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

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.

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.


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