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

2008 State & Federal Gas Taxes

September 9, 2008 in Blog

With all the talk at the federal level on the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund, here is a comparison of state and federal gas taxes for every state in the country. Washington is tied with Michigan as having the fifth highest gas tax burden in the country.


Annual Transportation Conference

September 4, 2008 in Events
Thursday, September 4th, 2008 - Friday, September 5th, 2008
8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Microsoft Conference Center
Redmond, WA

Washington Policy Center cosponsored this event with Cascadia at the Microsoft Conference Center.

Reforming State Transportation Policy: Washington State’s Efforts to Implement Performance-Based Policies

September 2, 2008 in Publications

For state leaders to put their transportation systems back on the road to success, they first need to understand their current transportation problems.

In business, measuring performance is a way of life. It is viewed as an indispensable tool that shapes decisions on distributing resources and managing a business. In the public sector, however, performance measures are often collected but rarely used to improve overall management. Rather than using performance measures as a management tool or as a way to set goals that the public can understand and support, performance-based management is treated more like an inconvenience because it might attract attention to the inability to meet ambitious targets. Quantitative measures of performance may also interfere with elected officials’ ability to distribute public funds to influential constituencies regardless of value to the taxpayer.

2008 Citizens' Guide to Sound Transit, Phase 2

September 2, 2008 in Publications

This November, voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties will again decide on whether to expand Sound Transit’s regional mass transportation system. The new Sound Transit proposal (ST2) would add 36 miles of light rail, expand the Sounder commuter rail by four daily round trips between Tacoma and Seattle and expand the Express bus system by 17 percent. Sound Transit officials say that, if passed, ST2 would cost about $17.8 billion through 2023 and $22.8 billion through 2037. The proposal would impose a 0.5 percent sales tax increase within the Sound Transit district, which incorporates most of King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties. The total sales tax rate would vary among jurisdictions, but Seattle would rise from 9 percent to 9.5 percent.

Another updside down transportation policy

August 29, 2008 in Blog

On Crosscut, David Brewster questioned whether Sound Transit's first phase, which won voter approval in 1996, is one of the "word's biggest boondoggles?" He compares the agency's initial promises to voters with the fact they are now billions of dollars over budget and many years late.

While Sound Transit's troubles are well documented, the philosophy that led to the agency's woes is even more outrageous. Brewster says:

Are you shocked? If so, consider that most of these projects are in
fact wildly popular, even if the public had to be gulled to go along
with building them.
It's standard practice to low-ball cost estimates,
in order to get the bond issue passed, and then to add on costs as
politics requires and the public demands more than the bare-bones model.

So basically, the publisher of Crosscut is saying that taxpayers shouldn't be "shocked" when large public works transportation projects run late and over budget. In fact, according to Brewster, voters and taxpayers should somehow expect and appreciate being misled:

Meanwhile, voters confronted with bond issues for such
mighty plans might keep in mind the same rule of thumb that works when
you call an architect to remodel your house: Double the budget and
double the estimated time. And remember, it's usually worth it, if you
somehow get it built.

Ummm, this is not entirely analogous....unlike a homeowner hiring an architect, taxpayers do not have the option to stop the flow of money when things go wrong.

Nevertheless, according to Brewster, deliberately underestimating costs and overestimating revenues to sweeten the appearance of a large public works transportation project is ok and we should be thankful for not being told the truth because the means will always justify the ends....right???

The PI reports ST2 will cost $22.8 billion and be completed by 2023. Applying Brewster's new methodology means that voters should expect ST2 to cost $45.6 billion and not be completed until 2038.

So do you still think moving less than one percent of all trips by the year 2038 is worth $45.6 billion?

Citizens’ Guide to Initiative 985

August 27, 2008 in Blog

Citizens’ Guide to
Initiative 985

The Reduce Traffic Congestion
Act of 2008



On the ballot this
November will be Initiative 985 (I‐985), the Reduce Traffic Congestion Act of
2008. The measure is sponsored by Tim Eyman and is an effort to implement some of
the recommendations made in a recent performance audit conducted by the
Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO).


Key Findings


· I‐985 would not
raise taxes and would generate about $1.7 billion for transportation
infrastructure every ten years.


· I‐985 would
increase the projected statewide budget deficit by about $290 million during the
next two year budget cycle and about $284 million in the 2011‐13 biennium.


· I‐985 would
reduce the state’s reliance on the fuel tax for transportation infrastructure.


· I‐985 would shift
the state’s current policy back toward one that ties public spending to traffic
congestion relief.


· I‐985 would open HOV
lanes during non‐peak hours, which would reduce overall delay, because more
drivers would be able to pass through the system. It may also increase
congestion on sensitive direct access lanes and ramps.


· Opening HOV lanes
during non‐peak hours would also increase travel times for buses and cost
transit agencies higher fuel and labor expenses and the loss of up to $20
million in federal grant money.


· I‐985 would
expand the emergency roadside assistance program and could reduce minor
accident clearance times by nearly 10 percent.


· I‐985 would
synchronize most traffic signals and reduce travel times up to 20 percent on
major arterials and up to 7 percent overall.


· I‐985 would
protect toll revenues in the same way the Washington State Constitution
protects gas tax revenues.



the full Policy Brief online here >>

Sound Transit's sneaky plan with I-90 will make traffic worse

August 18, 2008 in Blog

In order to respond to critics of the new ST2 plan, Sound Transit officials have created a Quick Reaction Webpage.  It's called, "Setting the Record Straight." (This seems to cross the line of what a public agency can do once their issue is on the ballot but...)

Currently, there are only three entries, but it's the one that responds to the light rail impact on I-90 that really needs to be highlighted.

During the run up to Prop. 1 last November, WPC released this policy note that shows replacing the center lanes on the I-90 bridge will increase traffic congestion by 27 percent during the morning peak commute and 24 percent during the afternoon peak commute. This negative impact has made others, including state lawmakers and FHWA officials, wonder whether reconfiguring the center lanes on I-90 is worth it or even legal.

Sound Transit's response:

There will be no loss of lanes on I-90 between Seattle and Bellevue to accommodate Link light rail service.

This is not entirely accurate.  During the morning peak commute drivers
have a total of five westbound lanes (three general purpose and two HOV
lanes).  With Sound Transit’s reconfiguration, capacity would fall to
only four westbound lanes.  The same reduction would occur during the
eastbound commute in the afternoon.  This is a 20% reduction in lane
capacity during the morning and afternoon peak commute hour. And as our report shows, Sound Transit's plan on I-90 will significantly increase congestion.

Instead of trying to sneak a major policy change past voters, Sound Transit must be honest with light rail's impact on one of the most travelled corridors through the Puget Sound.

OFM revises I-985 fiscal note

August 15, 2008 in Blog

Earlier I wrote that OFM's fiscal note for I-985 overstated costs. Basically, OFM assumed that I-985 would cover costs incurred by transit agencies as a result of opening HOV lanes during nonpeak hours. Upon our analysis, we concluded that nowhere within the text of the initiative does it claim to cover these incidental costs. In fact, if you accepted OFM's logic, the state would have to compensate every consumer of the HOV system, which of course is not required under the language found within the initiative.

The Office of Financial Management agreed and yesterday sent out a revised fiscal note removing the assumption that I-985 would cover the incidental costs from opening the carpool lanes.

The new fiscal note also corrects an error in how the OFM calculated sales tax revenue. OFM used revenue data from 2013-15 biennium, instead of the 2011-13 biennium. The new estimate shows the impact on the general fund decreases from $620 million over five years, to $573.9 million over five years.

Accounting for both changes, the new estimate shows that I-985 would redirect about $622.6 million over five years, instead of $669 million.

The revised fiscal note has been transmitted to the Secretary of State and will be the official language listed in the voter's pamphlet. But you don't have to wait because you can read it here first. Also, WPC's analysis is complete and will be officially release early next week.

OFM exaggerating I-985 costs -- UPDATED

August 12, 2008 in Blog

In researching for WPC's guide to I-985, OFM's fiscal note may have overestimated some of
its costs.


For example, the OFM claims that local transit agencies
would incur costs (about $15 million over 5 years) due to the loss of what
amounts to a dedicated transit lane on the freeway system. While the impact to
the transit agency is probably correct, the OFM fiscal analysis goes further
and assumes these costs would be covered from the Reduce Traffic Congestion
Account because they are a result of the initiative’s requirement to open HOV

This is not accurate.


I-985 would cover costs related to the physical act of
opening HOV lanes during nonpeak hours including, “new and modified electronic
and nonelectronic signage, lane striping, improvements, and maintenance, and
shoulder maintenance and improvements, including bumpers.”


The cost to transit agencies or any other group or
individual is incidental and not associated with the physical action of opening
the HOV lanes. If you accepted the OFM's logic, then the state would have to
compensate every consumer of the HOV system. There is no language within the
initiative that says it would cover secondary impacts. The OFM’s fiscal
analysis should not include reimbursement from the Reduce Traffic Congestion
Account as a cost to implement the initiative.


The OFM also claims that transit agencies would lose
about $20 million over five years in federal funds if carpool lanes are opened
during non-peak periods. But the State has explored opening HOV lanes during
nonpeak hours before and Federal Highway Administration officials concluded the
change would not jeopardize any federal money. Here is an excerpt from a Seattle Times article written in 2002 that quotes
an FHWA official:

State officials initially were concerned that opening up
the HOV lanes could jeopardize federal funds. But the Federal Highway
Administration, which would have to approve any change in the use of HOV lanes,
said money would not be at risk.

"It would not jeopardize any federal funds if the
state went to part-time HOV lanes," said Dan Mathis, division
administrator for the federal agency's Washington state office.

I currently have a call in to the local FHWA office for
more information.


By the way, the cost to open the HOV lanes in 2002 was
estimated at $2 million. The OFM fiscal note claims the cost is now $239


WPC's Citizens Guide to I-985 should be ready next week.