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

Financial Impact of I-985 -- UPDATED

August 5, 2008 in Blog

The Office of Financial Management just released their fiscal note on I-985.

It shows that over five years, $668.6 million would be redirected from current projects and activities to congestion relief activities, or about $133.7 million annually. The fiscal note also estimates that over the same time period, it will cost the state about $324.6 million to implement I-985. This would leave about $344 million, which according to the language in I-985 would be available for projects that would reduce congestion.

Most of the cost to implement I-985 will occur in these early years and once completed would only need general O&M dollars; thus, significantly increasing the annual revenue available for the legislature to spend per the guidelines in the initiative.

As with most fiscal notes, there is also a critical review on the impact of shifting funds:





  • Estimated revenue loss to cities from red light traffic camera infractions would be $40 million over five years.
  • Not charging tolls during off-peak hours on SR-167 HOT lanes would result in a 33 percent loss of funds, or a total loss of $3.1 million over five years.
  • Washington State transit agencies are estimated to lose about $20 million over five years in
         federal transit funds due to the opening of carpool lanes to general traffic during non-peak periods.
  • The Washington State Arts Commission would lose $500,000 over five years.
  • The state general fund would be reduced by $620 million over five years. The general fund is used for education, public safety, social services and general government.

Washington Policy Center is conducting a more comprehensive look at I-985 and will release a full report in the coming days. In the mean time, here is a copy of OFM's analysis.

Grass Roots Accountability in Transportation

August 5, 2008 in Blog

Untitled_2Here is a story of a woman in Michigan who creatively
sent the state's department of transportation (MDOT)

a $16 bill for fuel cost she incurred while sitting in traffic created by an MDOT construction project. She claims the MDOT should have done more to warn motorists of the impending traffic delays so they could avoid the area.

MDOT claims the work was an emergency repair that was caused just that morning and there was no time to warn drivers. MDOT further adds:

"It is not MDOT's policy to reimburse motorists
for lost time, wages, or gas when traveling through or near a work
zone. Please understand, if we paid out for one, we would have to pay
out for all and that is simply not feasible,"

Fair enough. But what about a policy that reimburses drivers for lost time, wages and gas when state officials refuse to make congestion relief a priority? In Washington there is no policy goal or financial relationship between spending and traffic relief. Because the public sector maintains a monopoly on the transportation system, they have accepted the responsibility of ensuring mobility.

As long as the public sector continues this transportation monopoly, public officials are obligated to fix problems, like when the ability to get from point A to point B takes fifty percent longer than it should. 

Sending WSDOT, the legislature or the governor a bill for lost time, wages and gas seems reasonable when congestion relief continues to not be a priority.

 

ST2 Preview

July 24, 2008 in Blog


During the run-up to the Roads and Transit vote, WPC completed
a year long, six-part series of studies on the measure. WPC will continue that breakdown once the Sound Transit Board
makes its decision to place a new ST2 proposal on the ballot. Here is a preview
of that analysis:

 

ST2 proposal is on the “off-the-chart” side of inefficient

The agency says it will carry an additional 163,000 daily
trips if ST2 passes. But Sound Transit also estimates that about two thirds of
those trips will come from the existing transit system. That means only about
54,333 daily trips will be new.

 

Trips do not equal riders. Because daily trips can
double, triple and sometimes quadruple count the same individual, the figure
needs to be adjusted to estimate unique riders. The standard conversion factor
is 45% (To look at it another way, 45% assumes slightly less than half of total
trips in a day will be the same person making a round trip to and from work).
So the number of new individual riders will be about 24,450.

 

Comparing new daily riders (24,450) to how much taxpayers
must pay ($17.8 billion) shows that the cost is about $728,016 per new rider!

 

Using the most expensive market in the Puget Sound
(Eastside King County), the average cost of a condominium is about $320,000.
Sound Transit could purchase every new passenger a condominium within walking
distance of their employment ($7.8 billion) and still have enough left over
($9.8 billion) to purchase 4,000 articulated buses ($4 billion), fully fund the
520 bridge replacement ($3.8 billion), and the tunnel option for the Alaskan
Way Viaduct ($4 billion).

The new ST2 plan is redundant and will not have enough passenger demand to justify the cost.

 

Less is more?

Sound Transit is quick to claim that the new ST2 package
is smaller than its version in Prop. 1. While the scope of projects is smaller,
the sales tax rate is the same (.5%), it will be collected forever, and it allows
ST1 taxes to carry over for ST2 projects, again in perpetuity. 

 

This means voters are getting much less for the same tax
increase Sound Transit proposed in last year’s failed Proposition 1.

 

Another ST2 proposal violates Sound Move policy

With a new proposal, the Sound Transit board is violating
its own promise to roll back Sound Move taxes. As part of ST1, which passed in
1996, Sound Transit said this:

 

Any second phase capital program which continues local
taxes for financing will require voter approval within the RTA District. If
voters decide not to extend the system, the RTA will roll back the tax rate to
a level sufficient to pay off the outstanding bonds and operate and maintain the
investments made as part of Sound Move.

 

Since voters already rejected ST2, Sound Transit must
roll back ST1 taxes to O&M levels. If Sound Transit moves forward with
another ST2 program that contains ST1 taxes, then Sound Transit is violating
its own tax payer protection clause voters authorized in 1996.

 

New ST2 proposal still increases congestion on Interstate-90 (Part
Iv: Light Rail and I-90
)

By reconfiguring the center lanes, Sound Transit’s plan
to place light rail on Interstate 90 will reduce overall vehicle capacity on
the bridge by 15% during the morning peak commute and 8% during the afternoon.

 

Light rail will increase vehicle delay on the bridge by
27% during the morning peak drive and 24% during the afternoon peak.

 

ST2 will cause average westbound vehicle speeds to fall
21% during the morning peak commute and eastbound drivers in the afternoon
would see a 17% decrease.

 

Freight vehicles would suffer the most.  During the
morning peak drive, the number of freight trucks able to cross into Seattle
would drop 24%.  Leaving Seattle during the afternoon peak drive, trucks
would see a 19% reduction in capacity.

Price Signals in Public Transit

July 16, 2008 in Blog

According to this CNN article, there is an interesting (and not too surprising) phenomena happening with public transit as fuel prices rise: higher demand and higher operating costs leads to possible cuts in service.

Even local transit agencies are experiencing the same paradox. 

But there is an easy economic answer.

The equilibrium between demand and supply is managed through price. Raise transit fares, and the gap between supply and demand will balance.

Transportation Funding

July 16, 2008 in Blog

I've written before how the state has needed to fill a $3.8 billion funding gap in the Nickel and TPA gas tax projects.  And here is a Seattle Times article on the same subject.

The legislature has found ways to fund the additional $3.8 billion during the last two sessions, but in the latest transportation revenue forecast released in June, lawmakers can continue to expect another large hole in funding the gas tax projects.

The June forecast shows that gas tax revenues are continuing to fall further from where WSDOT reported in its February forecast....about 2.1% more. And they expect gas tax revenues to tumble another 3.4% in the upcoming 2009-11 legislative biennium.

The legislature is running out of tricks to cover these shortfalls and this article from the Olympian shows that a showdown may take place on whether the legislature will use general fund revenue for transportation projects.

Skirting Accountability in Transportation

July 9, 2008 in Blog

I have heard Sound Transit and the WSDOT describe their projects as "on time and on budget" on several occasions, despite the clear evidence that shows they are late and over budget. Here is a bit of insight from The Olympian into why they continue to make that claim:

When the Department of Transportation says it has completed 108
projects on budget and 21 over budget, what does that mean? Because the
cost expectations change as the project changes, kinda like the due
dates for state mega computers move back routinely.

"I think everything eventually comes in on budget because we have to pay for it," quipped financial master Victor Moore.

At the GMAP meeting this morning, he referred to a chart of construction material costs, which looked like this: "Looking at the graph, it doesn't look like any of these projects have a chance in heck of coming in 'on budget,'" he said.

Transportation
Secretary Paula Hammond said that's been a debate in the department,
particularly since many of the projects in the Nickel and the
Transportation Partnership gas-tax packages were given funding and a
timeline before they got detailed planning.

"We use what we call
the 'last legislative expectation,'" she said. As in, each time the
Legislature tinkers with a project, the new budget line becomes "on
budget."

Using the "last legislative expectation" as a new base line is a tricky way to avoid accountability and thus eliminate any incentive to remain on time and on budget. Sound Move and the Nickel and TPA projects required significant tax increases that were sold on specific cost figures and promise dates. When the agencies fail to mainatin them, they cannot just change what was said for PR purposes.

Sound Transit and the WSDOT should instead use the "public's expectation" of what was originally promised.

 

 

New Report Shows Sound Transit Officials Give Public Money to Special Interest Groups

in Press releases

Seattle – Washington Policy Center released a new report showing Sound Transit officials using public money to contribute to special interest groups. The study was featured in an investigative report on KIRO 7 (CBS) television last night (video is available here).

Sound Transit Officials Give Public Money to Special Interest Groups

July 2, 2008 in Publications

In 1996, voters in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties authorized Sound Transit to pursue the first phase of a regional transit system known as Sound Move. In the process, Sound Transit received the authority to impose a sales tax, rental car tax and an excise tax on motor vehicles. In 2007, the agency collected about $353.4 million from taxpayers. Sound Transit’s mission is to “plan, build and operate regional transit systems and services to improve mobility for Central Puget Sound.”

Light Rail in Jerusalem, controversial there, too

June 26, 2008 in Blog

The new light rail line under construction in Jerusalem has a unique bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem. It is also known as the Bridge of Strings.
Untitled_3

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Like with all light rail lines, the project has been controversial and charged with being over budget, late and making traffic congestion worse.

Heat over troubled bridge:

Nevertheless, the full picture is much less rosy than
the PR. While it is true that Jaffa Road will turn into a pedestrian
mall once the trams start running, the price that other streets in the
area will pay will more than make up for any good on Jaffa Road.

The traffic that will be banned from Jaffa Road to make room for
the trains - according to the agreement signed with the operator - will
flow instead onto the roads surrounding the center, and it will turn
these urban streets into main roads, and drive out the soul of
downtown.

Worst off will be Prophets Street, a wonderful, historic little
neighborhood with unique architecture that may be turned into a
polluted and congested traffic artery.

In Jerusalem, even a bridge divides:

Yet the bridge, with its 387-foot tilted mast and 66 cables, has not
been uniformly welcomed in the city, where architectural change often
confronts the weight of history and forces of habit that run deep.

"This is out of proportion, grandiose and has gone too far," said Yoni
Tzabari, 30, as he gazed at the steel and cable complex outside his
window. "We're not in New York."

2008 Annual Transportation Event

June 24, 2008 in Events
Date: 
Tuesday, June 24th, 2008
Time: 
7:30 am - 9:00 am
Place: 
The Harbor Club
Seattle, WA

On June 17th, Washington Policy Center held its Annual Center for Transportation Event. This year’s event featured a breakfast keynote address by transportation and economics expert and Senior Research Fellow with the Heritage Foundation, Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D. He addressed congestion relief and discussed ways Washington State could improve.