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

Maintaining the commitment to the gas tax projects?

February 24, 2009 in Blog

Here is a list of transportation projects recommended (from members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees) to receive federal stimulus funding.

Notice the first five projects are gas tax projects that should be funded from the Nickel and TPA gas tax increases that were imposed in 2003 and 2005.

Doesn't anyone listen to the WSDOT Secretary anymore?

February 10, 2009 in Blog

The theme of the legislative session in Olympia this year is climate change. This includes the state's goal of limiting how much people drive.

But what seems lost on everyone, except maybe Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond, is the negative impact on state fuel tax revenues. During the House Transportation Committee (about 1 hr 13 min) hearing yesterday, Rep. Brad Klippert asked this question:

I would just like to share my confusion. We keep talking about these Vehicle Miles Traveled.  I went to a transportation breakfast on Friday morning, and I heard the transportation secretary s!
ay when we shut down Snoqualmie Pass on I-5 due to the weather we lost a lot of state revenue from the gas tax and quote, I heard her say "it would have been nice if people got in their vehicles and drove around in circles so we would have got the money from that gas tax." What do I tell my constituents in Eastern Washington, reduce you vehicle miles traveled or keep driving so we get money from the gas tax?

To which Secretary Hammond responded this way:

And that’s the dilemma we are in right now. What we want to do is we need the revenue from the gas tax in order to pay for our transportation costs both in terms of safety, preservation, maintenance and everything else. In addition to that, in terms of our responsibility, in terms of road congestion, and emissions and all of these other components, the more people drive, I mean, we want people to drive less. So it is clearly a message, a mixed mess!
age that we deal with every day. And we need to find the balan!

In other words, the state policy to limit VMT doesn't make any sense. Our research shows that if the state is able to achieve its first target of reducing VMT, state gas tax collections will fall 10.2% ($1.5 billion) by 2020. And this is on top of the most recent Transportation Revenue Forecast that shows state fuel taxes are already over committed by $1.5 billion through 2023.

Most think that tolling will eventually replace the gas tax. But a policy of reducing VMT for drivers, while simultaneously adopting a primary revenue stream that relies on driving, guarantees the state will fail at one or the other.

2009 Statewide Transportation Poll Results

February 7, 2009 in Publications

Washington Policy Center has released the results of a recent statewide poll that asked voters about the importance of traffic relief across Washington State.

Port Merger Worth a Look

February 7, 2009 in Publications

There has been a lot of discussion over the years to merge the Port of Everett, the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Seattle into a single Puget Sound Port Authority. This year, Representative Glenn Anderson has proposed House Bill 1421, which would direct the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to study the feasibility of combining, over a five year period, operations of the three ports.

Replacing the Viaduct with Chicago-style politics

February 5, 2009 in Blog

About two weeks ago I wrote about how King County's 1% MVET increase to pay for the tunnel didn't have anything to do with replacing the Viaduct. It was simply to pay for expanding mass transit in King County.

Now the Seattle Times finally reported on the story, which includes comments from the governor distancing the tunnel proposal from King County's car tab hike.

Now the question is how the legislature will react to this news. King County needs legislative approval to raise car tabs, in this case, about $75 per car, per year. I would suspect this is unlikely given the voter approved initiative to limit car tabs to $30 and the subsequent state legislati!
on also limiting car tabs to $30.

As of today, I have not seen a bill that would grant King County this authority.

So how will this impact the preferred option of replacing the Viaduct with a deep bore tunnel? It should have no impact at all. The MVET increase in King County was to pay for transit service. In fact, one could argue that it unnecessarily increased the price tag of the Viaduct. A cynic could also argue it was a political bone to buy support from Ron Sims and some of the special interest groups on the stakeholders committee.

This is yet another example of how transportation spending is based on political agendas, rather than performance. This concept is covered in more detail in this report:  Reforming State Transportation Policy: Washington State’s Efforts to Implement
Performance-Based Policies

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.