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

Viaduct planning is upside down

December 16, 2008 in Blog

Comparing the performance data of the original eight scenarios reveals some very interesting data.

Viaduct planners expect about a 50% increase in transit trips in Seattle over the next seven years. But according to the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) annual ridership reports, transit trips for all of King County have only risen by 13% over the last seven years.

How do they expect such a disproportionate increase in transit ridership?

As I suggested in an earlier post, Viaduct planners are underestimating road!
demand
by assuming a large number of people will either stop driving into Seattle or shift to another mode, like public transit.

Perhaps more troubling is the negative impact on traffic congestion. The performance analysis measures travel times on certain corridors during peak commute times for each scenario. Even with their assumption that vehicle trips will decrease, the travel times along the Viaduct corridor will increase under every scenario.

Travel times along I-5 are slightly better depending on the option selected. The surface scenarios worsen travel times on I-5 while the road scenarios generate shorter times.

The performance analysis also measures each option's impact on three freight corridors. Not surprisingly, every option shows a significant increase in travel times. Some by as much as 50%. This is probably why the following headline appears in today's Seattle Times: >Port urges more study of viaduct tunnel hybrid.

I would think that when policymakers replace a piece of infrastructure, they would want travel times to be less than they were before it was replaced. But even with their overestimation of transit ridership and underestimation of road demand, traffic congestion will worsen. 

The WSDOT has now moved beyond these original eight options by combining the "best" pieces into two hybrid finalists. Unfortunately, the WSDOT has not completed the same level of performance analysis as they did with the original eight. Once they do, I will make the same comparisons. The governor has said, however, that she will continue to consider all the options on the table.

Viaduct performance analysis underestimates road demand

December 15, 2008 in Blog

First of all, despite the years of trouble with replacing the Viaduct, I am pleasantly pleased with the state's current process of comparing the list of possible scenarios. Typically, spending in transportation is tied to political agendas and which constituency has the most influence. Surprisingly, this new method is right in line with WPC's call for tying transportation spending to performance measures and weighing how each option achieves them.

But reviewing some of the underlying modeling used to define the performance of each scenario shows the measures are based on unrealistic assumptions.

Take for example the following table (page 6) presented to the Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which shows the mode share of each scenario as i!
t compares to today's mode share.

Mike_Chart

The modeling shows an 8% to 11% drop in Single Occupant Vehicle (SOV) use, and a corresponding increase in non-motorized (walking and biking) and public transit use. In other words, Viaduct planners are assuming that about 10% of those who currently drive into the city will switch to transit, biking or walking over the next seven years.

Most everyone who uses the Viaduct is driving into Seattle from some other place. None of those people will switch to biking or walking because its too far away. So the mode-switch to non-motorized forms
of transportation simply will not happen. Sure, more people will walk and bike with the new
improvements but they will not be the same people who currently drive on the viaduct.

As far as those people switching from SOV's to transit...transit options already exist today.
So adding more transit will not convince current SOV users to make the switch. Just look at historical mode share patterns to see t!
hat building more transit does not translate into a greater share of people using it.

Sure, some might. But Viaduct planners are assuming a 10% switch in seven years! That simply will not happen. If they are not using transit today, the likelihood they will switch in the next seven years is extremely low.

The assumption that about 10% of motorists will no longer drive into the city over the next seven years is unrealistic and underestimates road demand in Seattle. As a result, the surface options probably appear more favorable than they normally would.

Cities looking for hand outs, too

December 11, 2008 in Blog

With all the talk about infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy, groups are lining up with cup in hand. According to this AASHTO news bulletin, the state has identified 60 projects at $1.339 billion, that are "ready to go." I'm working on obtaining the full list of projects, but apparently public records doesn't mean what it used to.

Now it appears that cities are lining up also. According to the US Conference of Mayors, which Mayor Greg Nickels is Vice President, 427 cities have more than 11,000 projects, in ten different sectors, (including transportation) "ready to go."

Here are the cities that were used from Washington:
Auburn, Bellevue, Bremerton, Edmonds, Everett, Kirkland, Lakewood, Pacific, Redm!
ond, Renton, Seattle, Snoqualmie, Spokane, Tacoma, and Yarrow Point.

Here is the full report, which unlike that state's wish list, does include specific projects.

State Transportation Budget Troubles

December 8, 2008 in Blog

During last week's House Transportation Committee hearing, OPR reported on the health of the state Transportation budget.

Heading into the 2009-11 biennium, there is now a $71 million funding gap between projected revenues and current projected expenditures. Perhaps more alarming is that over the next 16 year construction horizon, an important timeline for the remaining Nickel and TPA gas tax projects, the projected funding gap balloons to $4.6 billion. And this is in addition to the $3.8 billion funding gap experienced during the last two legislative seesions, which, through a series of budget maneuvers and project delays, the legislature was able to fund.

The governor will get the first crack at bridging these shortfalls with her proposed budget and I imagine it will in!
clude further delaying several Nickel and TPA gas tax projects.

You can read more about which projects were delayed in 2008 here: 11 Gas Tax Projects Delayed

The assault on personal mobility continues

December 4, 2008 in Blog

Have you noticed what interest sector is missing in the two advisory groups that are working toward a solution on 520 and the Viaduct?

Both groups have representatives from a variety of interests, including agency officials, labor unions, transit advocates and local communities. In fact, based on the membership of each group, one could argue that public transit interests are overrepresented.

But neither group includes representation from the one sector that cares the most about congestion relief, drivers. And not just the organizations who represent the interests of motorists, but also absent are the organizations who argue on behalf of freight issues.

This becomes more alarming when you consider tolling will be included in at least the 520 project.

Wh!
o pays tolls? Drivers. Who doesn't pay tolls? Public transit.

And given the Climate Action Team's recommendations to limit how much people drive, it should be no surprise to anyone that the final selections chosen will worsen traffic congestion as to create personal and economic disincentives to drive.

Doesn't anyone read the transportation revenue forecast?

November 21, 2008 in Blog

The front page in today's Seattle Times has an article on the transportation budget and how lawmakers suggest "the bad economy won't stop" projects. Consider this quote from the article:

"We're not impacted by the shortfall in the operating budget," said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chair of the House Transportation Committee. "Our projects are moving forward as scheduled."

Actually, the Office of Financial Management recently released its quarterly revenue forecast
for the transportation budget. It shows that over the next 16 year
construction horizon, (an important time frame for the Nickel and TPA
gas tax projects) transportation revenues are $1.352 billion lower than
projected from the baseline, which was updated during the 2008
legislative session. And this does not yet include the labor and
material cost increases that are expected to drive the shortfall even
higher.

And the suggestion that transportation projects are "moving forward" is not true. Earlier this year, we released a study, Despite Claims, Gas Tax Projects Are Not on Track, that shows how the legislature delayed several Nickel and TPA projects so far beyond their original completion dates that you have to wonder whether they will be completed at all, especially with the Nickel is scheduled to sunset. 

Earlier, I wrote about how the legislature funded the previous holes in the gas tax projects. In just the last two years, cost increases and slower revenue growth created a $3.8 billion hole in the Nickel and TPA projects. !
Through a series of budget maneuvers and project delays, the legislature was able to fund the deficits.

But after bridging $3.8 billion, the Legislature is probably out of
tricks. They will either have to outright cancel some projects or fund
them from a different revenue source, like the general fund. Both of
which are highly controversial.

Given the $5 billion general fund deficit and the $1.3 billion revenue shortfall in the transportation budget, transportation projects are in trouble.

When the desire to spend public resources on functions that do not belong to government threatens those functions that do, taxpayers end up with neither.

November 19, 2008 in Blog

This article in today's Everett Herald, Out-of-state
competition could trim $146 million off cost of ferries, analyst says
, highlights resistance to allowing companies outside of Washington State to build ferry boats.

"We need to put people to work here in the state of
Washington," said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairwoman
of the Senate Transportation Committee. "If we're going to create jobs we
ought to be doing it right here. I'd rather be putting people to work than
paying out unemployment."

Except, taxpayers don't pay taxes to create jobs--Taxpayers pay taxes to fund vital public services. Given that the newly projected general fund budget deficit is about $5 billion and the
anticipated shortfall in transportation revenues is currently $1.4 billion
, it's unlikely the state will have any additional money to give the contract to build the Port Townsend-Keystone ferries to Todd Shipyards.

When the desire to spend public resources on functions that do not belong to government threatens those functions that do, taxpayers end up with neither.  

Performance-based transportation policy, should focus on traffic relief

November 18, 2008 in Blog

Often, spending transportation taxes is tied to agendas that don't have any relationship to specific performance measures, like congestion relief. This concept was highlighted in an audit conducted by the Washington State Auditor's Office.

In a new report published by the Heritage Foundation, “Reforming
State Transportation Policy: Washington State’s Efforts to Implement
Performance-Based Policies
,” I argue the value of using
performance measures to understand what is working and what is not when
policymakers make decisions on spending transportation taxes. 

Across the country, spending is too often tied to political agendas and
the wishes of influential constituencies, not objective measures of public
need, such as safety and congestion relief.

As policymakers look at
maintaining and expanding transportation infrastructure, they need to make
decisions based on proven, meaningful benchmarks. Otherwise, as we have seen in Washington State, the spending may not
have any relationship to the one solution taxpayers want most: congestion
relief.

Read the full report here: Reforming State Transportation Policy: Washington State’s Efforts to Implement Performance-Based Policies


National Report Recommends Tying Transportation Spending to Performance

in Press releases

Seattle – The Heritage Foundation, a nationally recognized Washington DC-based think tank, has released a new report highlighting transportation spending in Washington State.  In “Reforming State Transportation Policy: Washington State’s Efforts to Implement Performance-Based Policies,” Michael Ennis looks at the value of using performance measures to understand what is working and what is not when spending transportation taxes.  Ennis is director of the Center for Transpor

Port of Seattle claims its shrinking, but taxes grow 11%

November 12, 2008 in Blog

Based on this editorial by Port Commissioner John Creighton and Port CEO Tay Yoshitani, taxpayers in King County might think the Port of Seattle is making the tough and responsible financial decisions required in a tough economic climate. They even say this:

In response, we're tightening our belt throughout the port, cutting
overhead spending, leaving some chairs empty and deferring certain
projects. But we must continue to invest in projects that generate jobs
and help the port thrive in a fiercely competitive global market.

But one of the top PI stories today includes this one: Port votes to increase taxes 11% next year

The Port of Seattle thinks the best way to get the economy moving again is to make the cost of owning a home more expensive. This seems to contradict the state's plan to make home ownership less costly.

Further, over half of the Port's tax revenue will go toward paying for past financial obligations. Given the Port of Seattle's recent audit history, the tax increase is more of a bailout, rather than an economic stimulus.