Photo by Brylie Oxley / Wikimedia

The State Legislature returns today for a 2-month session, with formal sessions in both houses beginning at noon.

The House Transportation Committee begins work at 3:30 p.m. with a presentation by the governor’s office on the state of state transportation, and a presentation of the governor’s proposed supplemental transportation budget for 2019. The Senate Transportation Committee will hear a similar presentation Tuesday afternoon, also at 3:30 pm.

You can check out the full list of committee meetings scheduled for several days ahead.

As of publication time, there are no pre-filed bills going after Sound Transit or other transit agencies. Bills from the previous year can be brought back in the short session. Usually, they are not.

    Some pre-filed bills of interest that may or may not go anywhere include:

  • House Bill 2403, to regulate transit-only lane enforcement cameras
  • Senate Bill 6043, to standardize regulation of transportation network (“rideshare”, as they usually call themselves) companies statewide.
  • SB 6054, to study passenger ferry service between Olympia and Seattle
  • SB 6096, to establish a carbon pollution tax.

Update: All bills from last year were reintroduced and retained in the status they were in as of the end of the last special session, as is the custom. Joe O’Sullivan at the Seattle Times tweeted a list of nine reintroduced bills scheduled for action on the House floor Wednesday. One of these bills is House Bill 2201, Rep. Mike Pellicciotti’s (D – Federal Way) bill to adjust the methodology for calculating Sound Transit motor vehicle excise tax. The bill got unanimous support from House Democrats last year, but got ignored by the then-Republican-controlled Senate.

47 Replies to “The Lege is Back”

  1. A passenger only ferry between Seattle and Olympia is probably the most carbon intensive way per passenger to run service short of air travel.

    Why don’t they study extending Sounder through Dupont to Olympia instead? It could carry a lot more people and run a lot more frequently, and once installed would provide better regional connectivity than a single ferry.

    1. This is typical of pie-in-the-sky impractical solutions. Just use what has worked for decades in New York, London, Cologne, Tokyo, etc. A ferry would probably run only a few times a day, which would make it useless for people traveling at other times. And it would have a small capacity which wouldn’t be able to scale if it becomes popular. It’s like studying high-speed rail in Vancouver rather than just accelerating the incrememtal improvements on Cascades. And the *very* first thing we ned is an interim bus. How many legislators’ families think the current transfer situation, limited hours, and 2-hour one-way travel time is convenient enough to use?

    2. The Olympia Ferry idea, Tacoma Ferry idea, similar to the Kirkland-SLU or Ballard-DT passenger ferry ideas is a political solution to a transportation problem (not enough transit).

      It is appealing to local electeds because it is something that can actually be done, as in there is tax money for it.
      http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=36.54.130

      County ferry districts—Tax levy authorized—Uses.
      (1) To carry out the purposes for which ferry districts are created, the governing body of a ferry district may levy each year an ad valorem tax on all taxable property located in the district not to exceed seventy-five cents per thousand dollars of assessed value, except a ferry district in a county with a population of one million five hundred thousand or more may not levy at a rate that exceeds seven and one-half cents per thousand dollars of assessed value. The levy must be sufficient for the provision of ferry services as shown to be required by the budget prepared by the governing body of the ferry district.

      Snoho and Pierce (not sure about Thurston) have all maxed out their transit sale tax authority. So even if they wanted to raise money to buy more express bus or Sounder trips (which would clearly be the better transit solution) they couldn’t do it. Their only option is a Ferry District and property tax b/c that is all Olympia will allow them. When all you have is a hammer…

      1. I can tell you that there is no appetite up here in SnoCo for any additional sales tax (we already have some of the highest sales tax rates statewide) or property tax measures. The County attempted to pass a measure that was sold as a public safety item and intended to deal with the opioid crisis which would have increased sales taxes by another .2 percent back in 2016. The county intentionally put the measure on the ballot during the August primary to counter against the ST3 vote in November, but even with the lower turnout the proposition failed in a very close vote.

        The Lynnwood Link issues have certainly not helped matters.

    3. Thanks for the notification, Charles. Not often that the Washington State Legislature is starting to agree with me on two things I’ve been advocating for a very long time. My main goal, as I keep putting it, is to establish a “Freeway-Free” route parallel to I-5.

      One thing Sounder is going to need is some express bus service to Downtown Olympia and some other centers. Also, some parking facilities. Which can be at terminals for these buses, as well as Lacey Station itself.

      Seriously, very much interested in the details of the boats I’m thinking about. Do you know where I can get tech information like fuel mileage and pollution? Maybe we could look at it as a bus route serving West Seattle, Des Moines, Tacoma, and Steilacoom on the way down.

      I have a sneaking feeling that by the time this service materializes, the boats will be a lot cleaner and faster. But more important, the whole shoreline will look like a linear Seattle CBD, except hopefully with buildings a lot less ugly.

      Well, great being clued in on a neighborhood event here in Olympia. Many thanks, Brent.

      1. I hope Rep Fitzgibbon’s bill passes, but I don’t have much hope that it will. The autoistas hate the thought that they might get filmed riding with their paramours.

        All the language in the world prohibiting use “for any other purpose” doesn’t matter; their spouses’ divorce attorneys will break that shield.

    4. The entire study budget only needs to be large enough for an intern to spend half an hour reading STB comments and 5 minutes with a map.

      I imagine SB 6054 is a stunt to call attention to the I-5 problem. The distances we’re talking about, the number of passages and inlets where speed would be restricted, and the CPPM of ferries in general, make the proposal almost comical.

    5. Ferry service to Tacoma is a stretch, but ferry service to Olympia is crazy. This becomes obvious when you look at a map. Tacoma is a fairly straight shot by boat. It is less than 30 miles by water, which makes it shorter than the freeway, and a lot shorter than the train route. It is a long ways for a ferry, but still within the realm of plausible. In contrast, a boat to Olympia requires weaving around small islands. This not only puts the distance at over 60 miles — more than driving and similar to a train — but you can’t go fast through that kind of area. Ferries are better options when the distances involved are relatively small, and less than driving. This is not the case with Olympia.

      With Tacoma I see it as possible. The Kitsap Fast Ferries can move at 44 MPH on the crossing. Much of the route to Tacoma is probably OK at that speed. At that rate, it is about 40 minutes from Seattle to Tacoma. But add another five for slowing down. At 45 minutes, it is 15 minutes faster than Sounder. Even if that is being optimistic, and the boat makes the trip in 50 minutes, that seems like it would appeal to some people.

      But often the bus would still be faster. Without traffic, a bus beats all alternatives. In other words, the Tacoma to Seattle transportation problem could be solved if someone just changed the HOV 2 signs to HOV 3. Even without that change, a bus is faster in the middle of the day. That means that this would primarily, if not exclusively run during commute hours (similar to Sounder).

      Sounder isn’t super fast, but it still works reasonable well at rush hour. You have to time it, but that is the case with a ferry (even very popular, short ferries don’t run every five minutes). It will likely run less often than a train. It might shave a few minutes off a train trip, but it will leave from a different part of town. This complicates things. Miss a ferry, and you won’t be able to take a train (or a bus). Right now if you miss your train, you can at least catch the bus.

      I don’t think it will be any more pleasant that a train trip, either. I haven’t been on the fast Kitsap ferry, but I have been on the Vallejo one. It really isn’t much fun at rush hour. Of course you have nice views, but it isn’t like the super ferries, where you have lots of room to roam around. It is more like a train. I think some people just assume otherwise, and I get their thinking. If you have to spend a fair amount of time commuting, you might as well do so in comfort. The problem is, I don’t think this would be that much more comfortable than a train.

      The mix of options we have now (Sounder and express bus service) for Tacoma seems appropriate. If Olympia lacks the will to change the HOV signs, then it is about as good as we are going to get.

      Oh, and Link will never be faster than Sounder or a ferry.

      1. Ross, sorry man, but HOV 3 is going to be violated at a much higher rate than is HOV 2, simply because the GP lanes will be that much more crowded. You’ll end up with just as many cars in the HOV lanes, but they’ll be carrying fewer people overall.

      2. Ross, one dimension this discussion has to allow for is time.If we drop the low-bid requirement, we’ll be able to get watercraft that can negotiate south Puget Sound. If and when we need them. Seattle to Tacoma…we had “Mosquito Fleet” on those runs, didn’t we?

        ” Without traffic, a bus beats all alternatives.” I think it’s more accurate, and a lot more useful, to say that of all the alternatives, a bus is the most versatile. And far an away the best for experimental and transitional situations. Including emergencies that take down rail service.

        Best means of all to get passengers, and business, used to using transit on corridors that will definitely be put to rail. Important enough to insist that where-and however buses are used, they be given the reserved lanes to run them at max efficiency.

        However, their line-haul efficiency has an insurmountable upper limit: to couple them, they have to be structured out of the simplicity that’s also major part of their best use.

        And running as separate vehicles, because of absolutely necessary following distance for safety, a “platoon” of them becomes a train whose ever other car is empty, dirty air. And whose length takes up lane space that could be carrying passengers. And forces following buses to wait to enter the busway.

        Between LINK, ST Express and Sounder, best analogy is a tool-kit, not a model race-track. Major variables. Sounder trains are structured and powered for service on freight right of way. With track of their own, they can put Spokane into Sound Transit. Sharing freight track between Seattle and Tacoma different story.

        Same with both buses and LINK: given their own railroad, or highway, each mode his its best use- which can change with time. I know I’ve shown these before, but I’m trying to make a point.

        https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/24722026167/in/dateposted-public/

        https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/25719359488/in/dateposted-public/

        Sounder, ST Express and LINK all have their place. Pretty much all possible extensions of what they can do now. I think Tacoma will be LINK’s limit. Not for numbers, but passenger comfort, we purple paint not needed, but bathrooms are. Paper on the floor optional.

        So for equipment, Ross, you’ll always be right about one thing: buy every fast low-maintenance bus you can get, and keep the pressure up for empty space in front of it, where and whenever you suddenly need to use it.

        But points of yours yesterday about where population is shifting were most important in this whole discussion. The rapidly developing shape of transit’s physical and political future has got to be changed, and fast.

        Absolute worst thing about present trends is the catastrophic brake failure of all our land use planning. We could be back in 1955, with 63 years’ more sprawl to fight, just to get back to where we are now.

        My whole life up ’til now has “Been There.” Rest of it- Rather “Do Something Different.” First step here: to the weekly Open Thread, how about adding another dedicated to The War on Sprawl?

        Mark

    6. “Snoho and Pierce (not sure about Thurston) have all maxed out their transit sale tax authority.”

      This is a classic case of distortions and inefficiency due to artificial scarcity. Remove the artificial ceilings on local taxes, and then more straightforward and time-tested solutions can be implemented. Instead we get whatever projects have inherited an arbitrary special tax authority.

      “I can tell you that there is no appetite up here in SnoCo for any additional sales tax (we already have some of the highest sales tax rates statewide) or property tax measures.”

      That’s a third factor, which I’d call of third importance because it’s a natural feature of democracy. Maybe you won’t be able to convince voters, or maybe voters will get only bad projects to choose from. But this is a natural feature of democracy: to choose good project and to convince voters to support them. That’s different than artificial scarcity which distorts the situation. Voters can also be persuaded artificially; e.g., by decades of propaganda that highway and cul-de-sac dependency are the most bucolic and patriotic form of suburb.

      To recap, the three salient factors I’ve seen so far in this thread:
      1. Beware of pie-in-the-sky solutions that won’t really address the problem. Jarrett Walker calls it being too fixated on the mode.
      2. Artificial scarcity in the form of arbitrary tax ceiling and the refusal to fund basic services leads people to choose projects that have a special carve-out in taxes rather than the most effective or efficient project.
      3. Voter refusal can also happen.

    7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground_effect_vehicle

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/39580195841/in/dateposted-public/

      Every discussion on high speed long distance ferry service on Puget Sound needs to start with the technical contents of this article.

      Not for what we’re going to do right now.I doubt if any of these machines are in regular passenger service anywhere. And a lot of practical problems still to be worked out. But an idea for technology available to us when the time comes.

      But important historic note: Be sure to check the dates of every advancement to be sure Elon Musk had not been born yet.

      Mark

  2. As a transportation issue, how about creating economic incentives to bring jobs or office development to areas outside of Seattle, Bellevue, or Redmond? Help create office space in Tacoma and Everett or along the Sounder corridor. I live in Pierce County and commute to Seattle because I cannot afford to live up there. All the jobs are in Seattle. I’m hoping the jobs will eventually follow the commuters. But maybe the legislature can create some sort of spark.

    Or promote telecommuting to reduce congestion?? Is that something the CTR already promotes?

    1. SRO, you’ve made my morning! Because, seriously, you’ve hit on exact course of action that’ll free both the State of Washington and Seattle Transit Blog commentary from current major drain on the energies of both entities.

      To me, it’s a lot more than job locations and housing costs. It’s about expanding our living and working space by uniting it, rather than drawing ever narrower and hardening lines.

      Instead, an ever-widening choice of places to work, live, go to school, and enjoy travelling through. And making all these elements painlessly flexible. When no longer will daily travel be a matter of exhausting, time-wasting. car destroying, and super-pollutionary forced migrations called “commutes.”

      [OT]

    2. CTR does promote tele-commuting I believe.

      I suspect your proposal is counter-productive. Encouraging less dense and more dispersed employment patterns may help people who happen to live closer to their more dispersed workplace, but it may also increase net VMT, especially if the net effect is to encourage less dense development.

      1. Encouraging less dense and more dispersed employment patterns may help people who happen to live closer to their more dispersed workplace, but it may also increase net VMT, especially if the net effect is to encourage less dense development.

        Correct. Especially once they buy, have kids in school, etc people tend to change jobs more than they move. From a carbon emissions reduction perspective, much better to keep growing downtown, make sure a lot more people can live close to it and transit can get to it efficiently.

      2. I don’t think I was encouraging less dense development. I meant focusing office development in urban growth centers – Tacoma (preferably downtown), and around the other sounder stations and Everett station. This would increase their employment densities, which would eventually mean transit improvements for all these other growth centers.

        For SOV Drivers, this also means instead of driving all the way to Seattle, Bellevue, or Redmond, they’d just drive to work five to ten minutes from home.. I think that’s a good thing for everyone. Capacity in downtown Seattle is reaching a peak I think – highways and transit is at capacity during rush hours. Long commutes for everyone can lower quality of life.

    3. Telecommuting is fine, even in some cases good for the employer. Sprawling jobs is crazy. We tried that for 50 years and ended up with everyone driving miles and miles every day.

      Transit does not work for commuting without density at one end or the other of the daily trip.

  3. Not directly transit-related, but potentially a massive savings to all public projects, including transit, is creation of a state bank. I recommend support of SB 5464, as introduced by Sen Bob Hasegawa. Imagine saving $2 Billion in interest on every $1 Billion bond, over every 30 year period. The interest we pay on these transit, school, road, and utility projects really adds up. Eliminating Wall Street from the mix would help us do more with our limited tax money.
    http://sdc.wastateleg.org/hasegawa/state-bank/

    1. I’ve never understood why state banks never gained traction, other than lobbying by Wall Street and fears of “OMG TEH SOCIALISMZ!”. North Dakota has had theirs for a century, and they seem to be doing just fine, even turning decent profits (~$60 million in 2009) in the economic downturn. They even offer student loans for state residents.

      What I fear is that Hasegawa lost a bit of credibility when he kept trying to beat the “Sound Transit hates poor people” drum. If he can’t get a bill through the legislature, I wonder if a state bank is something that could be forced through with an initiative. It shouldn’t take much to convince people that, if we are paying interest on loans to somebody, we may as well be paying interest to ourselves.

    2. Nobody’s ever had an economically coherent explanation for how a state bank would work. One part of government lending to another at zero interest is not a business model. Where would the bank capital come from? Where would the deposits come from? (no, state government doesn’t have large stable deposits sitting around, more like volatile checking accounts). So it couldn’t lend without borrowing money wholesale which means the same cost of money as any other bond. Or worse (since it’s basically an insolvent bank being subsidized by taxpayers).

      There’s no free lunch at the state bank. Hasegawa doesn’t understand banking.

      The North Dakota bank looks nothing like what he wants to do. It’s a one-branch check clearing house.

      1. Not to mention the North Dakota model is dead under the new GOP tax plan. North Dakota depends on federal backing of debt through a very sketchy process by which North Dakota transfers risk through college loan guarantees, but changes to college loan tax exemptions will reduce their ability to maintain federal low interest student loan guarantees. Remove that benefit and include the cost to the state of administering the loans and lost tax revenue on private interest loans and it’s a wash.

        Pretty much every state/municipal bank in the US has failed and with tax code changes and the decline in the cash rich oil industry which built the North Dakota bank they will soon disappear as well.

      2. It’s not zero interest, it’s low interest. The state contributes the initial seed money and residents and businesses can open accounts. The low interest rate is based on the bank’s charter of improving the state’s development, rather than for the short-term profits of shareholders who then start sticking their customers with high fees. Depending on commercial banks for development is like depending on a bandit: he doesn’t have your interest in mind but his own. I switched from a commercial bank to a credit union decades ago and never looked back. The solvency of the bank is based on the loans being paid back: the same as with any bank. The bank has to choose loans carefully and require that the borrower have a sound business plan. This is one area to be on guard about, because legislators shouldn’t be allowed to force the bank to lend for unsound projects that have political appeal. It will have to have some formal independence from the legislature.

  4. The big thing I would like to see is a change in the way that HOV lanes are designated. Basically, if an HOV 2 lane is crowded, change it to HOV 3. I’m not sure how to craft a bill like that (for that matter, I couldn’t craft any bill). But if I’m not mistaken, there is a federal standard. An HOV lane should have average speeds of over 45 MPH 90% of the time, or something like that. If my memory is correct, and there is a standard, we could just use it. If the HOV lane doesn’t adhere to the federal standard, then the signs change.

    We could also give local counties the right to change it, but that could get messy. This could easily result in HOV lanes being three person part of the way, then switch to 2 person. Still, if you assume that counties can actually cooperate, even that would work. In other words, if both Somers and Constantine agree to switch the I-5 HOV lanes to HOV 3 (from Snohomish County to Seattle) then they could make it happen. I would assume that neither would change things without the others cooperation, as doing so would not be very effective.

    This is a crucial issue, that will be a problem for a very long time. When Link gets to Northgate or Lynnwood, it is still a very big issue. That is not that far away. Most of the congestion exists south of Lynnwood, but even north of Lynnwood, things are wonderful, and I could see things getting worse. Right now most of the bus ramps as well as the HOV lanes are HOV 2. This means that someone dropping off a rider at the Lynnwood station would use the same ramp as an express bus from Everett. Maybe this isn’t the end of the world, but it really doesn’t make any sense. It will be years before the trains get to Everett, and even then, it wouldn’t be as fast as an express bus traveling without congestion.

    I can’t think of anything that would make a bigger difference in transit for this region that making this very simple, very cheap change.

    1. Folks have been advocating for this for a while, but WSDOT has made it clear on many occasions that they have zero interest in this because in their view it would be “unfair to drivers”

      If you can get enough state reps on your side to force a culture change, please do so.

    2. That issue is tricky. On the one hand, making it easier to drop someone off at the transit center is a good thing. On the other hand, it would slow down the buses if enough people actually did this to make much of a dent in ridership.

      I would say, allow it for now, revisit in the future if it becomes a problem.

      1. There’s a danger that HOV 3 will tip the driving public into massive violation. The HOV lane northbound on I-5 through Portland has almost 50% of vehicles which are in violation, and it’s because the main lanes almost stand still between 4:30 and 6:00 when the HOV “exclusion” ends.

        It that happens you’ll end up with just as clogged an HOV lane but it will actually carry fewer people than does a widely observed HOV 2.

        There’s no legislation pending to allow camera enforcement of HOV’s.

      2. Perhaps I complicated the issue by mentioning the part about the ramps. For that, I apologize. Let me clear: it is a problem now. As Tlsgwm says, there is congestion now, between Lynnwood and Everett. In a few years, that will like get worse If you fixed the issue now, then you would see much faster trip times to places like Northgate, with the added benefit of seeing faster trip times to Lynnwood forever.

        @Richard. I have no idea if there are more violators with HOV 3, versus HOV 2. But I think anyone in the area knows that HOV 3 simply moves faster. The HOV lane for SR 520 is much faster than I-90 or I-5. I really don’t care whether there are a higher proportion of outlaws there or not.

  5. This is why I push for HOT over HOV. I have major concerns with HOV scofflaws and violators, and the research I believe shows that the vast majority of HOV violators when HOT is introduced will become law-abiding toll-payers. Correct me if I’m mistaken I don’t have a source off the top of my head.

    That said, in the interim, HOV 3 is fine. Even without camera enforcement, maybe law enforcement could be posted to help enforce.

    Also HOV ends at 7pm I thought? Honestly HOV should end at 8pm.

    1. While good for people lucky enough to win a rent control lottery, rent control is terrible for everyone else, and simply exacerbates the housing shortage by discouraging people from renting out their homes or building new rental housing.

      I’d be surprised if the repeal of the statewide ban got anywhere.

    2. It depends on the kind of rent control. The ones in New York and San Francisco were especially bad because they applied only to existing buildings so as new buildings were built there was an ever-decreasing percentage of people who could get a rent-controlled unit, so they kept them forever and sublet them if they moved.

      In contrast, German states have rent control across the entire state, and it’s set to allow owners to make a reasonable profit but not a massive windfall. It doesn’t stop companies from building new apartments because they know they’ll get a reasonable profit and they can’t escape it anywhere in the country. This in turn makes people more willing to rent because they know the rent won’t go sky-high in their lifetime.

      Allowing cities to try different models of rent control makes sense. It won’t be as effective as Germany if it’s not done statewide because developers can go just outside the border and make sprawl worse, but on the other hand I can’t believe that rent control would stop construction in Seattle with this heavy demand.

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