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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WPC Annual Legislative Briefing Luncheon

February 4, 2009 in Events
Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Washington State Capitol
Olympia, WA

During this lunch event each center's research director gave an overview of our latest research and analysis on the key issues facing legislators this Session.

Does Washington need an Inspector General?

January 29, 2009 in Blog

The State Auditor’s Office released an audit this week showing Sound Transit unlawfully contributed taxpayer money to special interest groups.  This audit was based on Washington Policy Center research that showed the agency was violating the “gifting of public funds” defined in the Washington State Constitution. 

Last night KIRO television aired an investigative report following their initial story last summer. 

Perhaps most interesting, is this is the second time the SAO found ST breaking the law on the same issue. And there is nothing to stop the agency from doing it again.

While the audit proc!
ess is valuable, there are limitations. The auditor does not have (nor do they probably want) enforcement authority. And the AG’s office is the state’s attorney, not the people’s attorney.

This shows a flaw in our system that allows agencies to continue breaking the law if they disagree with the auditor’s findings. One solution is to create an office of the inspector general. The state of Illinois has such an agency:

Complaints received by the Inspector General’s Office are reviewed to determine if the allegations constitute a violation of the law by an individual under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General. If so, the allegation is investigated by a member of the Inspector General’s Office. Once the investigation is concluded, and if a violation is found, a report of the investigation is completed and provided to the Attor!
ney General. In that report, the Inspector General may include!
recommendations for personnel actions or recommendations for addressing any violations uncovered during the investigation. The Inspector General may also file a complaint before the Executive Ethics Commission. In addition, the Inspector General may refer cases for criminal prosecution

State Auditor Finds Sound Transit Unlawfully Spent Public Taxes

in Press releases

Seattle – The State Auditor’s Office released an audit this week showing Sound Transit unlawfully contributed taxpayer money to special interest groups.  This audit was based on WPC research that showed the agency was violating the “gifting of public funds” defined in the Washington State Constitution.  Last night KIRO television aired

Replace the Viaduct, buy more buses?

January 27, 2009 in Blog

We are all aware of the proposed cost to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep bore tunnel, about $4.24 billion.

But did you know who is paying for what?

Here is a slide from a Powerpoint presentation given by the Senate Transportation Committee.


It shows four groups that are paying the bill: the state, King County (through a 1% increase in the MVET), the City of Seattle and the Port of Seattle.

But look closer at what each group is paying for....the 1% MVET in King County doesn't cover tunneling nor does it really have anything to do with replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It's simply a tax increase to expand mass transit in downtown Seattle.

The next slide shows explicitly what the annual MVET increase ($75/vehicle tax) would pay for:


So policymakers are proposing to raise car tabs in King County to expand transit, not to help replace the Viaduct. Furthermore, the tax increase is sort of a bail out for King County to cover past promises that they have not been able to deliver on. Either way, it will be interesting to see how supporters of the tax increase explain its relationship to the Viaduct...."Replace the Viaduct, buy more buses?"

To stimulate the economy, stop trying to limit driving and start reducing congestion

January 26, 2009 in Blog

I'm often asked how other states compare to Washington on transportation policy. This is a reasonable question, because across our state, traffic congestion is growing worse and is expected to double over the next twenty years. Congestion chokes the economy, robs valuable time from our families and lowers our overall quality of life.

But how do we compare to other states?

My response always mentions Texas because of its early adoption of Public/Private Partnerships and tolling, and its continued spending on infrastructure.

Washington can learn a lot from how the Lone Star State is tackling congestion, increasing personal mobility and, as a result, stimulating economic development.

Good transportation policy incorporates five important principles. Policymakers should implement performance measures like traffic congestion relief or economic development. They should respect people’s freedom of mobility, spend transportation dollars based on mark!
et demand, improve freight mobility and utilize Public/Private Partnerships.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently that the goals of policymakers in Texas are remarkably similar.

According to the state's 2009-2013 Strategic Plan, the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TXDOT) goals include (in this order) to Reduce congestion, Enhance safety, Expand economic opportunity, Improve air quality and Preservation.

Believe it or not, traffic congestion relief is not a policy priority in our state. This means there is no obligation or relationship between spending and reducing congestion.

Not only is congestion relief the top priority in Texas, TXDOT backs up its priorities with specific performance measures that hold the department accountable and ultimately strengthens the relationship with spending.

The TXDOT also uses four strategies to accomplish its stated policy goals: They "use all available financial tools to build transpor!
tation projects." They "empower local and regional l!
eaders to solve local and regional transportation problems" and "harness market-based principles to maximize competition, reduce costs, and guide investments." The state also "facilitates consumer-driven decisions that respond to market forces."

Washington policymakers, on the other hand, try to manipulate the market by forcing the public to shift from the roadway to other modes. This demand-side strategy is plainly visible in Washington's new policy to reduce pollution by restricting how much people can drive. State leaders want to reduce how much motorists drive from an average of 31 miles per day, to 22 miles per day, despite technological advances in lowing emissions and improving fuel efficiency. In fact, the transportation sector is the only sector with CO2 emissions in Washington that is actually declining. Never have policymakers been more explicit in their desire to unnecessarily force people away from driving.

Instead of sp!
ending money on infrastructure and services that proportionally support market demand, state leaders in Washington try to shift people from one travel mode to another. This strategy inevitably leads to greater traffic congestion, because government will always fail to control the market in this way. Despite years of higher spending on expanding public transport services, its overall mode share has remained flat for the last three decades, while traffic congestion has risen sharply. The current and proposed trends in transportation spending continue this failed strategy.

Washington policymakers would achieve economically better results if they abandoned social engineering and instead responded to market demand. The economy, motorists, taxpayers, the freight industry, ports and ultimately the general public, will benefit and thank them.

To Stimulate the Economy, Stop Trying to Limit Driving and Start Reducing Congestion

January 17, 2009 in Publications

I'm often asked how other states compare to Washington on transportation policy. This is a reasonable question, because across our state, traffic congestion is growing worse and is expected to double over the next twenty years. Congestion chokes the economy, robs valuable time from our families and lowers our overall quality of life.

Washington State rations driving; should instead focus on traffic relief

January 2, 2009 in Blog

In 2008, the state legislature passed HB 2815, which among other provisions, directed the state Department of Ecology and other agencies to report back to the legislature in December on how to implement the Governor's Climate Action Team's (CAT) recommendations to reduce Green House Gas Emissions.

The CAT created several sub-committees to tackle specific sectors. The Transportation Implementation Working Group (TIWG) was formed to handle perhaps the CAT's most controversial proposal, reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).

If you recall, the Governor's CAT recommended reducing the amount motorists drive by 18 percent by 2020, 30 percent by 2035 and 50 percent by 2050.

To look at it another way, motorists drive an average of 31 miles per day. To accomplish the state's new VMT reduction policy through 2035, the state will enforce a series of strategies !
that force motorists to drive only 22 miles per day, or so goes the explanation in the TIWG report.

The strategies focus on three broad areas: improving public transit, forcing compact development into specific corridors and creating economic disincentives for drivers through tolling. 

These recommendations represent a fundamental shift in transportation policy and perhaps more distressing, an unprecedented expansion of state government. For the first time, the state would take on the role of funding public transit, despite rising traffic congestion and the unmet infrastructure needs that currently exist. The state would also expand land use restrictions to further force people to live and work along corridors that the government chooses. And with the use of tolls, the state would create artificial costs as a punitive mechanism to force people out of cars.

Here is the link to the TIWG report, along with a minority report written by AAA and the Wash!
ington Trucking Association, both members of the TIWG.

TIWG report
TIWG minority report

Traffic relief is the most basic goal in any transportation policy. In all cases, mobility should mean traffic relief.


State’s Mandate to Reduce Driver Mobility Threatens Revenue for Transportation Projects

January 2, 2009 in Publications

In February 2007, Governor Chris Gregoire signed an Executive Order mandating the reduction of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions in Washington. Within a month, the state created the Climate Advisory Team (CAT) and by January, 2008, the CAT issued a set of recommendations to accomplish the required reductions.

Local mayors' appetite for pork

December 18, 2008 in Blog

Earlier, I wrote about how cities across the country have compiled a list of infrastructure projects that should be funded by the federal government.

Now, according to the National Taxpayers Union, and this article from CNN, some of the mayors' requests could be considered "pork," including a polar bear exhibit, a water park ride and an aquatic center.

This got me thinking about what our local mayors requested. Sure enough, here are some of the questionable spending requests:

  • Stadium improvements at Auburn Memorial Stadium: $1,600,000
  • Rerouting a creek in Bremerton: $6,000,000
  • Habitat for Humanity housing in Everett: $300,000
  • Major home repairs in Lakewood: $150,000
  • Qwest Field improvements: $7,000,000
  • Nutrition Program space rehabilitation in Seattle: $316,000

In January, WPC released the Washington State Piglet Book, which highlighted the problem with pork spending at the state level.

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!
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.