Shopping Mall Owners Should Pay for “Free” Parking

Southcenter Parking (Photo by Oran)
Southcenter Parking (Photo by Oran)

Our region’s need for transportation infrastructure and transit service is far from satisfied. Even in Seattle, Prop 1 and Move Seattle notwithstanding, riders continue to struggle with overcrowded buses, scant late-night service, and crumbling or nonexistent sidewalks. Now the global economy appears to be sliding toward a revenue-shrinking recession. So, when our state legislature considers a progressive funding option for transportation, we should sit up and take notice.

On Thursday, February 18, the House Transportation Committee will hold a public hearing on HB 2186, which would grant local authority for a Non-Residential Parking Tax (NRPT).

Currently, Washington State allows cities, counties and districts to levy a Commercial Parking Tax (CPT) under RCW 82.80.030. Several jurisdictions make use of this authority; for example, the City of Seattle levies a CPT of 12.5%, which is added to the fee drivers pay to park in commercial parking lots.

However, the CPT neglects a huge amount of non-residential parking space, because it does not apply to lots at malls and big box stores that provide free parking for customers. This is where the NRPT comes in. Private entities that own off-street parking would pay a tax based on square-footage or number of stalls, with a credit for the CPT to prevent double-taxation on commercial lots.

A number of U.S. cities tax paid parking, but a broader NRPT has not been implemented anywhere in the United States that I’m aware of. However, it is used in Canada and Australia (where it’s called a Parking Levy), and it was recommended for Seattle in a 2010 report by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

There are plenty of good policy reasons to enact a Non-Residential Parking Tax in Seattle. It would encourage better land use, disincentivizing excess asphalt and reducing stormwater runoff. It’s a fair tax, effectively closing a loophole that free lots slip through by not having a customer transaction that falls easily into the excise tax rubric. In principle, lot-owners could decide to pass the cost on by charging for parking, but in practice this is unlikely. The infrastructure necessary to collect and enforce parking fees, and the deterrent to customers, would likely be prohibitive. More likely the cost would be passed on in higher rents for (mainly large) businesses and absorbed by commerical property-owners. That makes it inherently progressive.

Progressive taxes tend to be non-starters in Olympia, but the NRPT may be an interesting exception. It should not be universally despised by business and property interests. Sure, owners of free parking lots will object strenuously. But any entity that already pays Commercial Parking Tax should welcome it, since broadening the parking-tax base will relieve pressure to raise the CPT. And everyone, including (mainly small) businesses that rely on street parking, should appreciate the transportation improvements that new revenue would make possible. That’s about as close to a win-win tax as you’re likely to find.

So, does HB 2186 have a chance? Unfortunately it is probably too late to be voted on this year, but a hearing represents progress. If you’re free Thursday afternoon, please come down to register your support: 3:30 pm in House Hearing Room B in the John L. O’Brien Building.

Katie Wilson is the General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union.

ACTION ALERT: Comment on Tolling at the WSTC

Buses at Canyon Park on I-405
Buses at Canyon Park on I-405. Photo: WhenEliseSings

This Wednesday, February 17, the Washington State Transportation Commission will discuss toll rate options for several tolled highways in the Puget Sound. Among the changes that will be discussed are the recent calls from legislators to end tolling on I-405 on evenings, weekends, and holidays.

If you are in Olympia on Wednesday, you will have an opportunity to comment in person. Discussion of I-405 operations is scheduled for 3PM, with a public comment period at 4.45PM. As usual, the anti-tolling campaign is expected to show. Because they show up, they will appear to ‘represent’ the public unless countered.

Express toll lanes on I-405 have been an undoubted boon for transit users with faster and more reliable travel times. Notwithstanding the concerted campaign against the lanes, the ETL also helped general purpose traffic to move more quickly and more efficiently through the corridor. Sound Transit’s plans for I-405 BRT can not deliver promised results unless speed and reliability are maintained in the HOT lanes at all times that transit is operating.

Bending to political pressure, some legislators have asked to eliminate tolls after 7pm, on weekends and on holidays. Governor Inslee joined in this request at a press conference this afternoon. WSTC is responsible for approving such changes. Their first opportunity to consider the request is at Wednesday’s meeting. Whether or not WSTC accedes to this request, it is unlikely to be the last occasion anti-tolling advocates flex their muscles to reduce the effectiveness of the ETL.

At a minimum, WSTC must carefully review the effect on transit reliability of changing lane operations. Governor Inslee today acknowledged the benefits of tolling to transit users on I-405. Opening the express lanes toll-free to SOVs at “off-peak” times risks having transit and HOV users stuck in traffic. There is traffic after 7pm too. The revenue reduction would also reduce WSDOT’s capacity to invest further in the HOT lanes.

Continue reading “ACTION ALERT: Comment on Tolling at the WSTC”

East King County’s ST3 Letters

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Transit Center in Downtown Bellevue (Photo by the Author)

This summary of ST3 feedback from East King County (including North King other than Seattle) is the fifth in a series of ST3 feedback summaries. See our previous coverage of Pierce County, SeattleSouth King County, and Snohomish County. A future installment will look at other Stakeholder Organizations.

The Eastside’s ST3 input is well coordinated. As happened last July, several Eastside cities signed a joint letter describing shared goals. Cities along the SR 522 corridor also submitted their own joint letter endorsing BRT on SR 522 and NE 145th St. Read together with the cities own letters, there’s an impressive consensus about what an Eastside ST3 package needs to look like.

Joint Letter of the Eastside Cities

The Eastside cities introduce their priorities by noting how they are “reshaping our regional growth centers and downtowns into dense, mixed-use, urban centers that need frequent and reliable transit service to sustain economic growth and viability. ST3 has the potential to create transit connections within the Eastside, and provide connections between the Eastside and the rest of the region”. The letter goes on to remind the Board that “the Eastside will be making a significant tax investment into the package” and looks forward to seeing commensurate investments back into the Eastside.

The Eastside’s five priorities in ST3 are:

  • E-01: Completing the East Link spine to Downtown Redmond. This is so uncontroversial that no explanation was apparently necessary.
  • E-02: Fully implement Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on I-405, from Lynnwood to SeaTac. A version of I-405 BRT between the low and intensive capital versions is recommended. The scope needs to “provide sufficient access for the line to operate as an efficient BRT facility”. That means an inline station at NE 85th Street in Kirkland, direct access to Tukwila Sounder Station, at least one additional location south of I-90, and a dedicated transitway with inline flyer stops. The latter implies a significant investment in South Snohomish County where the BRT would otherwise run in mixed traffic north of SR 522.
  • E-03: Light rail from Totem Lake to Issaquah via Bellevue. In an acknowledgment that BRT may have advantages in Kirkland, the joint letter caveats that “this project must provide flexibility and be scalable to meet ridership demand and the needs of the communities served”.
  • E-04: A new transit center in Renton at Rainier Ave S and S Grady Way. This project would replace the downtown transit center.
  • N-09 and N-10: BRT on 145th Street and SR 522 to connect with North Link.

Continue reading “East King County’s ST3 Letters”

CORRECTION: I-405 Tolling

In the February 5 post on I-405 tolling, I described how WSDOT had agreed to changes in I-405 HOT lane operations. Those include toll-free travel for all vehicles on evenings, weekends and holidays.

I should have also mentioned that changes to tolling remain subject to approval by the Washington State Transportation Commission. At this point, the WSTC has not approved the changes described. The WSTC’s first review of the legislators’ request is this Wednesday, February 17.

The High Cost of Free Right-of-Way

Back to base

By the standards of most transit agency budgets, Sound Transit’s next round of rail expansion plans will be expensive. Critics, constructive or not, wonder if there’s a cheaper way. There is, in principle, if the transit agency can simply ignore other stakeholders instead of buying them off. The biggest savings comes from simply taking grade-separated freeway space and kicking out as many cars as necessary to ensure free flow of buses.

But that presumes a totally different set of politicians, voter attitudes, and institutional structures from what precipitated the sorry defenestration of Transportation Secretary Peterson earlier this month. Her departure was related to several issues, but the direct cause ($) was the entirely foreseeable backlash against reserving uncongested road space for carpools and transit. Indeed Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King publicly wonders if WSDOT is extracting enough transit dollars from Sound Transit to pump back into the road system. While Republicans are generating all the juicy quotes, Democratic majorities didn’t keep the HOV lanes clear either. Passing a small ST tax package and assuming that WSDOT will deliver good ROW would be foolish in the extreme.

In this environment, truly reliable transit has to build its own right of way. Some Seattle residents snicker at the Everett-Tacoma light rail “spine”, and there are legitimate criticisms of that project. However, it would deliver a commute free of ever-escalating driving times and frequent congestion collapse due to accidents.

STB will always wholeheartedly support using precious road space to carry lots of people on transit instead of a few people in cars (or worse, to store cars). It’s at least plausible to achieve this when local leaders and voters are self-identified transit advocates, as they usually are at the city and county level, and therefore open to pro-transit arguments.  Regrettably, the city and county don’t own much freeway right of way. At the level of government that does own most of it, the center of gravity of the debate is over subtle impacts to SOV travel times. The overwhelmingly positive impact on bus riders is both undisputed, and irrelevant.

Choosing freeway rapid transit as the long-term solution forever holds transit hostage to the whims of a state that considers its fate a low priority, and forever allows highway widening to masquerade as a “pro-transit” measure to ensure the free flow of buses. It’s one reason why people all over the region are hoping for ST3 to deliver them from this trap with light rail – on its own right of way.

Coming in 2018: Major Changes to I-90 Buses

Keeping an eye on things
Many Metro and Sound Transit routes use I-90 between the Eastside and downtown. Sound Transit routes 550 and 554 and Metro routes 212 through 219 together total almost 20,000 riders daily. In less than 18 months, the ride to Seattle will change significantly during the East Link construction process. And of course, that’s just the beginning: I-90 buses will have even bigger changes when East Link opens in 2023.

Right now, I-90 buses from the Eastside have HOV 2+ or Express lanes for the entire length of I-90 in the peak direction, and HOV 2+ east of Mercer Island contra-peak. Then buses either proceed into the transit-only tunnel, or go on surface streets like 2nd/4th and 3rd (which is transit-only during peak). In June of 2017, the express lanes close to cars and buses move to new HOV lanes from Bellevue to Rainier Avenue*. In a relatively new development, all agencies involved have agreed to keep the D-2 roadway (which is west of Rainier) open to buses until 2018, allowing them to still flow unimpeded into downtown.

In 2018, the D-2 roadway closes also, and these changes occur:

  • The 554, contra-peak 212, and 217 get off at Rainier, serve a new stop at Rainier and Charles that replaces the Rainier freeway stop, and continue downtown via S Jackson St., using only three of the 6 stop pairs that the 7 has in this stretch.
  • The other I-90 buses get off and on at 4th Avenue and serve Seattle using 2nd and 4th.
  • The 550 uses 2nd and 4th Ave instead of the tunnel.

image004
There is a plan to mitigate likely additional delays, as shown above: Continue reading “Coming in 2018: Major Changes to I-90 Buses”

Pamela Stalls, But She’s No Bertha

Graphic By the Author
Graphic By the Author

At Thursday’s meeting of Sound Transit’s Capital Committee, Executive Director for Construction Management Ahmad Fazel revealed that problems with tunnel boring machine Pamela are worse than previously thought. Mike Lindblom has more of the technical details ($) in his piece filed last night.

The machine had been stalled since December 28th near 47th & Brooklyn, roughly 650′ north of the future UDistrict Station, but Sound Transit restarted Pamela yesterday and was able to advance enough to fix one concrete ring. Pamela’s sister machine Brenda also struggled through the hard glacial till of the UDistrict, needing cutterhead repairs before continuing on to UW Station, but Pamela’s damage has been revealed to be much more severe. Meanwhile, Brenda is cruising along, entering UW property last week and is currently underneath Kane Hall nearly halfway between UDistrict Station and UW Station. (see graphic at right).

Sound Transit’s primary plan is to try to coddle Pamela but keep the machine in use – using lower torque and mining only about 10′ per day – taking 2 months to bore the final 650′ into UDistrict Station, which will serve as a makeshift repair site before continuing south to UW Station.

While these developments are worrying, it absolutely cannot be stressed enough how this situation differs from any tempting comparison to Bertha and the waterfront tunnel project, both in structural characteristics and in responsible project management.

TBM Comparison-01First and foremost, Pamela and Brenda (and Balto and Togo before them) are standard machines the likes of which are used all over the world, unlike the precedent-busting, one-of-a-kind, 2,500 sq ft beast that is Bertha. If Pamela fails completely, Sound Transit can refurbish Brenda to complete the 2nd bore from UDistrict to UW, it can also use Brenda to bore northward to reach Pamela for repairs,  and “Sequential Excavation Mining” would likely be used to reach Pamela. In a bit of great project management that stands in stark contrast to Bertha, Sound Transit’s contract also required a 3rd TBM be available for backup.

It should also be repeatedly stressed that this is the first major setback since the Beacon Hill tunnel for Central Link. In the combined 14 miles of tunneling for ULink and North Link, Sound Transit has already mined roughly 12 miles without a hitch until Pamela’s troubles. When it comes to Bertha, we talk in feet instead of miles.

Because of this foresight and planned redundancy, Fazel stressed to the committee that even a tunneling delay is 3-8 months is not estimated to impact overall deliverables, and that Northgate Link is still estimated to be on time and on budget. Current costs are running roughly ~$100m below the 2016 budget, giving Sound Transit breathing room for contingencies and repairs.

Snohomish County’s ST3 Letters

Downtown Everett (Wikimedia)
Downtown Everett (Wikimedia)

This summary of Snohomish County’s ST3 feedback is the fourth in a series of ST3 feedback summaries. See our previous coverage of Pierce County, South King County, and Seattle. Future installments will be East King/North King (minus Seattle), and Stakeholder Organizations. 

Mukilteo 

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson
Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson

Mayor Jennifer Gregerson’s letter states that her city’s highest priority is finishing ST2’s Mukilteo Station Multimodal Access project, which has been delayed and is due to be completed in 2019). Beyond their Sounder Station, her letter supports 3 additional projects.

First, the letter supports Link to Everett via Paine Field and/or SR 99 – however with a caveat of firm opposition to commercial flights at Paine Field – and firmly opposes a pure I-5 alignment as a “short-sighted and poor choice”.

Second, Mukilteo supports I-405 BRT to connect South Snohomish County to East King County, which is a white-hot political topic at the moment given the introduction of Express Toll Lanes between Lynnwood and Bellevue.

Lastly, the city strongly supports SWIFT II, which requires project N-8 to improve 128th St SW over I-5.

Everett, Snohomish, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds, Snohomish County, and Community Transit’s letters after the jump.

Continue reading “Snohomish County’s ST3 Letters”

News Roundup: More Units

King County Metro XT60

This is an open thread.

Metro GM Kevin Desmond Named New TransLink CEO

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 9.56.13 PM
Metro GM Kevin Desmond (KCM Photo)

In breaking news out of Vancouver BC late Tuesday evening, Global News is reporting that Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond will be named the CEO of TransLink on Wednesday morning. Desmond will join TransLink after a tumultuous year for the agency, having lost their equivalent of an ST3 vote last July when their $7.5B CAD plebiscite lost by a 2-to-1 margin. Adding pressure to Desmond’s new role, much of the public criticism of TransLink has been focused on executive mismanagement, giving Desmond a chance to leave a lasting impression should he be able to right the ship.

Long underpaid by national standards – with new Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff taking in nearly 50% more than Desmond – the move will come with a significant pay raise to between $325,000 and $406,000 to $365,000 CAD, according to TransLink’s job advertisement. Yet even this figure is a cut from former CEO Ian Jarvis’ $435,000 CAD annual haul.

Desmond leaves a mostly positive legacy from his tenure at Metro. A wonk in a politican’s job, Desmond has long impressed me with his analytical skills and pragmatic streak. During his tenure, Metro has seen iterative (if sometimes halting) improvement in a number of areas, including more transparent service planning, the introduction of RapidRide, and the creation of a nearly citywide frequent service network. He ably rode Metro through the whiplash of the recession that quickly became a boom, arguing for a balance between rebuilding reserves, deploying service, and investing in long-term capital needs.

STB wishes him well as he leaves his home in Tacoma for the Lower Mainland.

Presidents’ Day Service (Last Free Day on FHSC)

Monday, February 15 is Presidents’ Day. The South Lake Union Streetcar is usually open on most holidays, but is closed Monday due to street work, and since there is no “peak” period on a holiday.

The First Hill Streetcar will start charging fares on February 16, so get your free ride in while you can.

Metro will be running a Reduced Weekday and Reduced UW schedule.

The only King County Metro run reductions are for UW classes not being in session for the day. However, after March 19, more riders will be using these routes to get to UW Station before heading downtown. Of the impacted bus routes — routes 31, 32, 48, 65, 67, 68, 75, 167, 197, 271, 277, 331, 372, 373 — most can expect a permanent increase in downtown commuter ridership for minor holidays with U-Link in the mix.

  • Route 31 has one morning trip cancelled.
  • Route 32 has one afternoon trip cancelled.
  • Route 48 (which will be split in the March service change and get frequency upgrades) has six cancelled trips each way.
  • Route 65 (which will get a major frequency upgrade with the March service change) has six inbound and four outbound trips cancelled.
  • Route 67 (which will get a major frequency upgrade) has two trips cancelled each way.
  • Route 68 (which is being discontinued) has three inbound and six outbound trips cancelled.
  • Route 75 (which will get a major frequency upgrade) has two inbound and one outbound trip cancelled.
  • Route 372 (which will get a major frequency upgrade and weekend service!) has eight inbound and four outbound trips cancelled.
  • Route 373 (which will take over a few peak 73 trips) has three inbound and four outbound trips cancelled, which, in contrast to the other impacted routes, constitutes almost half its trips.
  • .
    Suffice it to say that the UW reductions list for the next minor holiday — Veterans’ Day — will bear little resemblance to this UW reductions list.

    Agency Day Before (Sunday) Presidents’ Day (Monday)
    Clallam Transit No Service No Service
    Community Transit Commuter No Service Routes 402, 413, 421, 855
    Community Transit Local Sunday Weekday
    Everett Transit Sunday Weekday
    First Hill Streetcar (NEW) Sundayish LAST FREE DAY
    Greys Harbor Transit No Service Weekday
    Island Transit No Service Weekday
    Intercity Transit Sunday Weekday
    Jefferson Transit No Service Weekday
    King County Metro Sunday UW Reductions / Reduced Weekday
    King County Water Taxis No Service No Service
    Kitsap Transit No Service Regular/No PSNS
    Link Light Rail Sunday Saturday
    Mason Transit No Service No Service
    Monorail 8:30 AM – 9 PM 7:30 AM – 9 PM
    Pierce Transit Sunday Weekday
    Skagit Transit Sunday Weekday
    Sound Transit Express Sunday Weekday
    Sounder No Service Weekday
    South Lake Union Streetcar No Service (just for 2016) No Service (just for 2016)
    Tacoma Link Sunday Sunday
    Twin Transit No Service Weekday
    Washington State Ferries Sunday Weekday
    Whatcom Transit Sunday Weekday

    ST3: Link to West Seattle

    This is part of a series of posts looking at Sound Transit’s candidate projects for ST3.

    WestSeattleOption

    Sound Transit has made it clear they would like a light rail extension to West Seattle part of this fall’s ST3 vote.  Not since the days of the Monorail has a rapid transit extension stirred up so much debate amongst the armchair planners.  While some believe that current bus ridership is too small to justify a multi-billion-dollar light rail line, others note that the peninsula’s recent housing growth, access chokepoints, and cache of transit-friendly voters make it a no-brainer to lay tracks.

    Sound Transit has presented three options for West Seattle.  All three Two would connect to downtown at International District station, and use the existing downtown transit tunnel to continue to Capitol Hill, Northgate, and eventually Everett, while the third would continue up 1st Avenue on the surface.* The split-spine tunnel is now part of the Ballard project, so the West Seattle options all start from the South end of downtown.

    Option 1 starts from a downtown tunnel, stops at Stadium Station, crosses the Duwamish on a new elevated bridge, and terminates at Alaska Junction with stops at Fauntleroy and Delridge. It would cost between $1.7 and $1.9B and serve 39,000-50,000 riders in 2040.

    On a recent podcast, Martin and I wondered whether it would be controversial if there are elevated light rail tracks running up to the Junction, along with Mount-Baker-like elevated stations.  It’s unclear whether that would be resolved before the extension goes to the ballot, but local advocates are already expressing interest in studying a tunnel.

    Option 2 runs at-grade along 1st Ave and then follows the same path as Option 1 to the Junction.  It would cost $1.9B for 20,000-24,000 riders.  ST says that the cost of rebuilding 1st Avenue to accommodate surface rail makes this about as expensive as Option 1 for half the riders, making it the weakest of the three options.  Barring some weird issue where ST decides they won’t build a second downtown tunnel, I have a hard time seeing this one advance.

    Option 3 would emerge from a downtown tunnel like Option 1, but instead follow Delridge Way down toward White Center.  It’s a much longer route that skips the Junction, but has stations at SW Thistle and SW Roxbury in the heart of White Center.  A travel time of 18 minutes and a cost of about $2B is good for 34,000 to 40,000 riders.

    Option 1 vs. Option 3 sets up a Junction-vs-Delridge/White Center fight.  Whichever neighborhood is chosen, the other would have a bus transfer before the bridge.  Option 3 is slightly more expensive and has slightly lower ridership, but serves a more economically disadvantaged and diverse neighborhood.

    ST also looked at a light rail extension from the Junction to Burien via Morgan Junction and Westwood Village. This was not presented as an official “ST3 candidate project,” but it was studied.  It would cost about $2.8B for a 9.1 mile elevated extension. The 22-minute ride would serve 10,000 to 15,000 riders.

    *Update 10:52am: Option 2 would continue on the surface, not in the tunnel.

    Community Transit Opens Its Final Swift Station, at Edmonds Community College

    College Station under construction in early January
    College Station under construction in early January

    On Wednesday morning, a small ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the intersection of Highway 99 and 204th Street SW in Lynnwood to open the newest—and final—Swift bus rapid transit station, located two blocks downhill from Edmonds Community College. Community Transit CEO Emmett Heath was joined by Edmonds Community College President Dr. Jean Hernandez and Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith at the ceremony at 11 a.m., with regular service beginning shortly thereafter. The station is unique in not having a matching northbound stop, the closest being 200th Street SW only four blocks north; the nearest southbound station is eight blocks to the north at 196th Street.

    The community college, which also houses classrooms for Central Washington University, is already served by a small transit center with three routes: 115 and 116 (which form a frequent link to Lynnwood Transit Center), and 120. Community Transit estimates that about 1,500 weekday boardings occur at stops around the college, with the three routes at the transit enter accounting for 900. The two nearest Swift stations to the college, Crossroads at 196th Street and Heron at 200th Street, see 600 boardings each weekday. The college also offers a commuter “EdPass” that is tied into the ORCA system, and encourages its 11,600 students and 1,600 employees to commute via transit.

    The station was part of five stations that were deferred when the line opened in 2009; the other four, located in Everett, were opened in January 2011. The 204th Street station was forced to wait for the City of Lynnwood to complete an extension of the street uphill to Edmonds Community College and the construction of a traffic signal at Highway 99. The city project was completed in August of last year and Swift station construction began in the following two months.

    Community Transit is also moving along with its planned second Swift line, which has gained operational funding through a 0.3% sales tax increase passed via a ballot measure last November and is awaiting federal funding for capital construction. The line would run from the Boeing Everett plant through Mill Creek to Canyon Park via Airport Road, 128th Street SW, and the Bothell-Everett Highway, some segments of which already have business-access transit (BAT) lanes. The new line would cross the existing Swift line at Airport Road and Highway 99 in southwest Everett, creating an in-system transfer.

    Senate Republicans Oust WSDOT Secretary Peterson

    PetersonWith no advance warning yesterday and with a perfectly whipped caucus, Senate Republicans brought a sudden confirmation vote on WSDOT Secretary Lynn Peterson. The vote failed 25-21, with all Republicans voting no, effectively removing her from office immediately. The contentious 2+ hour hearing was filled with strong critiques of Peterson’s leadership by Republicans on the one hand, and panicked maneuvers to try to shelve the vote by Democrats on the other. Josh Feit from Publicola has a great play by play of the day’s drama.

    Governor Inslee called the sudden election-year guillotine a “shameful about face” and “a blatant misuse of the confirmation process for political purposes.” Just a year ago, Peterson’s role was uncontroversial and she frequently received bipartisan praise, including by Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima), who said at the time, “I want to thank you for the job you have done over the past two and a half years and I can’t say thank you enough.” Yesterday, King initiated the vote to fire her.

    With tensions high both in and out of the chamber, Republicans continued the attack, with Senator Majority Leader Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville) calling Peterson a racist while Senator Baumgartner (R-Spokane) took a victory lap, warning other agency heads that they might be next.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 9.25.39 PM

    This blog has been rather hard on WSDOT over the years, and there is certainly much to criticize on urbanist, environmental, and performance grounds.  The agency functions almost exclusively as a highway department, delegating transit funding and operations to local agencies. They have long had an excessive attachment to new highway capacity to the detriment of maintaining what we have. And of course, their project management – particularly on ill-conceived megaprojects like the SR 99 Tunnel and an unnecessary widening of SR 520 – has been particularly poor and occasionally scandal ridden.

    But yesterday’s Republican exercise in brute power cannot be defended on any of the above grounds. First, WSDOT’s priorities are not its own, as the agency is a product of the projects and funds allocated it by the legislature, and the legislature shares the blame for any flaws that an agency that they continually make in their own image may have.

    Second, Peterson inherited the megaprojects from the Gregoire/Hammond administration, and those project’s failures have been at least as much technical as they have been administrative, with the SR 99 tunnel contractor particularly to blame for much of that project’s troubles.

    Third, Republicans who ostensibly care about efficient government and free market principles are most aggrieved about WSDOT’s most significant application of their supposed principles to date: dynamic tolling. Using prices as market signals to manage demand should be textbook Republican economics, but it would seem that clear performance data is no match for angry constituent anecdotes in an election year.

    So Peterson’s head has rolled, and it’s unclear where WSDOT goes from here.

    A Retreat from Tolling on I-405

    405 ETL lanes mostly free-flowing while NB general purpose lanes congested along almost the entire corridor
    405 ETL lanes mostly free-flowing at the beginning of the PM peak, while NB general purpose lanes remain congested along almost the entire corridor

    Under political pressure from Republicans in the Legislature, WSDOT is paring back the express toll lanes on I-405. If approved by the WSTC, the lanes would be open to all drivers without tolls on evenings and weekends.

    In the Senate, SB 6152 passed out of committee on Wednesday. The bill emphasizes that the imposition of tolls is authorized for a two-year period only. The bill would prohibit tolls between 7pm and 5am, on weekends, and on all federal and state holidays. The bill even micromanages lane access, requiring that WSDOT continue to expand the length of the access and exit points to the express toll lanes. Earlier language that would have converted one of the ETL lanes between Bellevue and Bothell to a general purpose lane was dropped.

    In the House, companion bill HB 2312 has not gotten out of committee (the deadline is Tuesday). However, House Democrats wrote WSDOT Tuesday evening requesting several of the changes in the Senate Bill. The changes were agreed with WSDOT. WSDOT should “eliminate tolls during evening non-peak hours, weekends, and holidays, to the extent that such a change will improve commuters’ experience on I-405” (thereby giving WSDOT some flexibility in setting hours of operation). The letter also suggests a long list of operational changes. Most notably, WSDOT is to consider “re-instating” a general purpose lane on NB I-405 between SR 520 and NE 70th St, where an exit lane was converted to general purpose use to make room for the ETL. WSDOT is also to modify the highway north of SR 522 to allow shoulder-running (the implications for ST and CT buses that already run on the shoulder here are unclear). The timing of the changes depends on Federal Highway Administration approval, but WSDOT is to report to the Legislature within six months on the impacts.

    I-405 tolling, less than five months after introduction, has become a partisan football. Continue reading “A Retreat from Tolling on I-405”

    Housing Bills: The Survivors

    Ten bills dealing with affordable housing made it out of their original committee by today’s deadline. Since none of the policy committees meeting today have any housing bills before them, this is the whole list of surviving housing bills. Any of these bills that got referred next to a fiscal committee (the House Appropriations Committee, which handles budget bills; the House Finance Committee that handles revenue bills; or the Senate Ways & Means Committee) have until next Tuesday to get voted out of that committee. All of these bills have until February 17 to pass out of their original house.

    Rep. Noel Frame
    Rep. Noel Frame

    Substitute House Bill 2544, originally by Rep. Noel Frame (D – Ballard), and amended by the House Committee on Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs, would allow a city or county to create a local property tax exemption program to promote the preservation of affordable housing available for very low-income households. The tax exemption could apply for up to 15 consecutive years, but could be extended for an additional three years if the project meets certain energy standards.

    The exemption would apply to certain multi-family properties if at least 25 percent of their units are rented at rates that are affordable to households with an income up to 50 percent of the median family income of the area. The threshold household income level could be lowered to serve severely low-income households, or raised up to 60 percent of the median family income in high-property-value areas. The affordability and occupancy requirements could be waived for up to three years for an incidental number of units occupied by over-income tenants at the time of the application. The multi family property would have to be part of a residential or mixed-use project and have a 90 percent occupancy rate. It would have to provide at least half of its space for permanent residents.

    The city or county would be allowed to establish its own additional requirements, including a limit on the number of units eligible for the exemption, and designate target areas for affordable housing.

    The tax exemption would be cancelled if the owner fails to meet the affordable housing requirements or intends to discontinue compliance, fails to complete a rehabilitation plan, or fails to substantially comply with any applicable building, safety, or health regulations.

    The committee substitute bill would require cities to obtain county permission before they exempt the county property tax. It would limit the ability of a city or county to waive health and quality standards for qualifying properties. Additional procedures are included for how the tax exemption certificate would be cancelled. Provisions are included regarding the effect of a transfer of property on the tax exemption. The tax exemption could be claimed beginning in 2017.

    SHB 2544 passed out of committee Tuesday, and is scheduled to be heard at 10 am today in the House Finance Committee.

    Rep. June Robinson
    Rep. June Robinson

    Substitute HB 2585, originally by Rep. June Robinson (D – Everett), by request of the state’s Housing Finance Corporation, and amended to make technical corrections by the House Committee on Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs, would shift a portion of the state’s allowed private activity bond sales each year from student loans to the state’s Housing Finance Corporation. The student loan share would drop from 15% to 5%. The HFC’s share would increase from 32% to 42%.

    SHB 2585 passed out of committee on January 28 and is now in the House Rules Committee, waiting to be scheduled for a floor vote.

    Continue reading “Housing Bills: The Survivors”

    South King County’s ST3 Letters

    Angle Lake Station Construction – April 2015 (Photo by the author)
    Angle Lake Station Construction – April 2015 (Photo by the author)

    This summary of South King County’s ST3 feedback is the second in a series of ST3 feedback summaries. See our previous coverage of Pierce County and Seattle. Future installments will be East King, North King (minus Seattle), Snohomish, and Stakeholder Organizations. 

    Federal Way

    Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell
    Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell

    Short, sweet, and direct, Federal Way’s 3-paragraph letter supports Link to Federal Way via I-5 and completion of the spine to Tacoma as “the highest priority in the South King subarea”. Federal Way also says that while their preference is for I-5 through their city, they “will defer to Milton, Fife, and Tacoma” to decide between SR 99 and I-5 between Federal Way and Tacoma. The letter closes by expressing the city’s support for parking demand management strategies, which could include pricing, permitting, or additional feeder service.

    Auburn

    Auburn Director of Community Development and Public Works Kevin Snyder
    Auburn Director of Community Development and Public Works Kevin Snyder

    Auburn’s letter begins by expressing qualified support for extended Sounder trains (to 8 cars or beyond), asking that any platform extensions be done to the south rather than to the north (which would close its Main Street during train stops). Complicating this process is the fact that BNSF’s Stampede Pass junction lies immediately south of the current platforms.

    The letter goes on to ask that Sounder be allowed to become “a mature commuter rail system”, with evening and weekend service and Sounder/Amtrak integration “to [collect] passengers at local stations and them to Amtrak stations.”

    The letter closes with strong support for a second Auburn parking garage and full funding for the South Sounder Access Program.

    Kent

    Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke
    Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke

    Kent has exceeded urbanist expectations for suburban jurisdictions on a number of occasions, including upzones in its town center and in its Link station area near Des MoinesKent’s letter supports Link to Federal Way with joint station planning at Highline between Kent and Des Moines, as well as increased vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle access to Kent Station.

    Kent’s letter also brings its demographic cards to the table to argue for all-day Sounder service on both ridership and social justice grounds. Noting that Kent is one of the most diverse cities in Washington and the one with the highest non-Seattle Sounder ridership, Mayor Cooke asks that Sound Transit “[expand] Sounder service in both directions throughout the day…a great start toward meeting the needs of shift work, non-peak travel demands such as doctor’s appointments, access to human services agencies, and entertainment options.” Her perspective brings welcome attention to Sounder’s potential to be part of an integrated transit network for all transit riders, rather than its current existence as a (rather effective) peak capacity relief valve for commuters.

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    SeaTac Mayor Rick Forschler

    SeaTac
    Making a strong case for the most bizarre letter Sound Transit received, SeaTac’s letter is a strong departure from its (pre-election) comments last summer, in which former Mayor (and current State Legislator) Mia Gregerson supported Link to Federal Way, a second line to SeaTac Airport via West Seattle and Burien, and BRT connections to the airport. Instead, new mayor Rick Forschler functionally withdraws SeaTac’s support for the entire ST3 project, using the “transit share” canard to object to any fixed-route transit spending:

    None of [your] projections for ridership, decreased sprawl, and improved traffic have been realized. In fact, the opposite is true[…]

    [PSRC] projections for build out of 72 miles of light rail and doubling of bus service by 2040, at a cost of almost 80 billion dollars,  show transit ridership going from 3.1 percent of all trips to 4.3 percent. Traffic congestion on arterials would get worse, and despite aggressive land-use assumptions for density around light rail stations, sprawl would continue[…].

    Before we lock this region into technology that may be obsolete long before the bonds are repaid, and given the rapid growth of autonomous vehicle technology, we believe it is essential to ensure that any further investments also support future technology trends…This emerging technology suggests a reprioritization of new investments away from rail transit and toward increasing road capacity. [emphasis mine]

    Des Moines, Burien, and Tukwila after the jump… Continue reading “South King County’s ST3 Letters”