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

Tolls and economic consequences

June 2, 2009 in Blog

In today's SeattlePI.com, Aubrey Cohen asks, Will more Washington roads take their toll on drivers? The story focused on widespread tolling and its impact on consumers:

Individual drivers would shrug off tolls "as the cost of living in
modern society, similar to an increase in gas prices," but businesses
would pass the cost on to customers, Ennis wrote. "The overall effect
of extensive tolling will be to depress total economic growth - it
would be like handing everyone in the economy a ten-pound weight to
carry around; it is not enough to stop anyone in their tracks, but it
makes it slightly more difficult to get anything done."

Curb-to-Curb tolling, where motorists pay a toll on all primary and secondary roadways would have a significant economic impact. This would not be a penny increase in the sales tax where the tax burden is the equivalent of a latte a month...curb-to-curb tolling could add another $15-$20 per trip, depending how far you drive. The potential for such a large tax burden begs the question: does tolling replace gas taxes or are tolls in addition to gas taxes?

What have you done for me lately?

June 1, 2009 in Blog

Thanks to new policies on government transparency, members of congress who request an earmark in the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization bill (the federal transportation budget) must now list the requests on their official government website. So citizens can now find exactly what transportation projects each member of congress has requested.

Here is a preview with links to each member's full earmark request:

Congressman Jay Inslee                                                $207
million       List
of Projects
                 

Congressman Rick Larsen                                             $103
million       List
of Projects
                 

Congressman Brian Baird                                              $283
million       List
of Projects

Congressman Doc Hastings                                          $51
million         List
of Projects

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers                      Unknown           List
of Projects

Congressman Norm Dicks                                            $42
million          List
of Projects

Congressman Jim McDermott                                       $199
million        List of Projects

Congressman Dave Reichert                                         $309
million        List of Projects

Congressman Adam Smith                                           $377.2
million     List of
Projects

More fuel efficient cars means higher gas taxes are on the way

May 19, 2009 in Blog

You might have seen the story that President Obama is proposing to increase fuel efficiency standards, which would add about $1,300 or more onto the price of an automobile. This from CNN:

New fuel economy rules announced by President Obama Tuesday have
already gained support from major automakers, but the challenge will be
getting consumers to play along, especially if gas prices remain
relatively low.

Surprised that automakers support such a plan? You should not be.

While its much easier to get support from an industry in which you own two of the major players, most auto manufacturers welcome one national standard, instead of individual states adopting their own, as has been the case for many years. This lowers manufacturing costs.

While consumers will pay a bit more upfront, proponents argue the overall cost of car ownership will fall because drivers would buy fewer gallons of fuel. This means more people buying cars and more people continuing to drive.

While this seems to contradict signs that the Obama administration is rapidly moving toward aggressive "smart growth" policies that force people out of personal automobiles and into public transit, don't be alarmed. The longer term savings to consumers from having to buy less fuel will be countered with higher gas taxes, (and perhaps tolling at the state lev!
el.)

Higher fuel efficiency also means less fuel tax revenue, which again furthers the need for higher fuel taxes.

A federal fuel tax increase is now inevitable.

Traffic relief via "behavior modification"

May 19, 2009 in Blog

Newsweek

Ray Lahood, Transformed

Secretary of Behavior Modification

George F. Will

NEWSWEEK

From the magazine issue dated May 25, 2009

You
might think the Department of Transportation would be a refuge from
Washington's inundation of painfully earnest and pitilessly incessant
talk about "remaking" this (health care, Detroit) and "transforming"
that (the energy sector, the planet's temperature). Transportation,
after all, is about concrete practicalities—planes, trains and
automobiles, steel, asphalt and concrete.

Furthermore, the new
transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, was until January a Republican
congressman practicing militant middle-of-the-roadism. He knows what
plays in Peoria, and not just figuratively: He is from there. Peoria is
a meatloaf, macaroni-and-cheese, down-to-earth place, home of
Caterpillar, the maker of earthmoving machines for building roads,
runways, dams and things.

LaHood, however, has been transformed.
Indeed, about three bites into lunch, the T word lands with a thump: He
says he has joined a "transformational" administration: "I think we can
change people's behavior." Government "promoted driving" by building
the Interstate Highway System—"you talk about changing behavior." He
says, "People are getting out of their cars, they are biking to work."
High-speed intercity rail, such as the proposed bullet train connecting
Los Angeles and San Francisco, is "the wave of the future." And then,
predictably, comes the P word: Look, he says, at Portland, Ore.

Riding
the aforementioned wave to Portland, which liberals hope is a harbinger
of America's future, has long been their aerobic activity of choice.
But LaHood is a Republican, for Pete's sake, the party (before it lost
its bearings) of "No, we can't" and "Actually, we shouldn't" and "Not
so fast" and "Let's think this through." Now he is in full "Yes we
can!" mode. Et tu, Ray?

Where to start? Does LaHood really think
Americans were not avid drivers before a government highway program
"promoted" driving? Does he think 0.01 percent of Americans will ever
regularly bike to work? Intercity high-speed rail probably always will
be the wave of the future, for cities more than 300 miles apart. And as
for Portland ...

Its government has been, intermittently, as
progressive as all get-out, trying to use zoning, light-rail projects
and high-density housing to cool the planet by curbing automobile use.
This sort of "New Urbanism" is metastasizing. Last year California's
attorney general, Jerry Brown, 71, the state's once (1975–82) and, he
hopes, future governor, was a prime mover behind a new law that would
deny certain state aid to communities that do not adopt "smart growth"
plans. They are supposed to herd Californians into higher-density
living near mass-transit rail lines in order to reduce their carbon
footprints (tire prints, actually).

For many generations—before
automobiles were common, but trolleys ran to the edges of
towns—Americans by the scores of millions have been happily trading
distance for space, living farther from their jobs in order to enjoy
ample backyards and other aspects of low-density living. And long
before climate change became another excuse for disparaging America's
"automobile culture," many liberal intellectuals were bothered by the
automobile. It subverted their agenda of expanding government—meaning
their—supervision of other people's lives. Drivers moving around where
and when they please? Without government supervision? Depriving
themselves and others of communitarian moments on mass transit? No good
could come of this.

Although proponents of the "war against
sprawl" think of it as newfangled, it actually is quaintly retro. In
the 1950s, when liberalism took a turn toward esthetic politics, its
thinkers began looking askance at middle-class America. To the herd of
independent thinkers who deplored it in chorus, suburbanization was
emblematic of the banality of bourgeoisie life. Then, 45 years ago this
week, a Democratic president who had been in office exactly six months
heeded the liberal intellectual's cri de coeur.

On May 22, 1964,
President Lyndon Johnson, speaking at the University of Michigan,
announced plans to transform America by leading it "upward to the Great
Society." Exhorting the Class of 1964 to "indignation," he said America
was in danger of being "buried under unbridled growth." The implication
was clear: Government must put a bridle—and a saddle and snaffle—on
Americans, the better to, LBJ said, "enrich and elevate" their lives
above "soulless wealth" and to serve "the desire for beauty and the
hunger for community."

Once upon a time, government was supposed
to defend the shores, deliver the mail and let people get on with their
lives. Today's far-seeing and fastidious government, not content with
designing the cars Americans drive to their homes and the lightbulbs
they use in their homes (do you know that, come 2014, the incandescent
lightbulb will be illegal?), wants to say where their homes can be. And
to think that Republican Ray LaHood, Secretary of Behavior
Modification, is an enthusiast for this, well, cozy relationship
between Washington and Peoria, and everywhere else, too.

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/197925

Sound Transit's ridership is up and down

May 18, 2009 in Blog

In the world of transportation policy analysis, there is a lot of anticipation for the first quarter ridership reports on public transit.

Most agencies ended 2008 with large increases in transit use. The larger demand placed pressure on budgets and had policymakers calling for higher taxes to expand service. The larger demand also had some suggesting that society had fundamentally shifted behavior away from the personal automobile, which has federal officials calling for massive spending increases in traditional transit and high speed rail with the next reauthorization bill.

In her weekly email update, Joni Earl gave us a preview of Sound Transit's first quarter results:

Despite the shaky economy, ridership on our Sound Transit buses and trains was up the first three months of this year.

Through March, Sound Transit trains an!
d buses carried an average of about 55,500 every weekday, an increase of 10 percent from a year earlier.  The average weekday boardings for ST Express buses increased 10 percent, Sounder commuter trains 5 percent and Tacoma Link light rail 5 percent.

In the month of March alone, ridership was up 6 percent from the same month a year earlier.

When compared to the same quarter last year, ridership is higher, but what Sound Transit does not say is overall transit demand is down. Sound Transit ended 2008 with an average use of 57.7 thousand trips per day. During the first quarter of 2009, Joni Earl says the agency now serves about 55.5 thousand trips per day. Comparatively, that is nearly a 4 percent drop.

Given current fuel prices and high unemployment rates, transit demand should continue to fall throughout the rest of the year. Th!
is should relieve most of the pressure on transit budgets but !
I'm skeptical that policymakers will slow their call for higher taxes. The legislature just passed SB 5433, which gives transit agencies the ability to raise car tab's by $20 per vehicle, subject to voter approval. The same bill also gives King County the authority to raise property taxes by 7.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, without asking voters, to increase transit service.

Just like honey bees in a spring garden, these new taxes just might be too much sweetener for lawmakers to resist.

Saving Light Rail on the Eastside

May 17, 2009 in Publications

This op-ed was published in The Seattle Times on May 5, 2009.

When voters approved extending Sound Transit’s system last November, most people probably thought the controversial battle over light rail on the Eastside was over. But the agency did not release its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the possible alignment options until after the November election, so everyone was left to imagine for themselves the details on where exactly the tracks would lie.

Stray electrical current on light rail systems

May 6, 2009 in Blog

In my oped in yesterday's Seattle Times, I said this:

Stray electrical currents are common with light-rail systems and
might cause damage to surrounding buildings, infrastructure and in this
case, the steel components of the bridge. Sound Transit would be on the
hook for these added costs.

Even though this was a very minor point in my article, there were a lot of questions...whether stray electrical currents are common with light rail systems and whether they can cause damage.

First of all, stray currents exist on every electrified light rail system. Many transit agencies, including Sound Transit, employ a variety of strategies to control leakage but in the end, it is always present.

In Houston, for example, the Texas Medical Center has been the victim of extensive pipeline corrosion, allegedly caused by the nearby light rail line: own="return rwt(this,'','','res','24','AFQjCNGhruRDhZgn-6BGngbVJoiW8Eg0bQ','')">Med Center sues Metro over light rail current.

By one estimate, stray current corrosion may cause about $500 billion in damage annually.

As you can see from my two sentences, I did not say that light rail across I-90 will "electrocute the bridge," as this guy claimed. What I did say is that it is common with light rail systems and Sound Transit would have to pay for the added repair costs if it does occur....both of which are 100% true.

Emphasize mobility on Sound Transit's Eastside approach

May 6, 2009 in Blog

Michael Ennis, Special to The Times
Emphasize mobility on Sound Transit's Eastside approach

WHEN voters approved extending Sound Transit's system last November,
most people probably thought the controversial battle over light rail
on the Eastside was over.

But the agency did not release its Draft Environmental Impact
Statement (DEIS) on the possible alignment options until after the
November election, so everyone was left to imagine for themselves the
details on where exactly the tracks would lie.

Now, as Sound Transit has released the information showing 19
possible alignment scenarios, businesses, policymakers and neighborhood
groups are lining up with different and competing views on where light
rail should come through Bellevue.

After living through the region's decades-long floundering on
replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Highway 520 floating bridge,
taxpayers have more than enough reason to doubt this project will be on
time and on budget.

Sound Transit's 19 alignment options are broken into five
service-area segments. Each segment presents its own set of challenges,
but none more than the segment across the Interstate 90 bridge.

Segment A replaces the center lanes across the I-90 bridge with
light rail. Sound Transit officials downplay the negative impact light
rail will have on traffic congestion and underestimate the potential
for significantly higher costs.

Light rail will increase vehicle delay on the bridge by a third during peak commute times.

Stray electrical currents are common with light-rail systems and
might cause damage to surrounding buildings, infrastructure and in this
case, the steel components of the bridge. Sound Transit would be on the
hook for these added costs.

There is also the question of whether Sound Transit (and taxpayers)
will have to pay for taking the center roadway for its own use. Some
estimate the cost could be $1 billion or more.

Making matters worse, Sound Transit wants only the taxpayers on the
Eastside to pay for the connection across Lake Washington, despite the
proportional benefits that light rail brings to Seattle.

Segment B contains five options that connect the line from I-90
through south Bellevue. It could include laying track along Bellevue
Way, an impossible option considering its negative impact on traffic,
or using the old Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail corridor that runs
parallel to I-405.

Segment C through downtown Bellevue could be the most expensive.
With each option reaching past $1 billion, three of the six proposed
routes are tunnels and would cost about twice as much as elevated
alternatives.

These added costs could threaten the link to Redmond (Segment E)
however, which Sound Transit officials already say they cannot fund,
despite promises made to voters and Microsoft during the election and
the 0.5-percent sales tax increase.

Segment D contains four options to reach Overlake, but they each
displace businesses and have environmental concerns with wetland and
habitat impacts, which could lead to higher costs.

All of these issues have the potential to delay light rail to the
Eastside, but none more so than the link across Lake Washington.

Sound Transit may never overcome the technical or funding obstacles
to bring light rail across a floating bridge and as costs continue to
climb and tax revenues fall, other segments and more effective
alignment options are becoming unattainable.

Sound Transit might consider moving forward with the other segments
before crossing I-90. The I-90 corridor between Seattle and Bellevue
already effectively serves transit demand and running light rail over a
lake would bring no additional land-use benefits, population density or
economic development.

The segment to Redmond must also be completed as promised and Sound
Transit officials should choose an overall alignment scheme that has no
negative impact on traffic congestion.

The voters approved Sound Transit's plan to expand light rail in the
region but as Sound Transit officials move forward with choosing a
preferred alternative, they must do everything possible to help improve
the region's economic recovery by building a system that strengthens
personal mobility.

Increased traffic congestion on I-90

May 4, 2009 in Blog

Today's closure of the I-90 express lanes is a good example of what will happen when Sound Transit replaces the same lanes with light rail: increased traffic congestion.

During the peak drive times and in the peak direction, there are 5 lanes of traffic - 3 general purpose lanes and 2 express lanes. Removing the center lanes limits motorists to only the GP lanes. And the result is obvious:

I90 cam I90 map

To mitigate this negative impact on traffic, the WSDOT and Sound Transit are adding an additional HOV lane in each direction on the outer roadways. But during the peak commute times, morning-westbound and afternoon-eastbound lane capacity will still be reduced from 5 lanes to 4. And again, the result will be obvious: increased traffic congestion.

You can read more about the negative impact light rail will have on I-90 traffic congestion here:
Part IV: Light Rail and Interstate 90
Sound Transit's proposal to place light rail across I-90 will increase traffic congestion

Smart growth and sustainability...not so much.

May 1, 2009 in Blog

The city of Petaluma, California is largely recognized as the first US city to impose artificial limits on growth, which eventually led to today's smart growth movement. In 1972, the city capped building permits at 500 per year. Fast forward to 2009, the city recently dissolved its planning department because there was no longer enough activity to pay for it.

Planners put themselves out of business
Petaluma Scraps Planning Department