tax is reduced accordingly). This is bad for revenue, and discourages efficiency.
Really, the right thing to do is increase the gas tax per gallon and do it slowly. Not as a way to raise revenue, but as a way to reduce dependence on gas. A slow, steady increase (say, a nickel a month) would change the way people look at the price of gasoline. It means that buying a Prius, or working closer to home, or finding a job with good transit suddenly becomes that much more valuable. You could try doing the same thing by taxing gasoline by a percentage basis, but it won’t be as effective, because it won’t be as easy to predict. If someone finds a new, cheap source of oil and China goes into a recession, then it won’t matter that we tax gas at 100%. It would still be cheaper than it is today (or at least, was a few months ago).
I agree that taxing gasoline by gallon is the right thing to do. No matter how much you pay for a gallon of gas, burning it causes the same amount of pollution.
The real solution to the problem you describe is to index the gas tax to inflation. That way, the gas tax tracks the general level of prices, but it doesn’t pointlessly track the daily fluctuations in gas prices.
Makes sense if the money could go into the general fund and allow a reduction in sales or property taxes. But if the only thing we are allowed to do with a tax whose supposed purpose is to discourage driving is to build more highways to support more driving, I would argue, what’s the point?
Because everything you buy at a store has to, somehow, get to the store, increases in the gas tax have ripple effects on all sectors of the economy. Even if you don’t drive , yourself, make no mistake – you will still be paying this tax.
It can get to the store unsubsidized.
Local manufacture, local warehousing, smaller delivery vehicles.
Local farming, even.
Then the true value of an item will be apparent in its direct cost, including transportation.
Well, the simplest way to “raise the gas tax” would be to eliminate the sales tax exemption for gasoline. This would instantly raise a pile of money, and none of it would be restricted to highway use.
“A nickel a month”! WHAT????? That is sixty cents PER YEAR! It’s only forty cents now. Yes, it needs to rise, but that is ridiculous.
I have no problem with taxing gas by the gallon, but I don’t see any reason why it’s exempt from sales tax.
The G.S. bridge project added new lanes and new corridors. Some were phases added on but they were part of the plan all along just waiting for funding. Can’t speak to the other Chelan county projects.
This is why retaking the State Senate in 2014 is so critically important. Transit in our city and our region will continue to suffer until Democrats regain the majority.
I love transit as much as the next guy but we need to be cautious when saying we need Democrats in the majority. Most people will look at that and say, Democrats equals higher taxes. Now, I don’t mind paying more in gas taxes to fund buses and light rail, but I’m sure most people would. What I wish we could do is find a way to increase public transportation funding WITHOUT raising taxes or we will always be fighting a battle against the general public. Sure, we can say we just want the abiltity to raise taxes in specific cities but that still comes across as Democrats Raise Taxes. As has been said above, where is all the money going to right now? Mt. Baker tunnel needs maintenance, roads all over the city need repairs. I drove down I-405 yesterday(Bothell to Bellevue) and again, there is another road-widening project. I-405 has had numerous widening projects over the past 20 years–why hasn’t there been equivalent funding for I-5 north of downtown Seattle, where there has been constant traffic for more than 20 years? And, every time I-405 is widened, it becomes that much more congested–why haven’t the politicians learned that you can’t build your way out of traffic congestion? 20+ years of evidence proves it! Instead of building all these new roads in the county, lets spend that money and repair the roads we already have, including those in the most crowded city, Seattle.
I also wouldn’t mind paying a higher gas tax to support mass transit, but unfortunately there is a constitutional amendment that prohibits that. I wouldn’t mind a highway package that funds maintenance, preservation and selected capacity improvements. There’s also a good case to be made for following through with investments that we’re deeply into like the SR520 rebuild.
Part of the problem with state funding of transit is that there are lots of transportation revenues that are silo’ed into highways. Why couldn’t things like the sales taxes paid into highway projects be available to transportation projects in general (if for some odd reason they must be redirected from the general fund)? Oh, okay, just to be fair, the sales taxes for multimodal capital projects could also be put into the same pot.
Now, I don’t mind paying more in gas taxes to fund buses and light rail, but I’m sure most people would.
What a strange thing to be sure about, coming off an off-off-year election in which two conservative counties voted overwhelmingly to raise taxes to pay for bus service.
Cinesea, we wouldn’t need more revenue authority to build our rail system if we let growth happen in the city unfettered.
My only concern out of this whole mess is we save transit for all 39 counties, period. Many Republicans in my area went to the mattresses to stand up to Senator Curtis King to save regional connectivity earlier this year, so this need not be a partisan issue.
No the problem is we transit advocates have been beaten down. Talked down to. Taken for granted. Certainly divided and deceptively conquered. Told if we lobby for transit as users we don’t have jobs or have to send gov’t employees to do it – and if the latter, it looks bad in Republican eyes. Of course, spewing “climate change” hocus pocus doesn’t help – I’d rather just say it’s pro-environment plus pro-congestion relief and stick to what’s obvious.
Ultimately, it’s time we stood up for transit as one state and I commend those who could go down to Olympia on such short notice.
I agree. There are ways to sell things and we should know our audience. One bus takes X cars off the road. One train takes Y cars off the road. X + Y cars off the road means freight and drivers move more quickly. We don’t have to make this an us vs. them issue. It should be about how our ideas about transit, which are fantastic, are fantastic for everybody.
I think Joni Earl had the right idea in this morning’s paper when she emphasized a six minute trip between the UW and downtown. That’s the kind of usable argument we can and should be making.
Indeed, we could mention not just that we take cars off the road, but also speed up the commute.
You’re right, this really doesn’t have to be an “us vs. them” issue. When it comes to freeways vs. transit I think it’s usually an education issue. The idea of widening freeways to improve congestion seems so intuitively simple to people, and when republican leaders influenced by oil, car, and construction companies champion highway building, you get this current mess. It doesn’t help that many democrats are also influenced by the same oil, car, and construction companies and then start scratching their heads about why they are pushing for less freeways.
The idea that people riding transit means less people driving on roads is difficult for people to grasp, especially if you’re not fully committed to the idea in the face of easy campaign dollars and easy campaign talking points to people who neither understand smart transportation policy, nor feel the impact of smart transportation policy.
Exactly Matt B – we people power need to make very clear that those of us that ride transit are generally either disabled or highly educated or both. Therefore we VOTE, VOTE, VOTE.
Frankly bus runs take many, many cars off of the road.
One thing that isn’t obvious to many is the issue of ‘killing the goose that lays the golden egg’.
I’m sure anyone with any hobby has read reviews in their favorite magazine on a specific product, and thought… “Well, this is such a milquetoast opinion… I can’t tell if the product is great, or a piece of junk?!?!”, only to turn a few pages and see a full page ad for that product.
The reason the media doesn’t hit these questions head on (and they don’t), is something called (the last time I dealt with it) ABC Reports .
However the information is disemminated now, it basically governs what any media outlet can charge for their ad space.
For a publication like the Seattle Times, Section G. …
Do you think if you give negative ‘reviews’ concerning transportation, that you could afford to have a major advertising customer pull their $$ out?
Translated to local governments, and the problem is our tax system.
Guess what business contributes a lion’s share of taxes to city/town/county coffers given our reliance on sales tax as a revenue source?
(the first 2 guesses don’t count) Hint: The are big ticket items.
Avgeek Joe, I agree with you, but would add one more category to the pot of people who vote, but aren’t necessarily highly educated or disabled: people who just can’t stand to waste time in traffic. My first time riding a bus as a young man in Spokane was because I lived by a bus line and thought reading a novel was a nicer way to spend my morning commute than getting frustrated at sitting through several light cycles at multiple intersections.
A big part of the benefit for lots of people when taking public transportation is that they don’t have to stress the commute, but rather relax on the way to and from work.
Justin: Indeed, even if I could drive, I would certainly want to take the bus to-from work to go through e-mails before getting into the office and to destress on the way home.
Let’s not fall into the trap of saying that buses improve congestion. In the long term, they don’t, for the same reason that building new freeway lanes doesn’t help. Whatever capacity is freed up by people switching to transit will be filled up by new drivers. It’s the same problem, however you shake it. If you want to reduce freeway congestion, you need to charge more than “free”. That is the only long-term solution.
That doesn’t mean that transit isn’t worth funding. U-Link will still provide a 9-minute ride from 45th to downtown that is completely immune from congestion. That’s the real beauty of transit (especially when it has grade separation): it provides a congestion-free *alternative* to driving, that freeways can’t possibly match.
I was about to say what Aleks did, except that Justin’s and Avgeek’s wording avoided the trap. Still, the difference is subtle. We can’t say expanding transit will improve congestion, because of the reasons Aleks states. But we can say existing transit is reducing congestion, because if you took it away those with cars would have to drive, and that would increase congestion significantly at least in the short term. In the longer term it may cause Aleks’ effect to work in reverse, pushing discretionary trips off the road. But if there are enough essential trips to fill the highway anyway, then it may not be possible to reduce congestion below bottleneck levels, except by restoring transit.
There are only two ways to reduce congestion long-term: reduce economic growth in the region which will eventually reduce and reverse economic in-migration. This works well and is at the core of the argument over the CRC between Portland and Vancouver, WA today. Most voters in Portland are happy to pay high prices for housing in return for slow to no growth within the city proper. But it’s not a nice scenario and not one people will vote for forever, unfortunately.
Or, change the physical shape of the region’s housing and work patterns by increasing density and reduce the segregation between housing and work. That is of course an expensive, multi-decade project and one only slightly more popular than the first. Lawnist NIMBY’s are a vocal opposition every inch of the way.
If neither is politically possible then it’s necessary to give up other social welfare goals and welcome gentrification and accept the elimination of low-income demographics from the core city. Eventually you end up with a service workforce living in tiny spaces or in-commuting from far away on buses, but you have a citizenry wealthy enough and willing to tax itself to buy the local transit the city requires to function. This is what San Francisco, Boston, Vancouver BC, and New York City have done,
It seems to be the only way for a genuine world city to exist in upper North America. The lawnists block it everywhere else.
Think of it as the ‘Automotive Industrial Complex’.
The reason the ‘Military Industrial Complex’ works, is because using the selling point of ‘being prepared’, any district can receive the pork associated with a strong defense, regardless of whether that facility really is of benefit to the defense of the nation.
Same for roads, while transit way out in the boonies might not be practical, the car is…, and the car is something that can be used everywhere.
The question really is: When and how do you make the crossover from an auto based system to a transit based system?
Surprisingly, the public costs are quite close to each other.
If “transit-based system” means that over 50% of total trips are on transit or other non-automobile modes, I don’t know of any except those that had subways and commuter rail before 1939 and kept them (e.g., New York, London, Moscow). I don’t know if it’s possible to replicate that now, given people’s expectations of cars and parking spaces and large buildings. Chicago and San Francisco also have those legacy systems but are probably majority-automobile, judging from the number of people I know who drive even when transit goes practically door-to-door.
Among other international examples, the Netherlands with its large bicycling culture may be 50% biking. In places like China and Russia the average citizen can’t afford a car, and in places like Japan and Taiwan density is higher than even Europe.
But if we define “transit-based system” as a more modest goal, i.e., the level of Washington DC, Chicago, and San Francisco, then we can see the largest developments are in Canada: Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary. When the local and national governments put a priority on transit infrastructure and walkable land use, travel patterns can change markedly in just a decade or two. Unfortunately that extent of tax-raising and zoning changes isn’t possible in most American regions including Pugetopolis.
That’s the $Million (or $Billion, as it were) question.
The real issue is, why build anything?
What mobility problem are you trying to solve?
Are easily walkable trips being thwarted because sidewalks aren’t in the scope of transportation planners thinking as a mode?
Not every trip has to be centered on auto travel, unless zoning and concurrency issues are non existant.
At the lowest and cheapest level, dirt paths for pedestians have the least public impact. Praise Feet! (and sturdy, mud boots)
Gravel, or paved bike paths (useful as mudless pedestrian accessways) are next. (Praise human-powered wheel travel!)
Gravel, or dirt pathways, wide enough for a motor vehicle (the modern horse), are next (Praise comfortable portable indoor environment!)
Paved (minimal, i.e 1-2 lane) highways are next in cost (Praise quite, and not so harsh on my freshly washed and waxed finish, … macadam !!)
Rail based (minimal (think Interurban/streetcar) solutions are great when the previous fills up with all the other people who think it’s also a wonderful idea. (Praise not-having-to-drive-to-get-to-work)
Bus Based solutions also work, except for the same problem rail based solutions also solve… all the other people on the highway, demanding their own ~500sq.ft. of space. (Same Praise!)
High Performance bus-based solutions also work, but cost the same as the rail based solution, unless mitigated by HOV access.
Which diety is the one and only?
Based on the statement, “Unfortunately that extent of tax-raising and zoning changes isn’t possible in most American regions including Pugetopolis.” it seems that we are giving up on the others, for the sake of the one mode that has the current lion’s share of trips, and most all of the sacrifices in its honor bestowed on it.
There is one simple argument everyone, including transit supporters keeps missing.
Highway improvements, maintenance, safety, capacity, etc.,…
is NOT free.
Best exemplified by one simple question; if the highway based solution were superior, why didn’t the trucking companies, or even an enterprising entrepreneur create a fee based competitive option to the railroads/interurbans? Why taxes?
There are very few self-supporting toll roads in the US, mostly in urban areas back east.
Bringing that argument to the present, one should merely pose the question to the voters in a definable package.
Here are X projects, that cost Y dollars, and here is how long those improvements (specifically in the capacity area) will last before we need to ask this question again.
We don’t miss cost. That’s why we say “let density happen”, so we get dense enough development to afford its own infrastructure.
At what cost?
Well okay, that sounds flip.
What that statement means, though, is… as far as the general public is concerned, including many elected officials, highway projects don’t cost anything, since they never go through the same questioning of ‘investment’ as we give the transit projects, BRT, Light Rail, Commuter, Intercity, etc.
It is always assumed a given highway improvement project ‘solves’ a problem, rather than thinking of that project as a future investment, and justifying it accordingly.
Level of Service for intersections for example. That is at the heart of any city planning, and the response is always automatic – increase capacity. Why? Because you don’t have to think about how many
‘new riders’ will use the improvement. Any given project has a small enough price tag to not have to go through major cost/benefit analysis with multiple jursidictions.
Take the question back in history, and ask yourself: Why didn’t they build I-5 or I-405 to their current ~8-10 lane configuration from the get-go?
It sure would have been cheaper to have built them that way in 1950’s dollars.
Because it wasn’t needed back then. One might even argue, based on early traffic counts, (And I’ve been around here long enough to remember being able to drive through downtown Seattle on I-5 during rush hour at the speed limit… (yes really),) that the Interstates couldn’t havebeen justified for most of the western states back then.
You bring up another interesting point, that being the ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ question.
In this case, which comes first, density or the transportation system?
For instance, the current auto-scaled density, or Auto-Oriented-Development, as it were, occured for Bellevue precisely because of I-405. (If I-90 was the only Interstate on the eastside, Factoria, or Issaquah would be the major centers of development.)
Was it planned that way?
When you look to provide the transporation system that is of correct scale to the density it serves, you have to take into account the cost of ROW, which will drive whether said system is at-grade, elevated, or tunnelled.
Would it have been cheaper to set aside certain corridors, UNDEVELOPED, and in the public domain early on, before they were developed by private interests? (Therefore driving the costs higher)
By the way, when I say that the COST is something we miss, what I mean is that argument must be presented for any transportation system, regardless of mode.
Don’t shy away from asking that question of highway projects, or any project, that’s my point, – make direct comparisons (or more precisely, make the ‘other side’ prove their point).
Did anyone else who contacted their representatives get the distinct impression of being ignored? The only responses I got indicated that they did not even read the emails I sent.
Here’s a quick paraphrasing of the chain of communication we had:
Me: “We shouldn’t be passing transportation bills that have billions for new roads roads without billions for transit and money for bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure”
Rep: “Oh yes, the Boeing bill is important!”
Me: “You didn’t read my email, I said I don’t want a transportation bill that has billions for roads without billions for transit too”
Rep: “Oh you’re right, yeah we need to have a balanced bill with taxing authority for king county”
Me: “You’re apparently still not actually reading what I sent to you”
I think I will just try calling next time instead. I don’t know what is worse, being actively ignored by our representatives or having them pretend to listen to us.
What’s worse if having a staffer pretend to be your representative, and still not listen to you. May I suggest making an appointment to meet with your representative face-to-face? They do it all the time, and it has an impact several orders of magnitude higher, especially if you can go as group of constituents, and present useful data.
Always new shiny stuff!? Yes, the ponzi scheme keeps rolling on.
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