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.

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More on Performance based transportation policy

June 19, 2008 in Blog

Here is Dr. Utt with Kirby Wilbur.
Here is Dr. Utt with The Commentators, Ken Schram and John Carlson. 

The breakfast was also recorded by TVW.
Its worth listening about how other states prioritize congestion relief. Interestingly, instead of spending transportation taxes based on political favors, other states base their decisions on performance.

Performance Based Transportation Policy

June 18, 2008 in Blog

On Tuesday, we held our second annual transportation event featuring Dr. Ronald Utt, a Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Dr. Utt talked about the value of a performance based transportation policy and presented his findings from a policy paper he co-authored called, Rush Hour: How States Can Reduce Congestion Through Performance-Based Transportation Programs.

Among the
several performance plans imple­mented to date, the most direct is that
of Texas, where the state DOT is mandated to reduce conges­tion in the
state's metropolitan areas by 50 percent in 25 years...By holding public
officials responsible for achieving quantitative goals within a
specified time span, state DOTs have a powerful incentive to spend
their limited resources efficiently on projects that have the maximum
im­pact in reducing congestion and improving mobility.

He also mentioned how Washington's congestion audit on the WSDOT is influencing policymakers in Virgina to implement a similar performance audit there. The Virgina State Legislature is set to meet in a special session next week to counter a proposed tax increase with a Washington-style audit on the VDOT. Here is a statement from Delegate Sam Nixon:

“As the General Assembly convenes its special session next
week to discuss transportation, one of the most important pieces of legislation
that will be proposed is a thorough, independent audit on the efficiency and
effectiveness of the Virginia Department of Transportation. I, along with the House Republican leadership
and many members of our Caucus strongly support having a private sector entity conduct
this performance audit of VDOT in order to identify opportunities for cost
savings, private sector involvement and unnecessary or unproductive programs
that could be reduced or eliminated. While Governor Kaine continues to use questionable justification for his
massive statewide tax plan, House Republicans want to make sure that government
is functioning properly before even considering asking for more money from
hard-working Virginians during this time of economic uncertainty. Our Caucus is firmly behind this initiative
and hope that it receives a clear bipartisan endorsement next week.”

And here is an editorial from the state's Attorney General, Bob McDonnell. He says the first step in solving Virginia's transportation troubles is not to raise taxes but to perform "an audit of annual transportation spending, as was just done in Washington state with dramatic results."

Its nice to know that we are doing something right. Now if we can just get the legislature to adopt the SAO's recommendations and prioritize congestion relief. 

Special Evening Reception for Our Whatcom County Area Supporters

June 3, 2008 in Events
Date: 
Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008
Time: 
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Place: 
Bellingham, WA

This special reception and wrap-up of the 2008 Legislative Session was for our supporters and those interested in learning more about our work.  The recently completed Session was discussed, with a focus on how it will affect you and your business.  WPC’s president and research center directors gave reviews of their work during Session, including publications on the state budget, taxes, health care, transportation, the environment and ways to improve the business climate.  They also presented the top issues to look for during the remainder of this busy election year and previ

Free-Market Land Use Policy, by way of Houston, TX

May 17, 2008 in Blog

I'm attending the American Dream Conference in Houston, Texas this weekend and I've learned some interesting things.

Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States.
Though, its median sales price of existing homes in 2007 was only $152 thousand.
Compare this to the top six largest cities:

City                     Population                  2007
median sales price, existing homes

       New York, New York (pop 8,213,839)  $380-$540 thousand

2)    Los Angeles, California (pop 3,847,059)   $589
thousand

3)    Chicago, Illinois (pop 2,842,753)   $276
thousand

4)    Houston, Texas (pop 2,117,937)  $152 thousand

5)    Phoenix, Arizona (pop 1,469,794)  $257 thousand

6)    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (pop 1,456,350)  $234 thousand

 

One
reason is that Houston is the largest city in the country that does not
regulate land-use through zoning. This means the free-market dictates where
commercial and residential activities occur.

There
are areas of the city where a large high rise shares a city block with a single
family home. While this may sound
unthinkable, consider that it does not happen in all places and where it does,
prices adjust to the situation. So a home near a commercial property would cost
less than a similar home in a traditional neighborhood.

Houston
is not without regulation, however. Typically, the use of a property is defined
through deed restrictions. So each property contains individual restrictions
that limit what the owner can do with the property. These restrictions are
similar to HOA agreements and they can range from landscaping to building
height requirements. The deed restrictions can expire (usually within about 50
years) and can be renewed (or left to expire).

Some
property owners will allow their deed restrictions to expire in order to sell
the property for commercial purposes with no land use limitations. This is how
large multi-use activities become intermixed. They are usually highly controversial and opposed by the local
residents.

Deed
restrictions can also influence the value of a property. Most residents enjoy
predictability with land use so tight restrictions that last a long time are
more desirable. Likewise, unrestricted properties are an invitation for
commercial enterprises.

While mixing residential and commercial development might be undesirable to some people, the majority of Houston residents seem to prefer it. There
have been several attempts to move Houston toward zoning but the public has consistently
rejected the idea. Thus, preserving the free-market system.

Travel Times Across I-90 Could Climb Significantly

May 16, 2008 in Publications

Mercer Island residents should be worried because current transportation planning could force travel times across I-90 to climb significantly higher.

Note to Seattle....Britain's reversal on congestion pricing and pollution fees

May 5, 2008 in Blog

A centerpiece in Boris Johnson's campaign to unseat the incumbent mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was the mayor's proposal to expand the city's congestion pricing scheme.

Livingstone implemented a £25 charge on high polluting vehicles, entering the city. The CO2 fee is on top of the £8 congestion pricing fee. Using an exchange rate calculator shows the charge for someone driving an SUV into London is about $65. For someone who worked downtown everyday, the charge amounts to about $17,000 per year!

Boris Johnson ran on the platform of reforming the congestion and CO2 charges. This from the BBC:

Once installed at City Hall, Mr Johnson will be able to start his plans to
reform the congestion charge, another high profile part of his election
campaign.

Last month, the state of New York took a page from Johnson's strategy, killing Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal, which was modeled from London's scheme.

Locally, the Seattle Times recently ran a story highlighting a new study that claimed widespread congestion pricing could reduce congestion. And other notable policymakers are on record supporting such a scheme here. 

But with 42% of the vote, Johnson defeated the incumbent (36%) Livingstone. This stunning reversal demonstrates that congestion pricing and CO2 fees are not popular with voters, who only have so much tolerance for higher tax burdens. 

More on the Baffling Economics of Transportation Policy in Washington State

May 2, 2008 in Blog

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the cost for China to build a 22 mile, 6 lane bridge was $1.7 billion. That translates to about $12.8 million per lane mile.

The cost per lane mile for the 6 lane, 6 mile 520 bridge replacement is about $122 million. That means China is able to build one lane mile of bridge for 950% less than Washington officials can.

Consider the following chart, which shows the cost differences (inflation adjusted) between three major projects. The green bars represent the cost of the original structure and the red bars represent the estimated cost of a new structure.

Bridges_3

 

There are generally two drivers of
costs in transportation projects: natural and non-natural. Natural cost drivers
occur as a result of basic economical principles. They include inflation,
material expenses, and higher costs for new technologies.

Unnatural costs are governmentally
created policies that artificially inflate costs on transportation projects.
These policies do not occur naturally and are implemented for reasons that are
not necessarily required to fund a project. These non-natural cost drivers include
prevailing wages, imposing government-to-government sales taxes, apprenticeship
requirements, inefficient permitting, onerous regulations, and setting aside
money for public art.

These policies are valuable and
serve important political interests. But as we have seen, they can significantly drive up
expenses.

Transportation Taxes Are Up, But Traffic Congestion is Worse

May 2, 2008 in Publications

In Washington, we pay about 50 different state taxes and fees into the State Transportation Budget each year.

In the 1999-2001 budget, Washington residents paid $2.65 billion in state taxes and fees to fund transportation. In the current biennium, residents are paying about $4.18 billion in transportation tax revenue, a 51.2% increase over the last nine years. That means the buying power of Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has grown significantly in nine years. To put this in perspective, inflation over the same time period rose only 20%.

The Baffling Economics of Transportation Policy in Washington State

May 1, 2008 in Blog

Bridge_3
Can someone explain why China can build a 6-lane, 22 mile bridge for $1.7 billion, but Washington leaders can't build a 6-lane 520 span between 405 and I-5 for less than $4 billion?

The first 520 bridge had a cost of about $225 million in inflation adjusted dollars. That means we could build about 20 of the current 520 structures for the same cost WSDOT estimates the new version will cost today.

Upside down transportation planning

April 29, 2008 in Blog

In this oped from the Sierra Club in the TNT, Mike O'Brien and Bliss Moore suggest its time for a littleAlice
spring cleaning:

The public debate on transportation is now in the “messy” stage. With
RTID’s failure at the polls last November, we threw out highway
expansion as the answer to our congestion problems.

Note to the Sierra Club: RTID only comprised between 10%-30% of Prop 1....so referring to Prop 1, as RTID is misleading and a veiled attempt to protect Sound Transit. Furthermore, Prop 1 did not fail because of the roads piece. Polling shows that Prop 1 failed because of costs and it didn't relieve congestion.

As long as policy decisions are made on spin and delusional assumptions, voters will continue rejecting packages that don't link spending to congestion relief.