Transportation

Because being there is what's most important, WPC's Center for Transportation researches and analyzes the best practices for relieving traffic congestion by recapturing a vision of a system based on freedom of movement.

What's New

Vanpools in the Puget Sound Region, Part IV

December 6, 2009 in Publications

This is the final report in a four-part series on vanpools in the Puget Sound region.

Washington Policy Center's 31 Facts on Vanpools

December 6, 2009 in Publications

As traffic congestion and the financial and environmental costs of commuting continue to rise, a once overlooked transit alternative has quietly become the most effective option for many motorists: vanpooling.

WSDOT Secretary Hammond may want to update her talking points

December 4, 2009 in Blog

WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond attended a summit in Washington DC this week and had the opportunity to bend President Obama's ear on the impact of funding transportation projects on jobs.

She said this: (emphasis is mine)

"We know that investments in transportation not only provide immediate
jobs for the economy
, but also provide longer-term benefits by
preserving roads, shoring up our bridges, repairing 1950s-era concrete
interstates, and making drivers safer."

But then at the same event, President Obama addressed the group, and as the Journal of Commerce points out, he apparently did not share Hammond's optimism on job growth:

President Obama says large-scale transportation projects that are
supposedly “shovel-ready” may not provide the quick boost for jobs
needed in the halting American economic recovery.

Speaking Thursday at the White House “jobs summit” aimed at
addressing persistent unemployment, the president told transportation
executives and state officials he was skeptical about the impact big
infrastructure projects would have in the near term.

“The term ‘shovel-ready,’ let’s be honest, it doesn’t always live up to its billing,” Obama said.

WSDOT Secretary Hammond may want to update her talking points.

WSDOT: You Can Build Your Way Out of Congestion

December 3, 2009 in Blog

The WSDOT just released their 2009 Annual Congestion Report, which measures traffic volumes throughout the state. The very first thing I noticed was the positive impact some of the Nickel and TPA gas tax projects were having on traffic congestion.

The WSDOT study compared traffic volumes and delay before and after on 15 of the gas tax projects. Here is what they found:

An analysis of 15 mobility projects financed by the 2003 Nickel and
2005 Transportation Partnership Account gas tax packages shows that
users experienced a 15% improvement in peak period travel times,
despite a 14% increase in volume at the same project locations.

Who is really in charge of the USDOT?

December 2, 2009 in Blog

Yesterday, I posted this blog entry: LaHood to Congress: Debate a gas tax increase

It was based on a story from the Ft Worth Star-Telegram on comments DOT Secretary LaHood made in Texas on Monday. Here is what LaHood actually said:

To index the federal fuel tax [to inflation], that's something Congress is going to
have to decide. As we get into the reauthorization bill, the debate
will be how we fund all the things we want to do. You can raise a lot
of money with tolling. Another means of funding can be the
infrastructural bank. You can sell bonds and set aside money for big
projects, multi-billion-dollar projects. Another way is [charging motorists for] vehicle miles traveled. The idea of indexing the taxes that are collected at the gas pump is something I believe Congress will debate. When the gas tax was raised in 1992 or 1993, in
the Clinton administration, there was a big debate whether it should be
indexed. At that time, they thought there'd be a sufficient amount of
money collected. Now we know that isn't the case. That is one way to
keep up with the decline in driving, and more fuel-efficient cars.

This morning, I received an email from the USDOT saying the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram ran a correction: 

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Congress should debate a range of options on funding transportation needs, including indexing the federal gas tax. He did not endorse any option. Information about his remarks was incorrect Tuesday in an article about the North Texas Transportation Summit.

You can decide for yourself whether the story is accurate based on what LaHood actually said. Its more interesting to me on what it means when the USDOT sends me an email about one of my blog posts and a correction from a story in a Texas Newspaper. It suggests LaHood's office is very sensitive about their position on the federal gas tax and probably more importantly, their relationship with the White House. Perhaps because L!
aHood has been taken behind the wood shed before for suggesting in February that the US should adopt a VMT tax:

If you want to know what a presidential slap across the face feels like, just ask Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

LaHood had told an Associated Press reporter that the transportation department was
thinking of changing the way that gas taxes are calculated from a per-gallon measure to a per-miles-driven measure.

Is that the policy of the White House, a reporter asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs?

"I can weigh in on it and say that it is not and will not be the
policy of the Obama administration," Gibbs said, an unusually sharp
answer.

The reporter continued, prompting an exchange that made clear that LaHood has received new marching orders from the White House.

Congressman Oberstar (D-Minnesota, Chairman of the House Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure)

has proposed the House version of the federal transportation budget as a starting point and some think that short of implementing a tax on how much people drive, the proposed level of spending can only be funded through a significant increase in the federal gas tax rate, which is a proposal the Obama administration continues to oppose. This funding debate is one of the reasons the federal transportation budget has been delayed until sometime next year.

LaHood to Congress: Debate a gas tax increase

December 1, 2009 in Blog
Secretary LaHood today commented that Congress is going to have to
debate an increase in the federal gas tax as it seeks to end the
political impasse over the next multi-year surface transportation bill,
reports the Fort Worth Telegram and Streetsblog Capitol Hill.

LaHood
stopped far short of reversing the White House's stated opposition to
raising the federal gas tax...but he seemed to suggest that Congress
should at least debate indexing the federal fuel tax to inflation,
while also considering tolling, creating an infrastrucure bank, and
charging for vehicle miles traveled.

520 bridge: officials could build 30 of the existing structures for the same amount they want to spend on its replacement

November 25, 2009 in Blog

A state panel has finally selected a preferred option on replacing the floating 520 bridge.

The panel voted 10 to 2 in favor of replacing the existing bridge from
Interstate 5 to Medina with a new six-lane bridge, which would include
one HOV lane in each direction. It would feature a new Montlake
interchange, similar to the current interchange, with a new bascule
bridge across the cut. It also would add some improvement to transit
connections, as well as a reversible HOV lane connecting to Interstate
5.

The cost will be about $4.6 billion but it will not increase general-purpose lane capacity.

According to this 2008 article in Wired Magazine, the first bridge cost $21 million in 1963, or about $154 million in 2008 dollars. This means officials could build 30 of the existing structures for the same amount they want to spend on its replacement.

Metro avoids service cuts, but ridership is falling

November 23, 2009 in Blog

In this Seattle Times article, Mike Lindblom touches on some of the things King County Metro is doing to fund its 2010 budget and prevent service cuts.

Yet, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Metro bus ridership is down 3.52%.

In other industries, the bottom line forces managers to keep supply commiserate with demand. But in the public sector, there ultimately is no bottom line, so performance and accountability succumb to political agendas. Lindblom even highlights this concept in his article:

This summer, County Executive Kurt Triplett proposed an
across-the-board service cut to all 225 routes. That proved unpopular
with several County Council members, who would have faced heat from
riders in their districts.

In transportation policy, performance should drive spending decisions.

Incidentally, vanpool ridership continues to grow (8.12%), despite the recession.

Transportation choices

November 23, 2009 in Blog

Gabriel Roth, A noted transportation economist and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, has a great tale about the government's efforts to reduce how much people drive:

On November 17 I attended a National Journal meeting addressed by Polly Trottenberg, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy. She told us how important it was to reduce VMT (vehicle miles of travel). After the meeting, as she was entering a chauffeured government car, I asked her why she did not take a bus. She said something about being in a hurry.
 
Can it possibly be that reducing VMT is not a thing for important people?

You might recall that our state implemented VMT reduction targets a couple years back. The first phase calls for an 18 percent reduction by 2020.

Daily light rail ridership

November 20, 2009 in Blog

Over at the Public Interest Transportation Forum, John Niles has been tracking daily light rail ridership.
Here is his chart showing daily ridership between July and October: 

Niles ridership

As Niles highlights, notice ridership has been falling since it peaked in October. Niles estimates average ridership in October was 16,129 trips per day.

But remember, trips are not riders. Trips can count the same rider multiple times in a single day. Also remember that Sound Transit estimates!
two-thirds of its light rail riders come from the existing bus system. So taking these factors into account, at its peak, light rail is only carrying about 2,688 new transit riders per day.