WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2009
Navigate the Future
Your Commute: When will it get better? Light Rail is finally here, but why did it take so long? Toll Lanes on 405: What will you pay?
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NAVIGATE THE FUTURE
NAVIGATE THE FUTURE
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NAVIGATE THE FUTURE
Transportation: Our region’s No. 1 challenge Stuck in traffic? Obviously, you’re not alone. But will regional initiatives ever get you – us – out of gridlock? By MARY L. GRADY Reporter Newspapers
hat is happening here? To even the least jaded of commuters, the transportation system in the central Puget Sound region is a jumble of acronyms and staggering numbers. It is confusing on any scale. Why do we need to pay more to ride a Sound Transit bus rather than Metro? We see WSDOT signs along I-405 and SR-167, yet wonder who sets and collects those HOT lane tolls. Congestion is no longer something faced by those driving in and out of Seattle — it has crept east and south to neighborhoods and towns, both big and small. Whether we realize it or not, the flaws and foibles of the region’s transportation networks have ingrained themselves into our daily lives. Uncertainty and longer commute times have taught us many things. It is important to pay attention to changes brought about by freeway shut-downs for major construction — we log on to computers or listen to the radio before we set out for work. Somehow, these lifeless ribbons of concrete and steel are no longer just part of the landscape; they make news. When the I-90 bridge sank in 1990, Puget Sounders woke up to the fact that the concrete and steel we took for granted were indeed vulnerable. The 6.8 Nisqually earthquake on Feb. 28, 2001, was another wake-up call. Weather reports that formerly included temperatures from SeaTac now report the wind speeds on the
What’s Inside ‘Navigate the Future’ Gridlock: How we got here Page 8 Olympia holds keys to mobility Page 13 Meet Sound Transit’s Joni Earl Page 16 Tolls ahead on SR 520 bridge Page 18 Take a ride on the new light rail Page 22 Kemper Freeman, light rail critic Page 23 Metro fares likely to climb Page 27 Sen. Patty Murray gets federal $$ Page 29 ‘Navigate the Future’ is a publication of Sound Publishing and its Reporter newspapers – Auburn, Bellevue, Bothell-Kenmore, Issaquah, Sammamish, Kent, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Redmond and Renton – and the Federal Way Mirror. Copyright 2009, Sound Publishing. Find multimedia features and join the conversation on regional transportation at our website, www.navigatekingcounty.com. increasingly fragile SR-520 bridge. The timing is perhaps fortuitous. The teetering stack of increasing congestion, rising fuel prices and the paradoxical factor of huge SUVs and 53-foot-long commercial trucks have brought us to the tipping point. The global economic meltdown that began late last year gave urgency to the situation. We knew it was serious when commuters left their cars behind and crammed onto buses. Ironically, these threats to our treasured mobility have reached critical mass at the same time that major trans-
This view of I-90 looks east from Mercer Island toward Bellevue and the I-405 interchange. Below, commuters board buses at a newly completed transit center along I-90. CHAD COLEMAN portation projects in the works for years are coming to fruition. So, how did we get here?
n the late 1970s, housing prices exploded within the urban centers of the Puget Sound region. People moved east and south along the interstate corridors, trading longer commute times for affordable housing. The interstate highway system in place here, along with our love affair with cars, had people driving long distances for work and play. Gasoline was plentiful and affordable. Cars became second homes with creature comforts. But it was not to last. Our awareness of the fragility of our highway system stared us in the face during the stormy night when part of the I-90 bridge sank. Now, the crisis has become personal as we fill the tank with $3 gas, wait for a half hour to merge 300 feet, or inch our way into the mall parking lot during the holidays. We have long wanted a solution, but we thought it didn’t really have much to do with us. It seemed someone else should pay. At the polls, we face ballot measures with figures that look like the national debt. How could it possibly cost $100 million to fix a highway, or add a bus lane? And just what is the difference between Sound Transit and Metro, anyway, and what about WSDOT? Why are we
continuing to spend money on roads when driving less is key to slowing climate change? And we are worried. Will I have to pay every time I drive my car? Or worse, will I not get to go where I want, when I want? Yet, there is hope. Some of those millions have been spent so that you can pay a few bucks in those HOT lanes and get where you are going faster. Getting to Mariners games from the Eastside is a piece of cake on the bus. That new interchange, express bus route or transit center nearby offers relief in both time and lower gas bills. And last summer, many proved that they were ready to embrace light rail as 45,000 people rode the Sound Transit Central Link on its inaugural run. Getting to the airport will be easier just in time for the holidays. We hope to help you sort out what is happening with roads and transit — not only regionally, but in your neighborhood. We will identify the players, talk about the money and what the future holds. We hope to continue the conversation with you, and our law and policy makers via the Web, our radio partner, KIRO, and of course, in print. Whether it is getting to work, to the doctor, school or the mountains to enjoy the mountains, we are all in this together. Mary Grady is editor of the Mercer Island Reporter. She can be reached at 206-232-1215.
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East Link: What will it bring? The 18-mile extension is expected to spur development in Bel-Red corridor and Overlake
By JOSHUA ADAM HICKS
oters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1 last November, setting the stage for bringing Link Light Rail to the Eastside. Planning is now under way for East Link, an 18-mile extension of the system that would connect downtown Seattle with Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond. Along with light rail comes transit-oriented development, which means increased density for targeted areas like the Bel-Red corridor and Overlake. The cities of Bellevue and Redmond are working with Sound Transit to coordinate plans for their areas. “Light rail around the country has proven to be a real catalyst for development,” said Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray. Sound Transit opened the light-rail routing discussions in December, asking the public where and how its tracks should be laid. The agency’s board of directors chose a set of preferred alternatives in May, but the committee isn’t expected to make a final decision on alignments until after an environmental impact study is completed in 2010. Mercer Island makes for perhaps the easiest call, with only one proposed line running along Interstate 90 and stopping once at a station between 77th and 80th Avenues. The other cities are a different story.
Simulations show the possible routes of Sound Transit’s East Link train moving into Bellevue. Left: The train moves along Bellevue Way Southeast. Right: The train swings into downtown Bellevue. SOUND TRANSIT PHOTO
beneath 108th Avenue Northeast, stop at the Bellevue Transit Center, and then turn up Northeast 12th Street toward a station near the hospital district. The surface route would run along Main Street before heading one way in each direction along 110th Avenue Northeast and 108th Avenue Northeast with a stop at the Bellevue Transit Center. It would then turn onto Northeast 12th Street and stop again in the hospital district. Sound Transit estimates that the tunnel option would cost an additional $500 million – money not covered as part of the ballot measure that voters approved in November. It’s up to the city of Bellevue to find the means for financing the underground alternative. Degginger says the city is confident it can find cost savings in the proposed Sound Transit routes, for instance by running surface rather than elevated tracks along the Bel-Red corridor. Degginger also suggested that Sound Transit’s cost estimates for building a tunnel are high.
A myriad of options become available once light rail jumps into Bellevue off of I-90. The board’s preferred alternative for south Bellevue would run on elevated tracks along the east side of Bellevue Way Southeast, before touching down near the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride. It would then travel at-grade to 112th Avenue Southeast and continue downtown. Residents from neighborhoods adjacent to Bellevue Way have opposed this plan in favor of a line that would run along the abandoned Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks near 118th Avenue Southeast.
Redmond The Sound Transit Board chose a preferred route from downtown Bellevue to Overlake Transit Center that serves the Bel-Red corridor, Overlake Village and the Microsoft campus.
he tracks would run elevated and at-grade to the north of Bel-Red Road, mainly along a newly expanded Northeast 16th Street that Bellevue plans to build. The route then turns up 136th Place Northeast and connects with SR 520 before crossing to the north side of Northeast 24th Street and then hooking into a station at 152nd Place Northeast. From there the tracks would run along 520 to reach Overlake Transit Center. Sound Transit is already making plans to extend East Link to downtown Redmond, although it would take another voter-approved initiative to bring that concept to fruition. The board has identified a preferred alternative in the event that this happens. The route would run along the south side of 520, touching the edge of Marymoor Park, before turning onto the BNSF right of way for a stop at the Redmond Town Center. From there, the tracks would travel to 161st Avenue Northeast and then stop. The original plan called for the route to move up 161st Avenue, but there was opposition to that idea because of the number of homes and business that would be displaced.
Board representation Degginger has suggested that Bellevue should have a representative on the seven-member Sound Transit Board. “It’s been a huge handicap not having a Bellevue representative,” he said. “So much of East Link runs through Bellevue.” King County executive candidate Susan Hutchison has seconded that notion, mentioning it several times during her primary campaign. Redmond Mayor John Marchione, one of three Eastside representatives on the board, says the committee works fine the way it is. “If a representative comes from Bellevue only to represent the city, that would be disappointing,” he said. “It needs to reflect what the global light-rail system looks like.” The other Eastside board members include Mary-Alyce Burleigh of Kirkland and Fred Butler of Issaquah.
fforts are still under way to get Sound Transit to choose a modified route along that right of way, although those plans have met with opposition from nearby condo-dwellers. The Sound Transit board approved two options for downtown Bellevue: one that uses a tunnel and another that runs at-grade. Both the city and the Bellevue Downtown Association are opposed to the surface alternative. “It would be a nightmare to lose any part of Bellevue Way during construction,” said Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger. The board’s preferred tunnel option would travel
Nonetheless, the city is working to identify potential funding sources for the underground alternative.
Sound Transit’s East Link is projected to change the face of Bellevue’s Bel-Red Corridor, seen here in the white-roofed buildings south of Highway 520. CHAD COLEMAN, REPORTER NEWSPAPERS
Joshua Adam Hicks is a writer for the Bellevue Reporter. He can be contacted at 425-453-4290.
NAVIGATE THE FUTURE
NAVIGATE THE FUTURE
Gridlock: how we got here in the first place Puget Sound planners, polls and the voting public took a winding path to our current transportation woes. By MARY L. GRADY Reporter Newspapers
o understand where we are now, we need to look back on where we have been. How has our transportation network come about, who are the players, and what role have voters had in shaping how we co-exist in a growing and ever-changing metropolitan environment? The floating bridges, interstate highways and emergence of rail all came about through planning exercises that began more than 70 years ago. In Washington, the Legislature first authorized counties and cities to engage in land-use planning and adopt zoning controls as early as 1937. But the choice remained optional. Historylink.org and the essays by Walt Crowley offer a compelling timeline of the players and events of transporation planning in the Puget Sound region. In October 1957, Seattle Mayor Gordon S. Clinton brought together state and local officials to discuss a comprehensive transportation study for the Seattle region. The outcome, several years later, was the Puget Sound Regional Transportation Study (PSRTS). The PSRTS was developed not just for the Seattle metropolitan area but for the urbanized area of all four central Puget Sound counties: King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish. The four counties and their major cities, Seattle, Bremerton, Tacoma and Everett, participated through the Puget Sound Governmental Conference, which sponsored the study along with the state Highway Commission and federal Bureau of Public Roads. The project was among the nation’s first large-scale attempts at comprehensive regional planning for transportation and land use. On Sept. 30, 1967, the $1.6 million Puget Sound Regional Transportation Study (PSRTS) released its final summary report. However, the document disappointed many planners and mass transit
advocates by concluding that rail rapid transit was not feasible in the region and, instead, proposed many new highways and bridges.
RECOMMENDING ROADS In place of a transit system, the PSRTS proposed to serve the growing suburban population with new highways. Along with the already planned R. H. Thomson Freeway in Seattle, east of I-5 (which voters would later cancel), the PSRTS recommended an Eastside freeway between I-405 and Lake Sammamish, various connecting freeways in Seattle between Aurora Avenue, I-5 and the proposed Thomson Freeway, and many more new freeways in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The study also called for a new Lake Washington bridge between Sand Point and Kirkland, and perhaps most controversially, strongly recommended a bridge across Puget Sound, from Fauntleroy (West Seattle) to Southworth in Kitsap County via Vashon Island. Residents in the path of these proposed highways, not least on Vashon Island, reacted with alarm. Few of the proposals ever made it off the drawing board. In 1968, transit advocates brought a plan to voters, but it would be three decades before Puget Sound voters approved funding. On Feb. 13, 1968, King County voted on 12 Forward Thrust bond propositions (and one transit administration referendum), totaling $815.2 million. Voters approved seven propositions worth $333.9 million, including a $40 million multipurpose stadium (the Kingdome) and $118 million for new parks. Yet, local bonds for $385 million to help fund a $1.15 million rapid transit system failed with only 50.8 percent of the vote. On May 19, 1970, King County voters rejected four Forward Thrust bond issues for a regional rail transit system, storm water control, community centers, and new County public health and safety facilities.
Above, skyscrapers in downtown Bellevue signal the city’s emergence as a regional economic powerhouse. Chad Coleman. Below, Bill Dues, a WSDOT engineer stands on an I-90 overpass as during construction on Mercer Island in 1988. Bob DeLasmutt
The total local cost of $615.5 million (not counting $900 million in pending federal aid for mass transit) was too much for voters amid the deepening Boeing Bust.
et, a transit measure finally passed and work began in Seattle to address increasing congestion. On Nov. 8, 1988, a King County advisory ballot issue asked citizens, “Should public funding and development of a rail transit system to serve the residents of King County be accelerated so that service in King County can begin before the year 2000?” Voters answered “yes” by more than a two-to-one margin. By the early 1990s, the movement to expand mass transit finally got into gear. Bus service began in the newly completed downtown Seattle transit tunnel on Sept. 15, 1990. In 1993, the Washington State Department of Transportation was reorganized to branch away from its highway focus and assume a greater role in freight and passenger rail, aviation, ferries, bicycle trails and mass transit. On Jan. 28, 1995, the Regional Transit Authority commenced a public demonstration of commuter rail service between Everett, Seattle, Kent and Tacoma, which was part of a proposed “Sound Move” plan on the March 14 ballot. Yet there were setbacks. Voters in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties rejected
the regional transit plan on March 14, 1995. The Regional Transit Authority proposal for rail and bus transit improvements won majorities in Seattle, Mercer Island and Shoreline, but was soundly defeated on the Eastside and in King and Snohomish counties. A scaled-down “Sound Transit” plan was adopted the following year. Sound Transit inaugurated Sounder commuter rail service between Tacoma and Seattle on Sept. 18, 2000. On Nov. 5, 2002, Seattle voters narrowly approved a new Seattle Popular Monorail Authority and Washington voters rejected the state Referendum 51 transportation plan and gas tax increase while approving Initiative 776, which cut motor vehicle taxes. Yet transit inched ahead. On Aug. 22, 2003, Sound Transit’s Tacoma Link, the state’s first modern light rail system, celebrated its inaugural run in downtown Tacoma. Sound Transit installed the first rails for Central Link light rail in SoDo (south downtown Seattle) on Aug. 17, 2005. On Saturday, July 18, 2009, thousands of people rode Seattle’s new light rail system on opening day. For more information, go to historylink.org or the Museum of History and Industry at www.seattlehistory.org.
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Who gets credit (and blame) for transportation planning? A panoply of government agencies work under the auspices of the Puget Sound Regional Council and the state’s Growth Management Act.
plan which represents the region’s growth strategy; Destination 2030, the region’s current comprehensive long-range transn the Puget Sound region, the paramportation plan; and Prosperity Partnereters for land use decisions and, by ship, which develops and advances the extension, transportation networks, region’s economic strategy. are set by the Puget Sound Regional VISION 2040 details a strategy to acCouncil and the state of Washington’s commodate the additional 1.7 million Growth Management Act. people and 1.2 million new jobs expected The dozens of cities, counties and other jurisdictions within the four-county Puget to be in the region by the year 2040. The Sound region are well acquainted with the work, which looked at several different alternatives, was drafted with three main workings of these laws. Following these concepts in mind: policies also determines if public projects • A plan or preferred alternative must which accompany that growth are eligible deal with congestion and increase mobilfor grants or subsidies. ity for all kinds of freight and personal travel despite population and employment growth. • Improve the environment and greenhouse gas emissions. The Puget Sound Regional Council • Sustainable funding for the plan. works across the counties, cities and other Within the metropolitan and core cities, agencies in the Puget Sound region to VISION 2040 supports concentrating manage, accommodate and even shape population and employment growth in regrowth under the authority of both state gionally designated growth centers. These and federal laws. centers are to serve as hubs The 67-member agency for regional transportaconducts planning and fore“The Legislature finds tion, public services and casting to set the parameters that uncoordinated amenities. The new “urban for planning transportation villages” such as Kent Stanetworks, optimizing land and unplanned and Talus, in Issaquah, use patterns and encouraggrowth, together tion reflect these concepts. ing. Money for the agency with a lack of VISION 2040 is ultimatecomes from a variety of sources, including grants common goals ... ly to help leaders accomcommon objectives from state and federal entipose a threat to the plish that transcend jurisdicties and monies from the environment (and) tional borders. member agencies. sustainable economic Along with the role The PSRC is responsible for setting out a published development...” that the report plays in directing decisions by local comprehensive strategy for governments, the analysis managing growth in the contained within these region through a public efforts provides the basis for distributing process. Counties, cities and other jurisabout $160 million in federal transportadictions are to use this plan to form their own policies regarding transportation and tion funds each year. new population growth while encouraging economic growth and quality of life. The PSRC has the authority given to it by state law to ensure that cities, counties During the boom years of the late 1970s and other jurisdictions follow the policies and 1980s, Puget Sound residents found outlined in its plans. that the region, which they had once The PSRC periodically revises its three known as bucolic, had begun to change. sets of policy directives for the region. Commuters in King County and around They are: VISION 2040, the most recent By MARY L. GRADY Reporter Newspapers
Puget Sound Regional Council
The Growth Management Act
The 1990 Growth Management Act stipulates that new development be clustered near transportation networks and amenities to lessen traffic. CHAD COLEMAN Puget Sound were stymied by traffic. Farmland continued to disappear, open space and wildlife habitat was lost, and surface water runoff and pollution threatened salmon streams. Residents began demanding that politicians take action to protect their environment and quality of life.
s a result, the Legislature passed the Washington State Growth Management Act, the key piece of legislation that determines where and how local agencies will manage growth and land use. The bill says in part: “The Legislature finds that uncoordinated and unplanned growth, together with a lack of common goals ... pose a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development, and the health, safety and high quality of life enjoyed by residents of this state. It is in the public interest that citizens, communities, local governments and the private sector cooperate and coordinate with one another in comprehensive land use planning.” The GMA requires that counties above a stated population level or rate of increase (and cities within those counties) adopt growth-management comprehensive plans and implement them through “development regulations.” It established 13 “planning goals” to guide the preparation of local plans and regulations. Local governments were to direct most growth into urban areas,
require adequate transportation facilities for new development, protect natural resource lands and environmentally critical areas, encourage economic development and protect property rights. It was a long time coming. As Walt Crowley of History Link.orgdescribes the urgency to control development. “With environmentalism a significant political force in the early 1970s, Republican Governor Dan Evans won passage of landmark laws like the State Environmental Policy Act — modeled on the National Environmental Policy Act, sponsored by Washington Senator Henry Jackson — and the Shoreline Management Act. After a mid-1970s economic spurt quickened transformation of open space and farms into subdivisions and shopping centers, county voters passed a 1979 bond issue to buy development rights and preserve farmland.” In 1985, King County planners completed a Comprehensive Plan to guide land use decisions, foreshadowing several aspects of the GMA. It reasoned that certain areas be protected. The GMA has been amended or revised by almost every legislative session since its adoption. Like our region and the land it protects, it is a “living” document.
Mary Grady is editor of the Mercer Island Reporter. She can be reached at 206-232-1215.
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Agencies handle different ways to travel The Puget Sound region truly puts the ‘multi’ in multi-modal transportation planning.
By MARY L. GRADY Reporter Newspapers
n Saturday, July 18, 2009, it was a new day for the Puget Sound region. Forty-five thousand people came out to ride Seattle’s new light rail system on opening day. But it took years and years of planning and agonizing in fits and starts to come to that day last summer. Decades earlier, after recognizing that the region’s existing transportation system would someday be inadequate, the state Legislature passed a law that allowed counties to create a single agency, Sound Transit — the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority — to develop alternatives for meeting regional travel needs. In particular, the Legislature charged the agency with planning, building and operating a high-capacity transit system (within a three-county regional transit district) for the region’s most heavily used travel corridors.
Sound Transit means high-capacity buses and trains Voters in 1996 approved a plan that provides the foundation of that system — regional express buses, commuter rail and light rail. Today, Sound Transit carries nearly 14 million riders a year. As such, Sound Transit is the agency responsible for providing a regional transportation network that goes beyond roads, bridges and county boundaries. The Sound Transit district map includes the most congested urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, and generally follows the urban growth boundaries created by each county in accordance with the state Growth Management Act. There are three major parts to Sound Transit: • Express bus: These buses connect Seattle, Bellevue, Everett and Tacoma with the region’s largest urban centers. New transit centers, park-and-ride lots and HOV access projects are part of the system to improve transit speed and service. • Sounder commuter trains: These trains run 74 miles every weekday between Everett and Tacoma. • Light rail: Sound Transit’s light rail
Fast facts: Sound Transit Sound Transit employees: 300 Funding summary: the 2008 adopted annual operating budget was $941 million. Sources: a combination of voter-approved local taxes, federal grants, farebox revenues, borrowed funds (bonds) and interest revenues. Sound Transit is governed by an 18-member board of directors; 17 members are local elected officials, and the 18th member is the Washington State Department of Transportation secretary. system consists of a 1.6-mile line in Tacoma known as the Tacoma Link. The Central Link is a 15.7-mile light rail line running between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport. It consists of a currently operating 14mile initial segment, plus a 1.7-mile extension to the airport called Airport Link, scheduled to open in December 2009. The line runs through the SoDo district, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley and portions of Tukwila. Central Link officially opened on July 18 for the initial segment. A light rail extension north to the University of Washington via Capitol Hill began late last year, with service starting in 2016. The three-mile extension, to be completely underground, is expected to cost $1.5 billion. Half of the funding is expected to come from a grant from the Federal Transit Administration.
WSDOT means roads and ferries The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is responsible for planning, building and fixing more than 7,000 miles of highway in our state used by some 4.5 million drivers each year. In addition to the roadways, the state is responsible for state-owned airports, ferries and the Washington State Patrol, licensing, and other services related to monitoring these networks and their use. WSDOT is funded and directed by the governor and the state Legislature. The agency prepares a Washington Transportation Plan, a 20-year vision for the state-owned and certain ‘state-interest’ modes of transportation. This is a combination of the long-range
Multifamily neighborhoods in East King County illustrate the rapid residential growth in the region over the past twenty years. Chad Coleman
Fast facts: WSDOT Full-time employees: 7,200 Funding: State funds, federal grants, gas taxes, user fees. 18,389 state highway lane-miles 3,600 bridges, including the four longest floating bridges in the United States 47 safety rest areas 23 ferry vessels active in the largest vehicle-ferry system in the world, with 20 ferry terminals moving 24 million ferry passengers annually $15 billion capital improvement program statewide transportation plan (which analyzes facilities that the state operates) and the statewide transportation policy plan. The plan is reviewed and revised every four years. The plan has two major purposes: first, to coordinate both metropolitan and regional planning for moving people and goods; and second, to keep the state eligible for federal funding. State, local, and federal transportation projects are not eligible for federal funding unless Washington has a long-range statewide transportation plan. The plan is to also consider and implement projects, strategies and services that support the economic vitality of more rural, non-metropolitan areas.
Over the years, the Legislature designated and enabled three major types of transportation planning organizations to plan, construct and operate transportation networks. As such, WSDOT is intertwined with the projects and planning efforts conducted by Sound Transit and King County Metro and various other transportation planning organizations scattered across the state. The agency, working closely with private contractors, is presently in year five of a 25-year program to deliver the largest capital construction program in state history — more than $15 billion in projects, including 391 highway projects valued at $11 billion. As WSDOT delivers transportation services, it must also work to preserve and fix environmental quality. Programs such as stormwater treatment, construction site erosion control, fish passage barrier removal, wetland replacement, air pollution control, and adaptation to climate change are important to the future health and safety of citizens. Each helps to protect priceless natural resources.
For more, go to www.wsdot.wa.gov/ and www.soundtransit.org/.
Mary Grady is editor of the Mercer Island Reporter. She can be reached at 206-2321215 or email@example.com
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Olympia holds the keys to our future mobility Twenty-nine key legislators determine how road and bridge money gets spent.
Lake Washington bridge, aka I-90 floating bridge, toll takers ca. 1940.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Because of these trends, the overall transportation people. revenue picture has dimmed by $3 billion over the 16The other primary players in transportation include: year, long-term plan of the last transportation budget. • The Washington State Department of Transportation here are literally thousands of people who shape As such, the Legislature must and has been looking for (WSDOT) is an agency of the state and is primarily in the transportation system in our state and region. new ways to pay for bridges, roads and rail transit. charge of roads. They are engineers working out of trucks in the “We have to come up with some new ideas in the next • Th e Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is one field, computer analysts and policy wonks who session of the Legislature to fund transportation in the of the Metropolitan Planning Organizaconduct surveys and open meetings. It is a future. Th e gas tax,” Clibborn said, “is a failing resource.” tions enabled by the state that is required complex system born of classic top-down It has served as a proxy for (highway) user fees, she “to carry out a continuing, coordinated government directive, but has become leavexplained. But now, with more efficient vehicles and even and comprehensive planning process,” for ened with local control and public involvevehicles that do not use any gas, the gas King, Snohomish, Pierce ment. “We’re actually on and Kitsap Counties. tax no longer makes much sense. Yet any such system brings with it an • King County Metro Tolls and some types of user fees have the verge of the assortment of conflicting priorities and (METRO) is a public transmoved to the top of the list. overlapping jurisdictions. Weaving our way busiest transportation portation system “organized “Th e move to tolls is an opportunity to toward understanding what is happening construction season expand not only revenues, but to manage as a locally controlled special with roads and rails means taking a look at ever for Washington traffic during peak times, and send price purpose government to prowho runs the show. vide public transit (primarily state. When you take signals to encourage changes in behavior,” Just who is in charge of transportation bus) services” within the said. They may not be popular, she planning in Washington state and the Puget into account this budget she “The move to tolls is an greater King County area. notes, but are increasingly necessary. Sound region? and the federal stimulus Yet the Legislature forges ahead. opportunity to expand • Sound Transit is in a Maybe surprisingly, it is the law and lawnot only revenues but to category of its own, again set dollars we appropriated Last April, the Legislature presented makers who are the primary drivers of the manage traffic during peak up by legislation, to proearlier this session, the final version of a $7.5 billion 2009-11 look and feel of the patchwork of transportatimes.” vide high-capacity transit state transportation budget, which will tion networks and priorities. Through the we’re looking at Rep. Judy Clibborn, services in various forms for finance more than 400 projects across the passage of bills and mandates, lawmakers chair, House Transportation King, Pierce and Snohomish an unprecedented state, generating 46,000 jobs. enable and fund agencies to set the paCommittee Counties. The final budget represents the comtransportation rameters for planning and construction in At the state level, the Legispromise between the budgets passed by motion. investment.” lature and the Joint Transporthe House and Senate earlier this legislaThe Washington State Legislature, through Rep. Judy Clibborn tation Committee, while retive session. Clibborn said the transporthe Joint Transportation Committee, drives working budgets and priorities, must always tation budget is one area of strength in the budget choices for the state transportation budget keep their eye on what is coming next. Yet, as key highways an otherwise tough budget year amidst the economic submitted to the governor. Representative Judy Clibborn and bridges are now being repaired and high capacity transit downturn. (D-Mercer Island) leads a group of 29 legislators from has been set in motion after years of uncertainty and indeci“The transportation budget is the good news in a badboth the House and the Senate as the head of the Joint sion, the direction of any future transportation investments news economy,” Clibborn said. “We’re actually on the Transportation Committee. verge of the busiest transportation construction season could be slowed signifi cantly by the lack of funds. The role of the Transportation Committee is to work ever for Washington state. with the initial budget proposed by the governor to come oney, Clibborn and others say, is the single “When you take into account this budget and the up with a final number and list of projects. From there, most critical factor in planning for future federal stimulus dollars we appropriated earlier this sesfunds are dispersed to projects, counties and other special transportation needs. sion, we’re looking at an unprecedented transportation transportation districts. The primary source of funding for transportainvestment.” Along the way, the state has added new regulations to tion projects comes from the gas tax. With people driving Mary Grady is editor of the Mercer Island Reporter. She respond to growing concerns about the environment and less and more efficient cars replacing the stock of older, less can be reached at 206-232-1215 or mgrady@mi-reportto accommodate both the movement of goods as well as efficient cars, gas tax revenues have fallen precipitously.
By MARY L. GRADY
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I-405: Yes, there is some good news Already, the state has $1.5 billion either spent or committed for ‘hot spots’ and strategic improvements on the entire length of freeway
By DEAN A. RADFORD Reporter Newspapers
irst the bad news, which should be no surprise to anyone. That 14-mile stretch of Interstate 405 between Renton and Bellevue is the most congested piece of freeway in the state. That’s not much solace when you’re trying to get to work. But at least you have lots of company. But the good news is that the state is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on I-405 from Tukwila to Bellevue and beyond by widening and removing bridges, including the Wilburton Tunnel in Bellevue, and adding lanes to shave minutes off that commute. So how does the state arrive at its congestion estimation? Going north to Bellevue from Renton at freeway speed – 60 mph – should take about 14 minutes. Anyone who drives the freeway regularly knows that doesn’t happen. Here’s the reality. “For someone to get to their destination, they would need to give themselves an hour,” said Stacy Trussler, the I-405 deputy project director for the Washington State Department of Transportation. Going southbound, she said, the congestion is even worse. And then there’s the other bottleneck that adds aggravating minutes – lots of them – to the northbound morning commute from Kent or Auburn to the Eastside.
hat bottleneck is the complex interchange at State Route 167 (the Valley Freeway) and Interstate 405 in Renton. It has the distinction of being in a tie with the junction of Interstate 5 and I-90 in downtown Seattle as the most congested freeway interchange in the state. “That is a critical link to relieving the congestion on the Eastside corridor,” Trussler said. The state will seek federal dollars
to help make necessary improvements. That congestion also causes backups on southbound 405 through downtown Renton when drivers queue in the right-hand lane to take the SR 167 exit to Kent and Auburn. But help is already on the way, from Renton to Bellevue and all the way to where I-405 runs again into Interstate 5 north of Bothell. When built, I-405 was intended as a relief valve for traffic on Interstate 5. Now, 405 has become the key freeway thoroughfare to handle the Eastside’s growth. Already, the traffic is moving faster on 405 between Renton and Bellevue, thanks to the addition of a northbound lane between 112th Avenue Southeast in Newcastle and I-90. And because of that, Trussler says, the transportation department has received “a whole lot of love letters,” thanking the state for improving the commute and cutting down on travel times – about 20 or 25 minutes at certain times of the day.
he worst congestion from Renton to Bellevue has been reduced dramatically, with bottlenecks gone, Trussler says. But the state can’t yet consistently promise a 14-mile trip in 14 minutes, if that’s even a realistic goal. That’s because the state still doesn’t have the money to add capacity – more lanes – to 405 starting at about the Maple Valley Highway in Renton. That work is being planned, at least conceptually, in a 405 master plan. In fact the state transportation department has a team that’s specifically charged with figuring out how to make the entire Eastside transportation corridor work better. Already the state has $1.5 billion either spent or committed for “hot spots” and strategic improvements on the entire length of I-405, from its junction with I-5 at Tukwila to the south and its reconnection to I-5 to the north. “We are well under way with the strategic and safety projects,” Trussler said. About $180 million of that money is going
Going north to Bellevue from Renton at freeway speed – 60 mph – should take about 14 minutes. Anyone who drives the freeway regularly knows that doesn’t happen. CHAD COLEMAN, REPORTER NEWSPAPERS to improvements in Renton, from roughly Southcenter to the Maple Valley Highway. The work in Renton is being done in two stages. The first one will be completed this year and adds lanes to 405 between SR 167 and Tukwila. The second stage – visible now because of the massive earth-moving project near Renton City Hall – will add a freeway off-ramp and an onramp, easing traffic in downtown Renton.
he “Your Nickel at Work” signs at 405 construction sites refer to the 5-cent increase in the gas tax that voters approved in 2003. The federal government is also a major source of funding for the 405 projects, including some money from President Obama’s stimulus package. The South Bellevue project, at a cost of about $124 million, is about 95 percent complete. It helps relieve congestion at one of the worst I-405 bottlenecks – the drive in and out of Bellevue. That project included the removal of the Wilburton Tunnel, which carried the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks over the freeway. The project also included that much-loved new northbound lane starting near Newcastle.
The project also included between I-90 and Southeast Eighth Street in Bellevue: * Building one new lane in each direction from I-90 to Southeast Eighth Street * Building a new three-lane southbound bridge over I-90 * Converting the existing southbound bridge over I-90 to carry the northbound HOV lane. Already completed is one of the socalled “nickel projects” in Kirkland. The transportation department is constructing a Stage 2 project that will add a lane northbound from Northeast 70th to Northeast 85th and southbound from SR 522 to Northeast 124th and Northeast 85th to SR 520. The state transportation department has also selected Kiewit Pacific Co. of Renton to design and build a new northbound freeway lane in Bothell, at a cost of about $19.2 million. Crews will build the lane between Northeast 195th Street and State Route 527, where afternoon commuters face severe backups daily.
Dean A. Radford is editor of the Renton Reporter. He can be contacted at 425255-3484, Ext. 5050 or at dradford@ rentonreporter.com.
Sound Transit is back on track
Sound Transit opened the Central Link line of light rail in July, a 14-mile stretch of track that will go from downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport by the end of the year. CHAD COLEMAN, Reporter Newspapers
Executive director Joni Earl brought her expertise in finance and local government to reshape Sound Transit, an agency that had derailed when it came to running its basic business operations. BY DEAN A. RADFORD Reporter Newspapers
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oni Earl has a simple motto: Under promise and over deliver. Failure to follow that recipe for success is what got her agency, Sound Transit, in trouble before she took over as executive director in 2001. Earl found an agency with a billion-dollar cost overrun because it had no way to track its finances and was promising projects it couldn’t deliver. Earl brought to bear her expertise in finance and local government in reshaping the culture of an agency that was pretty good at managing and designing bus and commuter rail projects, but derailed when it came to running its basic business operations. Of course, that work was done in tandem with the Sound Transit Board of Directors, a point Earl repeatedly made in an interview with Reporter Newspapers recently. Earl, with her gift for communication and her willingness to be brutally honest about what her agency was doing wrong – and right – can now look back on her nearly 10 years at the helm and marvel at the 14 miles of Link light rail snaking from Seattle to nearly Sea-Tac Airport. With the opening of Link light rail, Sound Transit today is now operating the three pieces of its voter-mandated transit system – commuter rail, light rail and a regional bus system in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. But her work – and Sound Transit’s – is far from done. There are billions of new tax dollars to be spent to extend light rail to Bellevue and beyond and add 10s of thousands of hours of new regional bus service.
A conversation with Joni Earl “I meet more and more people now who tell me they got rid of a second car because of how much transit is out there.” Joni Earl
Joni Earl, executive director of Sound Transit, talked in a wide-ranging interview with the Reporter Newspapers recently about the regional transportation agency whose mission it is to build an interlocking system of light rail, commuter rail and long-haul buses. In its early years, there was doubt that Sound Transit would even survive. One of Earl’s first tasks was to announce that the agency was $1 billion in the hole. But under Earl’s leadership, that has all changed. Today, the agency is planning a new transit corridor to the Eastside that could change the way people commute to Seattle and back again for decades to come. What was the state of the agency when you took over? I started in October 2000 as chief operating officer. I had been with the agency about three weeks when it was clear that we had a cost problem. But we didn’t know how big it was. I was put in charge as the new eyes and ears in the agency to look at the project. I was
The agency will draw on its years of experience planning, designing and then building Link, which opened in July, to work with Eastside community and business leaders to build from scratch East Link, which when done will link downtown Seattle with the Overlake Transit Center between Bellevue and Redmond.
f course, along the way, it will pass through downtown Bellevue. City officials and business leaders want a tunnel for light rail to ease impact on businesses and downtown traffic. But that’s the most expensive option for building light rail and Sound Transit doesn’t have enough money to build it, based on the taxes voters approved for Sound Transit 2. Bellevue and Sound Transit will continue to debate the tunnel. A final alignment will be picked this year. A tunnel is not totally out of the realm of possibility. But Bellevue would have to help pay for it. It’s another one of Earl’s guiding principles to keep Sound Transit financially healthy and credible as a government agency. “Even if someone really really wants something, we aren’t going to promise something if I can’t find a financial path to make it happen,” she said in the interview. That path would lead to Bellevue’s budget office. “That’s how Sound Transit lost its credibility, I think,” she said,
[ more JONI EARL page 17 ]
by not realizing the depth of the financial trouble it faced in the early years and not being open about that problem. “Those days are over, at least on my watch,” she said. Today, Sound Transit is fresh off the start of Central Link and commuter trains through the Green River Valley are pulling cars off the Interstate 5 corridor between Tacoma and Seattle. In 20 years, Bellevue will have its own light rail and South King County will have thousands of hours of new bus service and even more commuter trains running up and down the Green River Valley. But will we have left our cars behind to travel on a seamless regional transportation system of interlocking rail and bus routes? Probably not. And that’s not a realistic goal anyway, says Earl, because someone will always need a car to get to work. But she’s seeing a shift away from total reliance on a car. “I meet more and more people now who tell me they got rid of a second car because of how much transit is out there,” said. But Sound Transit will tempt commuters with convenient options for travel and continue to refine, along with King County Metro, the region’s bus routes to make them more efficient.
Dean A. Radford is Editor of the Renton Reporter, He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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[ JONI EARL from page 16]
pacts. That just went beautifully. The key is working with the businesses and working with the business organizations like the Bellevue Downtown Association and Bellevue chamber and individual property owners in the city. I am totally confident that we can build that project with good mitigation and tools so that businesses don’t suffer any more than they have to. There is always pain with construction. Being really up front and transparent about it is the key.
Conversation ... the one, with consultant help and a lot of staff help, that about six or seven weeks later announced the $1 billion cost overrun and the three-year-schedule delay. That was in December. Bob [Bob White, the agency’s executive director] left after we got the $500 million grant from the Clinton administration. My view of the state of the agency at that point was we had lost credibility with the public. The Board of Directors was angry because they put themselves out there in support of the agency and the project. They were really disappointed because they would say they were not getting the information to know they had that deep of a problem. The Federal Transit Administration, which was the funding agency for the grant, was very angry. Our senior senator, Patty Murray, wasn’t very happy with us. Employee morale was quite bad, to say the least. But two things held true through it all that helped us. People were mad at Sound Transit, but they still supported light rail. What I was asked to do was to take the steps necessary to save the project and rebuild the agency. What were your initial marching orders to get the project back on track? When the board talked with me about the acting position, I knew enough at that point that we needed a new cost-estimating system. We needed a new projectcontrol system. We needed a way to track costs accumulatively to know what was happening on our project, because that is what had gone wrong. I had to rebuild the federal government trust that Sound Transit could deliver the project. One of the major tests for the federal government is what they call technical and financial capability capacity. So, we ended up having a two-year audit starting right at that point by the U.S. inspector general. [A major turning point for Sound Transit came in spring 2003, when the agency received a clean audit report, freeing up $500 million in federal funds.] What did you tell your employees? One of the reasons morale was so bad is that we had just started commuter rail in September 2000. The commuter rail part of the agency was flying high. We had started the bus program in 1999. So twothirds of the agency, since we do much more than light rail, were delivering. And then here’s the biggest part of the project for the agency was the one that was taking us down. Here is my expectation. I was very clear with my directors about being transparent with information. It doesn’t matter how bad the story is. We have to fix it. I told employees in a meeting with 150 employees that nobody would get fired for pointing out problems or issues or making errors (unless they made a whole bunch of them over and over). But they would get fired if they withheld information because we couldn’t fix something that we didn’t know existed. So what had to happen next? There was no silver lining to getting our credibility back with the public, other
A light rail station in Seattle includes parking and a central location for the surrounding neighborhood. CHAD COLEMAN, Reporter Newspapers
than start delivering the project. Pass the test. Pass the audits, which we did. But it took awhile. We were a brand new agency. And they had a new 10-year plan to build $4 billion of capital in 10 years. We are the only agency in the country that I am aware of that was supposed to go from zero to a $4 billion program in 10 years and deliver service all over a three-county region. It had never been tried before. Looking to the future, what can South King County and Pierce County expect in new service from Sound Transit over the next 10 to 20 years? They are already getting all three modes of transit that Sound Transit provides, because they have had commuter rail since 2000 and buses since 1999 and now light rail. There are about 100,000 new hours of additional bus service from Sound Transit in South King County. There are the extensions of light rail. On the commuter rail side we are going to get four more round trips. We are going to go from 9 to 13. We will phase in those over about the next five years. We are also going to extend the platforms for commuter rail. We can do seven-car trains. We will extend all the platforms to eight cars. We are going to add what equates to about 65 percent more capacity to commuter rail. The future on the Eastside is a little more complex. Under Sound Transit 2, Eastside residents will get their own light rail on a new rail corridor and more bus service. Describe the work on the Eastside. Probably the biggest project in the Sound Transit 2 plan is the East Link project. That is light rail that comes in from the International District station [in south Seattle], goes across I-90 to Bellevue and then to Overlake Transit Center, which is Microsoft headquarters. We don’t have the money to go all the way to downtown Redmond. But we are doing the planning
all the way to downtown Redmond. We are in the final environmental impact statement process. We have looked at a combo of about 19 different routes for this corridor. The board selected a preferred alignment, not a final alignment, that we are starting some engineering on. When I look at East Link, the three big challenges in that project are we have to negotiate an agreement with the state Department of Transportation because we will get the center lanes on the I-90 bridge [over Lake Washington]. So that has controversy to it. We also believe that was a condition in the 1979 agreement and the record of decision from the federal government when Brock Adams approved the construction of the bridge that those are high-capacity transit lanes in the center. When you come off the bridge and go into Bellevue, there are community groups that want one alignment that the city and Sound Transit so far have not selected in the preferred path. So, there are neighborhood issues. Where you go through downtown Bellevue there is a huge issue about whether to have a tunnel or not. The city wants a tunnel. We don’t have money for a tunnel. We have been clear about that. What will you do to ease impacts on Eastside business and traffic during and after construction of light rail? We can’t specifically answer that now because we don’t know the exact alignment or the construction impacts. I know we have learned a lot by the construction we have already done. If we are impacting businesses, like if there are relocations, there are a lot of federal guidelines that we have to follow to do that. We will use a multiple number of tools. We built the big Bellevue direct-access project right off of Northeast Eighth Street and 405. There was a lot of concern about business im-
What are some of the guiding principles that the Sound Transit Board of Directors will follow in making its final decision on which alignment option, including whether there is a tunnel, to pick for Bellevue? It will be: Can we afford it? That is the first one. We were very clear that we didn’t have money for a tunnel. The cost estimate that was in the Sound Transit 2 plan was based on an aerial alignment. The general rule of thumb is that surface is least expensive. Aerial is the next expensive and tunnel is the most expensive. We had wiggle room in the cost estimate because we picked the aerial. We didn’t pick the lowest cost, which gave us some flexibility. They will look at effectiveness. There is one thing to build it, and it’s another to operate it. You want to make sure your alignment is easy to operate. You don’t want a bunch of sharp turns. Are we locating stations in places where it serves people and businesses? You don’t build this stuff to have the trains empty. [The board] asked for more research between the various alternatives that the city of Bellevue wanted versus what they selected. We asked the city of Bellevue, If you want a tunnel, show us how you are going to help fund it. We can’t fund it on our dollars. So, without additional funding from Bellevue, is a tunnel simply not a viable option? I don’t think we know that yet. That’s premature to know that. The cost estimate was aerial which was more expensive than surface. The city worked with us on other parts of the alignment that might be less expensive. We have to look through all the analysis before we will be able to say that. We are being clear, that as of now, we don’t have the money. It’s probably the biggest decision in front of the board in the next 12 months. How will light rail ease the general commute between the Eastside and Seattle? We have done a traffic analysis with the Department of Transportation that shows if you do nothing (mainly on the I-90 corridor) and just population growth and all that projected stuff happens that that commute is going to significantly worsen over the next 20 years. [What] you really need are two-way, all-day HOV lanes like you have elsewhere on the freeway. We have to build those lanes. I really want to underscore this. We are not impacting the existing general-purpose lanes. We build new HOV lanes. Then we put in highcapacity transit. For the future, we have so much more capacity to move people across that infrastructure. I just think it’s going to change the commute patterns between east and west in this region in a significant way over time. Dean A. Radford is editor of the Renton Reporter. He can be contacted at 425-2553484, ext. 5050.
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New 520 bridge, new tolls ... And they’re coming sooner than you think
The 520 bridge touches Medina and the Points communities. Toll booths were were used originally to pay for construction, but this time drivers will have money deducted from a pre-paid account when a transponder in their vehicle is electronically scanned. CHAD COLEMAN, Reporter Newspapers
By MAKS GOLDENSHTEYN
here’s a certain irony to the story former Kirkland mayor and current state Rep. Larry Springer likes to share about the 520 bridge, a corridor he and friends would drag race across as juniors at Bellevue High School. Back in 1964 starting at 11 o’clock at night, a year after the bridge was first opened to drivers, they’d head west until reaching the middle of the bridge deck, make a Uturn and race back to Bellevue. “There was just nobody on it,” he said. Thirty years later as a member of the Kirkland City Council, Springer was appointed to the first 520 Study Committee. It was understood that as the aging structure became more vulnerable to earthquakes and windstorms, and as congestion worsened with regional growth, something needed to be done. But in 18 months on the job, the 47-person committee “decided absolutely nothing,” he said. Another 13 years after that, Springer finally got to vote on a 520 bridge, which only resulted in him being placed in yet another study committee. “It’s like this bridge is imprinted in my brain,” he said. Now on the SR 520 Legislative Workgroup, charged by Gov. Chris Gregoire with recommending financing and design options to her and the state Legislature by Jan. 1, 2010, Springer and other area lawmakers and community members could finally polish off plans in the coming months for a new bridge. That means tolls.
xpected to open in 2014, the cost for the new and expanded six-lane corridor should be at around $4.65 billion. Drivers will likely pay a variable toll fee on the existing bridge starting sometime next year. It would cost around $3.60 to cross the bridge during peak hours, Springer said. Interstate 90 will not be tolled to begin with, assuming that it and other corridors in the region aren’t significantly impacted by what happens on 520, according to state legislation. Should tolling on 520 lead to gridlock elsewhere, law-
makers may revisit their options. “If I-90 turns into a parking lot, we’re probably going to have to toll it,” said Springer, adding that many of his peers believe I-90 will have to be tolled at some point anyway. Officials say 520 will be adopting the same electronic tolling system — called “Good to Go!” — that was recently implemented on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and on SR 167. Drivers won’t be forced to stop at booths, but will need to install a small transponder inside their car, which would link up with an overhead antenna to deduct money from a prepaid account.
rivers without transponders or those visiting from out of town would have their license plates photographed and would be invoiced for the cost of the toll later on. A surcharge would also be deducted for the cost of processing the video, according to WSDOT. While stakeholders on the Eastside agreed on an interchange design over a year ago, one of the biggest hurdles left to clear is what to do with the Montlake interchange on the west end of the corridor, where construction will carry a much larger price tag. The committee will look to mitigate impacts like building on wetlands and in historic areas, the effects on wildlife and appeasing neighborhood groups. One potential conflict has also arisen over building on Foster Island, which was at one point a Native American tribal burial area, Springer said. “What the goal is, is to see to see if we can bring those different community factions into one design that is within the funding target,” said Barbara Gilliland, who administrates the SR 520 Legislative Workgroup that held its first meeting July 29. Gilliland said that of three proposed plans, two options appear to be the front-runners. Under the first option, a second drawbridge would be added over the Montlake Cut. The other option calls for constructing a tunnel under the Montlake Cut in addition to an interchange under the 520 roadway. Springer, who’ll be sitting in on the Westside interchange discussion, says he has no personal preference on the matter, so long as the bridge performs, has
520: A bridge and so much more
520 is more than just a bridge. It’s a major corridor between job centers and growing communities around Lake Washington. Built in 1963, today’s 520 bridge is vulnerable to earthquakes and windstorms. In addition, the existing corridor is carrying twice as many vehicles as originally planned and is heavily congested during morning and afternoon commute times. Congestion makes the bridge and its approaches a bottleneck between these economic engines of our region. When 520 was opened to drivers in 1963, traditional tollbooths were used and it was an immediate success with commuters. This popularity meant that bonds used to pay for the bridge were paid off ahead of schedule. When the last toll was collected in 1979, four times as many vehicles were crossing the bridge each day, compared to when it first opened. It’s time to replace the aging bridge with a safer, more reliable structure, people say. It’s time to build a new corridor that moves more people around the lake and provides better access to the highway. Construction of bridge pontoons will begin in 2009. The new 520 bridge is scheduled to open in 2014. When the corridor is complete, it will include six lanes, with two general-purpose lanes and one carpool lane in each direction, spanning Lake Washington from I-5 in Seattle to just west of I-405 in Bellevue. The bridge will be designed to withstand major earthquakes and windstorms up to 95 mph. The new 520 will have carpool lanes and increased transit service that will make bus trips more frequent and reliable. It also will have space for walking or riding a bike across the lake, shoulder lanes to keep traffic flowing when something goes wrong, and new interchanges to reduce traffic impacts and improve communities near the corridor.
the required throughput capability and is within the budget. “Other than that, they can string a rope bridge if they want to, and that’s OK with me,” he said.
Maks Goldenshteyn is a writer for the Kirkland Reporter. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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Light rail: Checking out the ride (and more) on Central Link Capturing the beauty of modern technology, there are 35 new pieces of art appearing up and down the new light rail line
A Central Link light rail train (above) glides across an elevated platform. Below: a map on the trains shows the various stops the train makes. Next: Passengers enjoy the ride on a weekday morning. Bottom: Artwork marks one of the stops. CHAD COLEMAN, Reporter Newspapers
By LINDSAY LARIN Reporter Newspapers
he sights of Seattle flash by the windows of the Central Link light rail during the 13.9-mile stretch from the Westlake Station to Tukwila International Boulevard Station. Central Link runs with two-car trains that hold a maximum of 400 people and eight bikes. A 1.7-mile extension to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will open in December 2009. For now, 11 stations line the stretch of tracks between Westlake and Tukwila. The stations are split between outdoor platforms and underground tunnels, all with covered areas, benches and route information. Glass artwork and vibrant metal designs distinguish the stations from one another, paying tribute to the small sub-communities within the Greater Seattle area. Capturing the beauty of modern technology, there are 35 new pieces of art appearing up and down the new light rail line. While riding through the SODO district, a giant red “R” sits on the rail sign on the new brick-faced Operations and Maintenance building. The “R” was the distinctive first letter on the old Rainier beer sign from the brewery that once stood at the same location.
oft purple lighting welcomes riders to the Beacon Hill Station, and a glass painted wall partially stretches across the outdoor platform of the Mt. Baker Station. The Tukwila International Boulevard Station offers a two story, covered waiting area with free parking and public restrooms. Artwork titled “Confluence” by Clark Wiegman sits on the parking level of the station. The Link art program, STart, worked closely with the local communities to find artists and artwork that matched the unique history and spirit of each neighborhood. Beyond the aesthetic reasons, the assurance of frequent, reliable operation is a major attraction for some riders. Tickets are
purchased by cash or card using self-serve kiosks at the stations. Commuters are asked to show their pass during random checks by Sound Transit personal. Although the payment system is based on a “proof of payment” method, Sound Transit has begun issuing $124 citations to people who ride light-rail trains without paying.
ccording to spokesman Bruce Gray, about 60 citations have been issued since Aug. 24 by transit police and unarmed security guards. Another method of payment for light rail is the new ORCA smart card, a rechargeable pass accepted on Sound Transit buses and trains. Electronic card readers are located on and near Link platforms. Riders using ORCA tap the card on the reader when entering and exiting the train. The correct fairs are automatically deducted each time the card is used. Ridership for light rail is expected to reach 21,000 riders every weekday by the end of 2009. By 2010, the average weekday ridership from downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport is expected to total 26,600 riders. The electric-powered light rail trains run on exclusive tracks, arriving at the 11 current stops every 5 to 10 minutes. The trains run 20 hours a day, from 5 a.m. to nearly 1 a.m. Link also offers easy connections to trains, buses and other transit options. Sound Transit is working to extend
light rail in the near future. University Link is a 3.15-mile light rail extension that will run from Downtown Seattle north to the University of Washington. The design work on North Link, East Link, and the First Hill Streetcar is under way. To learn more about Central Link light rail, visit www.soundtransit.org or call 1-888-889-6368.
Lindsay Larin is a writer for the Bellevue Reporter. She can be contacted at llarin@ bellevuereporter.com.
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Is light rail ‘off the track?’ Development mogul Kemper Freeman has his own vision of workable system By JOSHUA ADAM HICKS Reporter Newspapers
Kemper Freeman favors free transit ridership, which he claims would increase the number of users while still costing less than building and operating light rail. He also supports drastic increases in vanpools and bike lanes. CHAD COLEMAN, Reporter Newspapers
specifically a 6-percent increase in lane miles that he estimates would reduce congestion by 36 percent. From there, the Freeman plan gets more transit-oriented, with a drastic increase in buses and bus rapid transit.
Gray suggests Sound Transit’s early mistakes were merely the result of growing pains. The agency adjusted its forecasts in 2001, and brought in new leadership with CEO Joni Earl. “In 1996, we were a brand new agency with three different lines of business,” Gray said. “We have 13 years of experience now.” Sound Transit opened Central Link in July on time and $100 million under budget according to the revised plan. That doesn’t cut it for Freeman. “They’re so lucky they have an understanding public that’s willing to look the other way when they’re off by billions of dollars,” he said. “They can laugh at their rookie mistakes, but they’re all at our expense.” One positive sign for Sound Transit is that construction costs aren’t rising as severely as they once were. Recent bids for University Link came in below the agency’s estimates. “I think the trend is very good when you talk about light-rail construction,” Gray said.
ound Transit’s light-rail planning represents a progressive approach to mass transit, but the public reeman says a bus-rapid transit system, which uses has long been divided over whether the concepts dedicated lanes to bypass congestion, could be hold any virtue. implemented in under three years at a fraction of Few people have more of a stake in the fight than the cost of light rail. Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, who owns around He suggests buses can attract more riders because 8 percent of the real estate in downtown Bellevue. The tendency with voters has been to reject all light-rail of their ability to reach every nook and cranny of the region. initiatives during the first go round, and then accept a “There is no other idea, for this teeny investment, that pared-down version in the next election. produces more transit trips than that one,” Freeman, however, has been firm in his stance on the he said. regional program, voicing an unequivocal dislike for it. Sound Transit dis“It’s as far off track as anything I’ve ever agrees, claiming all those seen government propose,” he said. “We’re new buses would only “They’re so lucky they being sold an impossible dream.” tied up in traffic once Freeman commissions experts to study have an understanding get they reach the city. mass transit, and he says it’s clear from public that’s willing to “Nothing provides the what they’ve told him that rail-based that rail does,” transit systems only work in areas with look the other way when reliability said Bruce Gray, a spokesextremely high densities – places like New they’re off by billions of man for the agency. s for whether there’s any debating left York City, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Freeman’s plan also to be done over the virtues of light dollars. They can laugh He notes that metropolitan Seattle is far calls for free transit riderrail, Sound Transit doesn’t think so. “We’re trying to apply from ever reaching that level, with 2,200 at their rookie mistakes, ship, which he claims “The voters have pretty much spo(rail-based transit) where people per square mile compared with would increase the numken regarding our critics,” Gray said. we have a fraction of the but they’re all at our New York’s roughly 60,000 people per ber of users while still That may be true, but Freeman isn’t findensity. We’re using the square mile. expense.” costing less than building ished. He joined the Eastside Transportation wrong tools. It’s like “We’re trying to apply (rail-based and operating light rail. Association in filing for a writ of prohibition using a sledge hammer Kemper Freeman transit) where we have a fraction of the Drastic increases in to stop Sound Transit from using Interstate to set a tack.” density,” he said. “We’re using the wrong vanpools and bike lanes 90 for light rail. Kemper Freeman tools. It’s like using a sledge hammer to set are also needed, accordThe request, filed July 17 in the state a tack.” ing to his plan. Supreme Court, alleges that Sound Tranreeman is also skeptical about Sound Transit’s ridFreeman, ever the businessman, is averse sit’s light rail plans would violate the 18th ership projections. He argues that the overwhelmto cost overruns, so he’s leveled much criticism at Sound Amendment to the state’s constitution, which states that ing majority of metropolitan Seattleites – around 95 Transit for going $1 billion over its initial Central Link roads built with gas taxes can only be used for road trafpercent – will always be dependent on the car. construction budget. fic. “If light rail came anywhere close to their marketing in All told, Sound Transit expects to exceed its original It has yet to be announced whether the full court would reality, I would be the biggest supporter that there is,” he construction budget for light rail from Sea-Tac to the hear the case. said. “This thing is a complete farce.” University District by $3 billion. Freeman has his own version of the ideal regional The agency is also far behind its initial timeline for that Joshua Adam Hicks is a writer for the Bellevue Reporter. transportation system, but it starts with a concept every segment, which expired in 2006. The route to the Univer- He can be contacted at 425-453-4290. bit as divisive as light rail. He’s calling for more roads, sity District is not expected to be completed until 2016.
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In the fast lane with Paula Hammond Washington top transportation official talks about the future of statewide transportation
By LAURA PIERCE
n the future, you could be paying for your right to use roads the same way you pay your utilities - a bill based on exactly how much you use. According to Paula Hammond, secretary of transportation, and the state’s highest transportation official, the technology to do that isn’t that far down the road. “It’s 10 to 15 years out,” she said, noting that kind of direct-user fee could be part of the equation for future transportation funding. But in the meantime, there is a complex - not to mention expensive - series of transportation needs that the Puget Sound area has to resolve, or at least come to terms with. Traffic congestion; freight issues; super-efficient hybrid vehicles slowing the state’s gas tax to more of a trickle: all of these elements are adding up to a Gordian’s Knot of worries on which the state is working to get a handle.
the cars. But just like everywhere else on state roads, congestion in the HOV lanes is increasing, thanks to more drivers, and SUVs with greater carrying capacity. But there’s a fix in sight, and the way it’s funded could be a blueprint for the way future transportation needs in Washington are covered.
ammond called attention to one of DOT’s latest projects: high-occupancy tolling lanes, or HOT Lanes. It’s a concept allowing non-carpooling drivers to use the HOV lanes, by charging them for the privilege. For more than a year DOT has been operating a test segment of State Route 167 in South King County. And it’s working. “What we’ve learned over the year or so we’ve had it – we saw people buying their way in for a dollar, to get a 10-minute savings on travel,” Hammond said, noting 30,000 people a month are paying to use the lane. “We’ve learned people think it’s worth something to pay to get in to reduce their travel time.” Given the promise of HOT lanes have shown, DOT is working to expand HOT lanes on more of Puget Sound’s Part of the issues today come from a lack of decisionclogged roadways - starting with I-405, where roadmaking years earlier. Hammond described “a good 15 expansion work is ongoing, and HOV lanes are already years of stagnation,” in the state transportation system, present. starting in the 1980s. It’s only been over the last five years In terms of traffic flow on the heavily used highway, that Washington has regained its focus to aggressively be“you see a natural gin addressing break near Belfor advances levue,” HamPaula J. Hammond, appointed by Gov. Christine to its system, mond said. “But Gregoire in 2007, leads the Washington State she said. we’re looking at Department of Transportation, an agency of That the entire (405) 7,100 employees that operate, maintain and earlier lag, corridor. And as build state highways. She oversees the Washington State Ferry Hammond it comes through system, the nation’s largest; WSDOT Aviation; Public Transit; noted, was the 167 interAmtrak Cascades and freight. WSDOT is responsible for the due partly to change and caroperation, maintenance and construction of improvements lack of a clear ries down there on over 7,000 centerline miles of highway and 3,500 direction. as well.” bridges. Hammond’s leadership focus at WSDOT is on public “Puget The project accountability, project delivery, open communications with the Sound politics could be conpublic, and the quest for effi ciency in the use of transportation – people say structed in pieces, facilities and in the agency’s own business practices. it’s like no othso drivers using er,” Hammond one segment said, noting actually would for years it was be paying for difficult for constructing the next segment. lawmakers to find a common vision on what, exactly, had Hammond said the Legislature has asked DOT to anato happen to advance the state’s road system. lyze the project this legislative session, and then to come “I think that lack of decision-making and secondback with a report for the next session. guessing, all of that has not served us well,” she said, add“So we’re doing the work now and coming back in ing, “we love to debate things.” 2010, to see if they’ll give us the authority to proceed with It wasn’t always like that. In the 1970s, Washington that project, ” she said. road-planning was ahead of the curve, including its de-
Politics played a part
Fast facts: Paula Hammond
velopment of high-occupancy vehicle Lanes. “There was great vision in the 1970s,” Hammond said, noting the HOV lanes were a significant advance in transportation. Today, she said, “we have a 300-mile (core HOV system) and 250 miles of that is in place.” That HOV system continues to be a major asset in the Puget Sound transportation system. Washington has invested more than $1.5 billion in state and federal funding over the past 40 years in its HOV lanes. The lanes continue to provide a steam valve for congestion and an incentive for carpoolers, today moving about 35 percent of people on the roads in 19 percent of
A new funding concept
The concept of paying as you go, to fund specific projects like the HOT lanes, is gaining serious momentum as a payment solution for transportation issues. Right now, the state gas tax is the main source of dollars - and it’s a dwindling one. For all the good things today’s fuel-efficient cars represent, it also means more drivers pay less at the pump and therefore pump fewer dollars into the transportation system. “We see it’s a loser,” Hammond said, adding the gas tax also fails to keep up with inflation.
Given the realities of funding - tolling is going to become more prevalent, Hammond said. One event that brought that into clearer focus was when voters balked in 2007 at the Roads and Transit measure - a major transportation package that combined resources for improvements in roads, bus service and rail.
hile Hammond said there was a lot of debate about why the measure failed, it was a telling moment when Puget Sound voters the next year passed the Sound Transit 2 measure, taxing themselves for a major expansion of light rail in the region. “That was good information - people did want the transit measure to pass,” Hammond said. Of RTID, “I think it was too much of a taxpayer investment,” Hammond said. “But I don’t think people said they didn’t want those projects.” And with those projects still on the drawing board, there needs to be a revenue source to fund them. “We are gravitating toward tolling,” she added. When asked how she personally would resolve the funding issue, Hammond said drivers investing directly in the roads they use is a critical part of the equation. “I think the users need to pay,” she explained. “They need to pay for the value they get out of that system. The cost to drive a mile in Wenatchee isn’t close to what it costs to drive a mile in Seattle.”
Top road projects
When asked what she felt the highest-priority road projects are Puget Sound, Hammond listed four, with the focus on safety: The Alaskan Way viaduct replacement, the Highway 520 floating bridge, completing the 405 corridor and increasing the efficiency of Interstate 5 as it runs through Puget Sound. Hammond confessed that the 520 floating bridge, due for completion in 2014, and the viaduct, which should be under construction and open to traffic by 2015, have both caused her sleepless night.
Future transportation picture
Hammond pointed to a future transportation picture in the Puget Sound region that encompasses many things from a cultural shift toward alternative modes of transportation, to technology making it easier for people to say where they are working from. “I think we’re already seeing the transition now,” she said, of people leaving their cars in the garage and taking the train or bus, although these modes, she added will never replace personal vehicles. “Sound Transit has opened its first (light rail) link, and we’re seeing heavy commuter rail use already. Local transit services has seen growth,” she said, adding that as technology continues to improve, “I think you’re going to see some people altering their work schedules, and doing more work from home.” And as far as transportation funding in the future, she said, “I do think we’ll see more tolling.” But state officials need to tread lightly in ushering in those changes, especially when it comes to how public dollars are being spent. “We need to take our time to have this public conversation,” Hammond said. “Until we explain that well to people, we’re not going to have that public buy-in.”
Laura Pierce is Editor of the Kent Reporter. She can be contacted at 253-872-6677 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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More quarters for 2011
ccording to information released by Triplett’s office, county officials don’t expect Metro’s tax revenues to return to even 2008 levels until at least 2014. Triplett and others also have talked about implementing changes suggested by a recent service audit of Metro’s operations. As of this writing, only some of those recommendations had been made public. In the end, any proposal put forth by Triplett ultimately must earn the approval of the King County Council. According to Metro spokesperson Linda Thielke, Triplett will present his full budget - which includes Metro’s budget - to the council by the end of this month, with adoption coming in November. Moving away from budget issues and touching on service improvements, Desmond and others said if money were no object, their top priority would be to add more Metro buses and bus lines. According to David Hull, service planning supervisor for Metro, the whole point of public transportation is getting
ven if the county council adopts Triplett’s proposed cuts in service – which run to 310,000 hours over the next two years – some newer bus lines apparently won’t be affected. Desmond said Sound Transit’s light rail obviously has been getting a lot of publicity recently and Metro plans to shift routes to feed into the light rail system. Desmond described those feeder routes as “absolutely critical,” claiming that the Puget Sound region has been waiting 40 years, in one way or another, for light rail. He doesn’t want that effort sabotaged by Metro’s budget concerns. Apparently, neither does Triplett. His proposal exempts from service cuts “already approved service partnerships.” According to Desmond, even if Sound and its new trains have been getting all the attention lately, there is no doubt that buses are still the back bone of the overall transit system. While he said Sound and Metro are operated separately, there is no antagonism between the two, they are not rivals. “We don’t compete,” Desmond said. But there is competition connected with another aspect of Metro’s operations. Kenmore Mayor David Baker is one of several suburban officials who serve on the Regional Transit Committee, a sub-committee of the county council. The committee includes Seattle representatives as well. Baker said while Seattle’s suburbs contribute 64 percent of the sales taxes that pay for Metro operations, they receive a disproportionate share of Metro’s buses and services. He added there is a plan in place to try and equalize the service between Seattle and the suburbs. “Seattle now wants to get rid of that, they don’t think its fair,” Baker said. He added Seattle’s representatives to the regional committee also are worried the city could see the lion’s share of any budget balancing service reductions. A Seattle representative to the regional transit committee did not return a phone call for comment. For his part, Baker insists bus service between Seattle and the suburbs has never really been balanced. He said it’s easy to hop a bus to downtown Seattle. But he said riding a bus from one suburb to another can be a lot tougher. Baker contends lines running north and south are particularly poor. “Because of the mess, it forces people into cars,” Baker
people out of their cars and using alternative means to get around – in this case, buses. Hull said the way you do that is by adding more connections to more locations and keeping the wait time between connections to less than five minutes. He added that the latter long has been Metro’s goal. But Hull also stated any public bus line faces one issue over which most transit officials have little or no say. “We operate on roads we don’t control,” he said. Both he and Desmond talked about how improving and extending HOV lanes throughout the Seattle area would greatly aid transit. They also mentioned electronics that could give approaching buses priority at stop lights. Hull said communities and developers need to keep transit in mind as they build up residential areas, allowing pedestrian access to streets and bus lines.
tanding at the Metro Transit stop on Northeast Bothell Way near the Kenmore Park-and-Ride, Carrie Hood said she rides the bus everyday to and from the downtown Seattle bank where she works as a teller. Hood added she wouldn’t drive to work even if she could somehow afford the price of parking downtown. Still, Hood said she has a few complaints regarding Metro, complaints echoed by some of the riders waiting with her. For the most part, riders agreed Metro’s buses are fairly dependable, but Hood and others stated they’ve been late for work or appointments because a bus was behind schedule more often than they would like. And, probably predictably, none of the riders were happy with the fare increases that may be heading their way. While he declined to give his name, one rider said his employer currently provides staff with bus passes. But that employer already has announced that if the price of bus rides increase, those free passes may disappear. Like so many other public and private entities, budget problems are by far the biggest issues currently facing the King County Metro Transit System, according to several sources, including Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond. Tossing out a number that has been widely advertised, Desmond said the system is looking at a $214 million shortfall in its next two-year budget. As the Seattle area struggles with recession, sales tax collections have “plummeted,” Desmond said, and those taxes make up 71 percent of Metro’s revenue. Desmond added that, overall, revenues are coming in some 20 percent lower than expected. With all that and other factors in mind, King County Executive Kurt Triplett has proposed a nine-point plan to close Metro’s budget gap, a plan that includes fare increases, service cuts and deferred expansion.
Metro buses are still the most widely used mode of public transportation, but a gaping budget hole is likely to see fares increase over thenext few years. ANDY NYSTROM, REPORTER NEWSPAPERS
By TOM CORRIGAN
King County Metro Base Fares 1985-2011
King County Metro Transit is looking at a $214 million shortfall in its next two-year budget
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METRO said. Hull agreed with Baker to a certain extent. “There is not enough service out in the suburbs,” he said. He further talked about the possible need for more Park-and-Ride spots. But Hull also noted the bus system naturally grew up around Seattle and it only makes sense that the area’s epicenter would have, historically, the most routes. He said what is needed is more buses, but those aren’t going to be arriving anytime soon thanks to Metro’s money woes. “It’s not that Seattle has too many buses,” Hull said. “It’s more that the overall pie is not big enough.”
Tom Corrigan is a writer for the Bothell Reporter. He can be contacted at 425-483-3732, ext. 5052 or via email at email@example.com.
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9/4/09 11:54 AM
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Federal funding pipeline now more of a trickle Washington Sen. Patty Murray has power in D.C., but recession has dried up transportation dollars
Sen. Patty Murray was front and center with other regional dignitaries as Sound Transit opened its light rail line, Central Link, in the Seattle area. CHAD COLEMAN, REPORTER NEWSPAPERS
that “we don’t have enough gas tax receipts,” she said. More fuel-efficient cars are being produced, people are driving less, those who are laid off aren’t driving much at en. Patty Murray knows the impact of growth. As all. With less gasoline being consumed, less money flows a child growing up in Bothell, she remembers the into the federal treasury, meaning less is available to help sign as people entered the city: Population 998. pay for local transportation projects. “And look at it now,” she marvels of the city that If you’re in Congress, there aren’t any easy answers, now has more than 30,000 residents. Murray said. All that growth is wonderful for the economy, she How do you raise the gas tax in a recession?” Murray said, but it has created a “huge transportation probasked. The answer is, you don’t. lem.” Congress needs a plan that enough members with Fortunately, Murray is well-positioned to enough courage will vote for, she said, “or do something about it. we cut everybody back.” As chair of the Senate Transportation That alternative, she noted, “would hurt Committee, Murray’s job is to write the naWashington state like you wouldn’t believe. tion’s transportation funding bill every year. This is not going to be easy.” That’s a billion-dollar task. To complicate matters, the Senate Finance Among other things, she helps direct Committee also is involved and, as Murray funding to maintain and improve the internoted, “they’re a little bit entangled with state highway system, modernize airports, health care.” expand public transit in urban and rural The short-term answer probably will see areas, and invest in transportation research the Senate pass several temporary extenand safety programs. sions of the current transportation bill, “You have a community that’s growing,” Murray said. “You have a community Murray said of this region, “and we’re paying Though much is made in the press of that’s growing and we’re attention to it.” what some call “earmarks” – remember the paying attention to it.” Murray has been the state’s Congressiobridge in Alaska to nowhere? – that isn’t Patty Murray nal leader in securing federal funding for the boondoggle many think it is. In reality, Sound Transit, including a Full Funding Murray said, less than 1 percent of the fedGrant Agreement in 2003 that secured $500 eral highway money goes to special projects. million in federal funding for the Link Light All senators are asked to give her comRail project in Puget Sound. mittee priorities. She has hers, too. She also has brought nearly $700 million to the state for “If it doesn’t pass the smell test,” she said of a request, “I roads, transit, shipyards and ferries through the Amerigo back to them and they have to really justify it before it can Recovery and Reinvestment Act. gets into my committee.” Murray doesn’t do it in a vacuum. When she sits down The going then gets tougher when the transportation with mayors and business interests from around here, she bill goes to the Senate floor “where the same process haptells them, ‘you guys have to prioritize what’s important pens.” Next, the Senate bill must be squared with a House for you,’ ” she said. version. “If people can’t agree, there’s a lot of other communities “It’s pretty thoroughly vetted,” Murray said of the who want the funds,” Murray added. process. If things weren’t bad enough, they’re made worse by owever, these days, those funds are becoming the bad economy. The Transportation Committee, she more and more scarce as the federal government said, has only half the money previously available for such faces the same recession as every other governprojects. ment agency - and everyone else, for that matter. “So I spend most of my time saying ‘no’ before it ever At the federal level, the push and pull is between urban comes before my committee,” she said. and rural, transit and highways, bike trails considered or Nonetheless, Murray has been able to find money for not. regional transit and transportation projects. “It’s a funding formula battle,” Murray noted. “It’s not parShe secured over $110 million for Sound Trantisan. You fight for the most you can get for your state.” sit’s University Link and Central Link segments. The The bottom line for Murray and others in Congress is By CRAIG GROSHART Reporter Newspapers
Fast facts: Murray’s help
February 2000: Federal Administration commits to federal funding agreement for Central Link. Sound Transit is among only 12 rail systems to receive this commitment. January 2001: FTA awards first $500 million federal grant agreement for Central Link light rail. The Federal Transit Administration signs a full funding grant agreement for the Central Link light rail project, authorizing $500 million in federal funding, subject to annual congressional appropriations. July 2002: $500 million in federal funds sought. Sound Transit submitted an application to the Federal Transit Administration for a $500 million federal Full Funding Grant Agreement for the construction of Central Link’s initial segment. October 2003: Link receives $500 million federal grant. January 2009: $813 million federal grant awarded to University Link. SOURCE: SOUND TRANSIT money will help provide the first-ever light rail link between downtown Seattle and the University of Washington. Another $9.3 million has been allocated for the Bellevue to Redmond Bus Rapid Transit project. That work will involve a 9.25-mile corridor that will run streetside between downtown Bellevue and downtown Redmond. The project will provide all-day, rapid transit between the two growing urban centers.
ther money will help establish bus rapid transit service between Tukwila and Federal Way. With transportation needs still great but the money more limited, Murray says there’s more pressure on various groups to come together and agree on a project. When they come in with business leaders, labor leaders, community leaders, when they’ve done their homework, “there is a much better chance of getting it financed,” Murray said. Of course, she noted, sometimes that agreement doesn’t happen until the night before it has to because people don’t want to give in. How does she get them to do it? “I used to teach preschool,” she laughed. Craig Groshart is editor of the Bellevue Reporter. He can be contacted at 425-453-4233 or via e-mail at cgroshart@ bellevuereporter.com.
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Federal Way triangle project is a work in progress Federal Way has chased funds for the better half of a decade for the work that would create a the Interstate 5/Highway 18/Highway 161 interchange By JACINDA HOWARD Reporter Newspapers
he state Senate is keeping $109 million for Federal Way’s “triangle project” intact. The money, distributed from the Senate’s roads budget, will remain earmarked for the project — the Interstate 5/Highway 18/Highway 161 interchange — for another year. The interchange was constructed in the 1960s and is no longer safe to accommodate daily traffic, plagued with traffic collisions and back-ups. The city and Washington State Department of Transportation are collaborating on the funding efforts. Federal Way has chased funds for the better half of a decade, assistant city manager Cary Roe said. Construction will be completed by the Washington State Department of Transportation, but Federal Way has a strong interest in the project due to its proximity to the city’s busiest and largest intersection: Highway 161 (Enchanted Parkway) and South 348th Street. The intersection features triple left-hand turns and cannot safely get any larger, Roe said. Addressing the triangle area will improve safety at the intersection. To date, just shy of $112 million of the proposed $240 million needed for the project has been secured. Gas taxes, federal money and existing state funds all contributed to this. The project received a big boost in 2005 when it got the $109 million from the state, much of it from gas taxes. But the money is not a sure thing. Each year during its budget cycle, the state can choose to re-allocate dollars it has dedicated to the triangle project toward another state effort, Roe said. Local legislators and city staff ramped up their efforts to convince the state that taking away triangle project funding now would be detrimental. Making a case for
The Interstate 5/Highway 18/Highway 161 interchange was constructed in the 1960s and is no longer safe to accommodate daily traffic, plagued with traffic collisions and back-ups. STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Fast facts: Bus service in Federal Way
King County Metro has escaped significant cuts in service in Federal Way. An alteration to route 174 is the only change Federal Way residents have seen in 2009. The bus, which runs nearly 24 hours from Seattle to Federal Way, now drops off customers at the Federal Way Transit Center, 31621 23rd Ave. S., rather than at the South 320th Street park and ride, 32320 23rd Ave S.
the project this year was difficult due to the state’s budget crisis. Maintaining the $109 million in state funding guarantees that work on the project will continue. Two cloverleaf loop ramps will be replaced with “flyover” ramps to serve traffic traveling westbound Highway 18 to southbound Interstate 5 and eastbound Highway 18 to northbound Interstate 5. Direct access to Highway 161 from southbound Interstate 5 and westbound Highway 18 will be served by new exit ramps at South 356th Street and South 359th Street. Other improvements are also scheduled. The work will eliminate weaving traffic and is slated for completion in an undetermined number of phases.
esign work and environmental assessments on the first phase will wrap up this year, and construction is expected to begin in early 2010. Construction will last until 2013. Holding on to the $109 million makes this work possible, Roe said. Future phases will begin as funding is available. Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way) is a leader in the state Senate in fighting for the triangle project. She has been behind it since its beginning. City staff has lobbied for federal money for the project for several years. City council members and staff traveled to Washington, D.C., at the
“The Triangle Project is essential to eliminating traffic snarls and reducing accidents where I-5, State Route 18 and State Route 161 meet. Ultimately a driver can transition among all three routes via non-stop flyovers. Our city council, county, state and federal legislators have long supported this project and have some of the dedicated funds necessary to make this a reality.” – H. Dave Kaplan, Federal Way resident and commuter
“This work will be a major improvement. We’ve worked hard to make sure this is funded.” – State Sen. Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way)
end of March where they attempted to capture money for the triangle and City Center Access projects, Roe said.
Jacinda Howard is a writer for the Federal Way Mirror. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Some like it HOT If you drive by yourself, you still can use the car-pool lane – but there is a price By ROBERT WHALE Reporter Newspapers
he Washington Department of Transportation’s decision to open nine miles of High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes in May 2008 between Auburn and Renton was aimed at giving the solo driver a choice, an opt-out from a too-often congested State Route 167 in south King County. More than a year later, some like it HOT, some don’t. Yes, there is room for improvement, Craig Stone, deputy administrator of the Urban Corridors program of Washington State Department of Transportation, told the Auburn City Council at the oneyear mark last spring, but added that “in overall terms of technology, driver expectations and safety, it seems to be going pretty good. “...People who are making a long trip between Sumner and Bellevue come in and give us great reviews,” Stone said. “The ones who don’t like it are the ones who got onto 167, went a couple interchanges and got back off. They say, ‘You restricted me, I had to wait to get into that lane, then I had to get back out again.’ ”
single HOT lane runs in each direction of SR 167 between Auburn and Renton. Two generalpurpose lanes in each direction are open to all vehicles and toll free. Solo drivers pay a variable, electronically collected toll using the Good to Go! transponder to drive in the HOT lane when space is available. Carpools of two or more vehicles, van pools, buses and motorcycles use the lanes toll-free without a transponder. Some of the most recent program data compiled in the SR 167 HOT Lanes Pilot Project First Annual Performance Summary, May 2008-April 2009, shows: • More than 30,000 Good to Go! transponder users had paid to use the HOT lanes during that one-year period. • The program generated $316,000 in
An electronic sign over Highway 167 tells drivers the cost of using the car-pool lane as a single-occupancy vehicle. The cost goes up or down throughout the day as congestion increases or decreases in the car-pool lane. HOT stands for High Occupancy Toll lanes. CHARLES CORTEZ, REPORTER NEWSPAPERS gross revenue in that time. • The average number of total tolled trips continued to increase — from 1,050 trips per weekday in May 2008 to 1,710 trips per weekday by April 2009. • The average number of peak-hour tolled trips also continued to increase – 140 northbound trips in May 2008 compared to 270 trips in April 2009, and 100 southbound trips in May 2009 compared to 160 trips in April 2009. • Variable tolling makes better use of carpool lanes and improves traffic flow in the corridor without affecting service for carpools and buses. • Traﬃc conditions on 167 in the general purpose and HOT lanes has improved, and in both directions, vehicle speeds and overall volumes have noticeably increased during the peak period. The lanes operate daily from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Toll rates automatically rise and fall with the level of congestion so that traffic in the lane always moves smoothly. Since opening day, the Washington State Patrol has made more than 4,300 HOTlane-related traffic stops, citing more than 2,000 drivers for HOV/HOT violations and more than 300 drivers for crossing
more than 50 cents or $1.50.” the double white line that separates the “By implementation of the HOT lane HOT lane from the general purpose program, the state was trying to make the lanes. According to the report, however, carpool lane more efficient by opening the compliance rate is estimated at 95-97 that space for general percent. use that would often go Auburn City Since opening day, the underused as an HOV Councilman Bill Peloza finds the HOT lanes Washington State Patrol lane, even when the general purpose lanes “extremely convenient.” has made more than were heavily congested,” hree vehicles in the said Chris Hankins, a 4,300 HOT-lane-related city of Auburn’s planner traffic stops, citing more transportation fleet are equipped with the City of with Good to Go! than 2,000 drivers for Auburn. transponders, and when e other element HOV/HOT violations and was“Thmanaging Peloza checks one of the flow these cars out to get to a more than 300 drivers of the additional traffic regional meeting, he uses for crossing the double of the carpool lane the HOT lanes at least up when that space was to Kent where he makes white line. actually available.” the turn to get to I-5. The four-year pilot “I think it’s well-spent program covers the taxpayers’ money,” said years of 2008-2012, and Peloza. “I think also the state Legislature will that the payment for the leg between decide whether it continues beyond 2012. Auburn and Renton, which can vary from 50 cents to $1.50 depending on Robert Whale is a writer for the Auburn the traffic conditions, is reasonable. It Reporter. He can be contacted at rwhale@ could even warrant more money for auburn-reporter.com. the convenience of people saving time because, let’s face it, time is worth a lot
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What do people REALLY want? Market research expert says the public understands one bus will replace plenty of cars, ‘but not their car’
By JAKE LYNCH Reporter Newspapers
f you’re looking at the history and future of transportation and transit projects around Seattle, Jim Hebert is an interesting guy to talk to. As the founder of research company Jim Hebert Research, the economist and professor of business has worked for a wide range of clients, from government agencies like Sound Transit and King County Metro, to cities, including Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond, and multinational companies, including Toyota. He was even hired by the attorneys defending Gary Ridgway, better known as the Green River Killer. His clients pay him for his insight – to study what is really happening on the ground, to uncover trends, patterns of spending, of consumption, and, pertinent to transportation, of ridership, travel habits, and work and lifestyle choices. In this capacity he was a part of the team that designed the southernmost sections of the newly opened light rail from Seattle to Tukwila. But far from being an agency number cruncher, Hebert has allegiances and connections, particularly in the Bellevue business community. He is a former board member of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and Bellevue Downtown Association. On the wall of his Bellevue office is a framed newspaper article heralding well known Eastside businessman and creator of Bellevue Square, Kemper Freeman, a friend as well as a business associate. Freeman is one of the driving forces behind the Eastside Transportation Association (ETA), a group with a history of opposing public transit initiatives, particularly light rail. It is Freeman’s name on the writ of prohibition the ETA launched against Gov. Christine Gregoire recently to stop Sound Transit using lane space on the Interstate 90 for an Eastside expansion. (He likens Freeman’s battle against Sound Transit as “David against Goliath,” with Freeman playing the role of David.) This is the same Sound Transit of which
Clients pay Jim Hebert of Hebert Research for his insight - to study what is really happening on the ground, to uncover trends, patterns of spending, of consumption, and, pertinent to transportation, of ridership, travel habits, and work and lifestyle choices. CHAD COLEMAN, REPORTER NEWSPAPERS
Though these are ideas familiar to many, particularly Eastside workers and residents, Hebert said transportation planners are not taking them on board. “This is very disconcerting, this disconnect with suburban communities,” he said. “They don’t realize the model is changing, and they need to adapt. The public won’t change. When people lead, the leadership should follow.” He said that the light rail concept was making false assumptions about the American public, and, as a result, was not popular among Eastside business people. “You have to ask yourself, why is the Eastside business community not supporthe way Hebert sees ing a service that they don’t it, the transportation have to pay for? Because plans currently on ‘Studies have shown that the they don’t see the benefit for the drawing board average American individual themselves and their employdo not adequately conwill not walk further than ees,” Hebert said. “They see nect with the patterns of 1100 feet. This is not Europe.’ it as only serving those it’s work and lifestyle that he is Jim Hebert convenient to.” documenting – particularly He added the light rail the growing pattern of the plan assumed that people “reverse commute,” people would walk a certain diswho live in Seattle and work tance to get to a station. on the Eastside, rather than the other way “Studies have shown that the average around. American individual will not walk further “This is a very interesting phenomthan 1100 feet,” he said. “This is not enon,” Hebert said. “When we lived in Europe.” North Wedgwood, my wife would be able to catch the bus to her work in Seattle, ebert said that he personally but I would have to drive to work in Belwas interested in other means of levue. That pattern has continued. There reducing congestion on Eastside are more desktops on the Eastside than roads. rooftops, it’s become an employment In his office, employees go home in two center. The leadership has chosen to build shifts, at 5 p.m. and at 9 p.m. businesses here, and the employees have Employees are given bus passes, and followed.” those leaving at 9 p.m. are driven to the Hebert said that high house prices on Bellevue Park and Ride. the Eastside, and the appeal to young He said employers should be looking at people of Seattle’s urban experience, have things like encouraging their employees accentuated this trend. to do their shopping or fitness workouts “The real estate market will tell you that after work. people will drive to where they qualify “This balances out the peak flows,” for a mortgage,” he said. “Essentially, Hebert said. “It is about changing lifestyle Snohomish, Seattle, Pierce counties, have to match traffic patterns.” become the suburbs of the Eastside. It’s a But, he admitted, public transportation mega trend.” usage constitutes a very small percentage
Hebert’s wife, Cynthia Sullivan, was once a board member. During her time on the King County Council, Sullivan was a passionate advocate of light rail in the area, and once said “we are going to get it built. I am not going to back away from it.” So possibly more than any other figure, Hebert represents the diversity of interests all jostling for control of the area’s transportation future – business people, politicians, engineers, and lobbyists. “At times they are on the same page,” he said. “Generally it is an adversarial relationship.”
of trips from and to the Eastside. “The public understands one bus will replace plenty of cars. But not their car,” he said. Hebert said he had noticed people are buying fewer cars, driving their old cars longer, and taking into account gas prices by combining trips. While shedding the car in favor of public transit is an effective cost saving change, Hebert said Eastsiders “work around the calendar, rather than the checkbook.”
hich brings the conversation to tolls, particularly variable tolls, where as roads become more congested the toll price increases, encouraging drivers to use less congested routes. “As an economist and a researcher, this is a variable that allows us to manage demand,” Hebert said. “Tolls are very price elastic. But you have to consider is it fair? Is it just to all? It comes back to the checkbook and the calendar. For an attorney making $520 an hour, then the cost of a toll is minimal if it gets them there faster. But for a younger person, maybe in an entry level position, then the toll is going to be more of a concern.” Hebert said that, given the car is still king when it comes to getting around the Eastside, the condition of roads was a big concern. In a recent survey of his, the question of how well roads are maintained scored a ‘D’, and about 47 percent of respondents gave “extremely low” scores on things like resurfacing, striping and signage. But, in the bigger picture, Eastside residents have other, more pressing things on their plate. According to Hebert’s research into the top priorities for people at the moment, transportation was tied at fourth, with the economy and behind health care, taxation, education and the environment.
Jake Lynch is editor of the Issasquah Reporter. He can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com
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the conversation . . . Join the Crusader for Common Sense, Dave Ross on Monday, September 28 at 10:00 A.M. as he discusses the complicated issues of transportation covered in "Navigate the Future". Call in to discuss what’s on your mind with 268228
WSDOT CEO, Paula Hammond; Kemper Development Company CEO, Kemper Freeman; and a Sound Transit Representative.
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Preset your dial to KIRO News Talk 97.3 FM or call in on Sept. 28 at 888-973-5476.
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ORCA: One Regional Card for All So you don’t have correct change for the fare? No problem. Use the new ORCA card on transportation systems around Puget Sound
By LINDSAY LARIN Reporter Newspapers
one are the days of fumbling with paper tickets and juggling different passes to get from one place to another on mass transit. The launch of the new ORCA-One Regional Card for All pass program has made traveling around the Puget Sound easier than ever. The ORCA program is a result of a combined effort by seven regional transportation agencies and is ideal for both individual use and business accounts. The program launched in April 2009 and will eventually replace the PugetPass, FlexPass, Vanpool Pass, and Commuter Bonus Vouchers. The card is available in three types: standard adult card, a youth card, and a regional reduced fair permit for seniors and disabled commuters. According to Candace Carlson, the Regional Project Manager for ORCA system, the idea of a single pass program has been in the works for a while. “In the Puget Sound, there has always been a high degree of commuters using multiple systems to get around. In the past, transportation has depended on flash projects – getting from Point A to Point B by visually showing a pass to the driver,” Carlson said. “We have come up with a more convenient way to connect Puget Sound commuters and to distribute revenue regionally.”
he all-in-one ORCA card uses smart card technology to automatically account for different fares and transfers on Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and Washington State Ferries. The ORCA program offers users the advantage of reloading funds, known as the card’s E-purse value. Users can reload an ORCA card online, by phone, mail or at transit or light rail stations around the Puget Sound. An ORCA card also can be loaded
with a transit pass that can be used for unlimited trips during the period the pass is valid. The card is free if requested before Feb. 1, 2010. It will be available for purchase online, at any of Sound Transit’s customer service offices, at transit and light rail station link TVM (kiosks), or local grocery stores including some Safeway and QFC locations. While researching a new pass program, Carlson and her team looked elsewhere for ideas. Large cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C, and Houston all use some form of all-in-one transportation. “Most major cities have some type of program similar to ORCA but we wanted to take it one step further,” she said. “We have seven separate agencies who have agreed to come together and collaborate on this one program. That is huge.” The ORCA system will be able to track data in a more efficient way, Carlson said, from the number of morning commuters to the most populated modes of transportation. “This will allow us to make adjustments and improvement in the most accurate way possible,” she noted. As the ORCA card program continues to roll out, more options of transportation will be available including Van Pool. If a card is lost or stolen, it can be canceled and funds can be transfered to a new card. E-purse funds can be added according to travel needs or can be automatically programmed to upload funds from a direct account on a monthly basis. “ORCA card users can go online and reload the card’s fare on the Web site and the great thing is that the electronic purse (E-purse) doesn’t expire,” Carlson explained. “With the ORCA program, we are making things better for the customer and it provides us with data from a business standpoint.” The ORCA card program also offers a number of advantages to business owners and large corporations. ORCA enables
When using an ORCA card to ride Link, tap your card at a card reader on a yellow pole before boarding the train. When you get off the train, tap your card again at the Orca reader. The correct fare will be deducted. CHAD COLEMAN, REPORTER NEWSPAPERS
businesses to pick the transit products that best fit their business needs while providing them with tools to make it easier to manage their transportation programs. Businesses have the choice of two programs – the Business Passport and Business Choice. “From a business standpoint, the ORCA card programs just make sense,” Carlson said. “We have already issued 25,000 cards to Microsoft employees. Companies such as Boeing can use the ORCA business Web site to track how much ridership they have to save on cost. For large businesses, this could result in huge savings.” The Business Passport includes a comprehensive, annual transportation pass program that offers employees options for their commutes. With the Passport option, employees can choose to ride by bus, transit, rail, vanpool and guaranteed ride home service.
from customer service offices and retail outlets are fully functional and immediately ready for use. You also can order a new ORCA card online at www.orcacard.com or by phone at 1-888-988-6722 or TTY Relay at 711:1-888-889-6368. ORCA cards ordered online or by phone are typically processed and delivered by mail in five to seven business days. Once a new card arrives, it must be tapped on a card reader before it is fully functional and ready for use.
he Business Choice option gives employers the discretion to provide ORCA cards to as few or as many commuters as they choose and can load each card with a variety of product options including a monthly pass, E-purse or E-voucher. The advantage of the E-Voucher is that it allows the employer to provide a set value that their employees can convert to an e-purse or monthly pass. If the voucher goes unused for 30 days, the value is refunded to the company.
How to get reload card
How to get your card Ten customer service offices and three retail outlets are located throughout the four-county ORCA region. Visit www. orcacard.com for more information on these locations. ORCA cards purchased
How to use your card When using an ORCA card to ride Link, tap your card at a card reader on a yellow pole before boarding the train. Present your valid ORCA card to the fare inspector upon request. When exiting, tap your card again at the card reader at the station to complete your transaction and ensure that the correct fare is deducted. Users can reload an ORCA card at any Link TVM with either a pass or more E-purse value. Simply insert your card in the ORCA card holder and select the product you would like to load onto your existing card. Card reload transactions done on a TVM are immediately processed and ready for use. You also can reload an ORCA card at an ORCA Customer Service Office or a participating retail outlet or online at www.orcacard.com, 1-888-988-6722.
Lindsay Larin is a writer for the Bellevue Reporter. You can contact her at llarin@ bellevuereporter.com.
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In search of a national Congress wants a new national surface transportation bill by Sept. 30. Transportation experts search for that new vision By JAKE LYNCH Reporter Newspapers
ravelers, miners, and adventurers, clad in animal skins and weighed down with trunks of Klondike gold and stories of exploration, used to gather at the Arctic Club Hotel to drink whiskey and share
tales. It was the gold coming down from the Yukon that built their luxurious, men’s-only club in the early 1900s. A few years ago, this historic landmark was transformed into a top-of-line hotel, combining its historic charm with modern conveniences and design. And so it was fitting that in the same rooms that once entertained stories of pioneering exploration, a new vision of our transportation future was recently launched that hopes to change modern life in America in the same way that gold and the railway changed it 100 years ago. The Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen tells attendees at the forum that ‘it is vital that the federal and state efforts complement each other based group consisting of former senators, congressmen, – that’s a no-brainer.’ CHAD COLEMAN, Reporter Newspapers civic leaders and policy experts, launched “Performance Driven: A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy,” in the club on Aug. 27. It was the first in a series of national events designed to They heard that commuters, freight operators, the mode, be it public transit or draw attention to the plan and foster discussion among economy and the environment are all suff ering from the roads expansion. transportation officials and the public ahead of a Sept. 30 lack of a unified national transportation plan, which is This mode neutrality matches deadline to bring a new national surface transportation encouraging a fragmented, inefficient system. the non-partisan nature of the bill before Congress. “At the federal level, transportation has lost any real group, which has stated a deter“The deadline for the new authorization will not be sense of goals, ” Gorton said. “I think it’s most impormination not to let political almet,” said project co-chair and former U.S. Sen. Slade tant that we focus laser-like on the proposition of how legiances or corporate interests Gorton in his introduction at the Arctic Club. “The Senwe measure success. What kind of metrics do we use, skew the plan’s intent. ate seems to have little interest in doing so.” Rarely are such lofty ideAn extension of about 12 months is likely, and the BPC and how do we determine how discretionary grants are awarded? What is success in the transportation fi eld?” als matched with the political plans to use this extension to press upon legislators the The BPC claims that fedmuscle to make it occur. importance of a dynamic eral transportation policy, This is a group with real and unified transportaFormer U.S. Sen. Slade which hasn’t been overexperience in the ways of tion framework, the first Gorton says the Senate hauled in decades, needs Washington, and the group’s of its kind since Presiseems to have ‘little interest’ immediate reform. chairs, which include Gorton dents Roosevelt and then in tackling a transportation “There is no federal and former U.S. Congressmen Eisenhower oversaw the plan at this time. CHAD requirement to optimize Sherwood Boehlert and Martin construction of a national COLEMAN, Reporter Newspapers returns on public investOlav Sabo, and former Mayor highway system in the ments, and current proof Detroit Dennis Archer, have 1930s and 1940s. grams are not structured to spent the past month lobbying Joining Gorton at the reward positive outcomes, hard in the halls of power. discussion were many of or even to document them, ” One of the things they are pushing for is a funding apthe state’s prime movers it says in the BPC executive proach where competition for federal investment in new in transportation policy, summary. capacity would be prioritized based partly on competiincluding State Sen. Mary Their National Transporta- tion. Margaret Haugen, former tion Policy Project calls for Washington State DepartJoshua Schank, director of transportation research for the hether it’s light rail, carpooling incentives, transportation projects to ment of Transportation Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group consisting of be seen as components of a HOV lanes or expanded bus systems that (WSDOT) Secretary Doug prove to be the most effective solution to a larger program of metropoliMacDonald, CEO of Sound former senators, congressmen, civic leaders and policy experts, noted that gas tax revenue was becoming a counter-productive source of particular problem, then that is one that is tan investments, all designed Transit Joni Earl, WSDOT revenue, and would continue to decline in the future as consumers rewarded and funded. with five major goals in Secretary Paula Hammond, looked for other modes. CHAD COLEMAN, Reporter Newspapers “The federal government shouldn’t be concerned with mind: Economic growth, Chair of Greater Seattle national connectivity, metro- how CO2 emissions are decreasing, just that they are,” Chamber of Commerce J. said Joshua Schank, BPCs Director of Transportation politan accessibility, energy Tayloe Washburn, Puget Research. security and environmental Sound Regional Council’s Schank said that just building new infrastructure was protection, and safety. Transportation Planning Director Charlie Howard, and not always the answer. How a centralized effort like this plays itself out is of Commissioner of the Washington State Transportation “For example, land use changes, or road tolling, might course seen in the types of projects and infrastructure Commission Dan O’Neal. be a more effective solution than a large investment in In the audience were mayors and former mayors, sena- that are supported. The BPC wants such decisions to be “mode-neutral,” evaluated by performance toward achievtors and civic leaders. [ more TRANSPORTATION PLAN page 37 ] ing the goals and not hindered by bias toward a particular
NAVIGATE THE FUTURE
transportation plan [TRANSPORTATION PLAN from page 36]
money – they will be rewarded for innovative thinking.” Schank said that gas tax revenue was becoming a counterproductive source of revenue, and would continue to decline in the future as consumers looked for other modes. “New revenue should be linked to performance,” he said. “That’s we’re working on in Capitol Hill.”
The role of IT But in order to build a program based around rewarding the performance of transportation projects, first they must provide a way to accurately record that performance. A big part of the BPC plan is technology - better technology producing accurate and timely data. A presentation by Information Technology Professor Thomas Horan demonstrated ways in which real time traffic information, utilizing cell phone technology and input from commuters and travelers, would give a clearer idea of what was happening on roads and the state of transit networks. “Transportation may be one of the least innovative sectors of the economy,” Horan said. “We have this need for innovation, this need for better performance data. Into this problem space should come technology.”
ith his own presentation beset by technical problems, however, Horan’s call for a long overdue improvement of transportation technology out in front of a faulty, flickering projector screen was a reminder of the huge gap that still exists between what makes sense and what actually goes on. “Only 37 percent of urban freeways have implemented Intelligent Transportation Systems program,” he said. “The Department of Transportation does not have data in some critical areas.” Horan said that this area was one in which the government would benefit from partnerships with the private sector. “With all due respect to my colleagues at the DOT, it is not exactly a hotbed of innovation,” he said. “The U.S. constitutes the largest market for IT systems in the world. And a lot the developments we are looking for have export potential.” Through private sector innovation Horan hopes to see “a credible IT system for assessing performance at a federal, state and local level.” “Now, everyone has to measure their own performance. And they do a so-so job of it, because they don’t have the money for it,” he said. Horan says that by employing a cutting-edge system across the whole country, economies of scale would be achieved, saving money and providing reliable data. He said that performance metrics, such as accident hot spots and historically congested roads, need to be not just for policy makers and planners, but for the end-users, who in tern contribute to the information gathering. Better technology would also make a variable pricing system more efficient, using higher tolls to encourage travelers to use less congested routes. Bryan Mistele, CEO of Kirkland-based traffic technology company INRIX, said that the technology for better traffic monitoring is already there, in the cars themselves. “The vast majority of cars built today by the top three car companies are embedded with chips to send data back to the manufacturer,” he said. “They are already tracking things like fuel use.”
The need for services Part of the reason as to why the federal government hasn’t paid proper attention to transportation in the last few decades is that “it isn’t particularly sexy.” “The president isn’t elected on a platform of transporta-
Washington state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, left, Joshua Schank and Dr. Thomas Horan discuss possible changes to the U.S. surface transportation policy. CHAD COLEMAN, Reporter Newspapers
tion,” Schank said. “But if we can make people see how this is important, to see how their lives are affected, then we can make them realize how money spent makes their lives better.” There are a couple of “sexy” aspects to the transportation debate – the environment, and national security. Reducing oil consumption is at the heart of almost all high level conversations about transportation systems in America, and so to it is one of the BPC’s five core goals. “One of the failures of the current system is that it doesn’t link transportation policy to energy security and climate change,” said Steve Marshall from the Cascadia Center for Regional Development. “Ninety-seven percent of our transportation is fueled by oil. People literally do not have a choice. If you want to get from here to there, you have to burn oil.” “We depend on imported oil for 60 percent of our total consumption,” Marshall said. “That’s $1 billion dollars a day during the peaks. You compare that to a stimulus investment of $700 billion over three years. A comprehensive investment in plug-in technology would amount to three days investment in foreign oil.” In the audience, city of Everett councilman Paul Roberts asked how an increase in electricity use would impact the electricity grid. “Will we need to look at retrofitting cities?” he asked.
arshall replied that predictions on what increasing electric car use would do to power grids varied, “depending on how bullish your projections are.” He said that the keys would be creating a usage system that took advantage of off-peak times, at night, and spreading the points geographically. “But utilities move slowly, transportation systems move slowly,” Marshall said. “We need to start now so we don’t have this problem 10 or 15 years down the road.”
From the locals Senator Haugen, while supportive of a nationwide focus on transportation planning, tempered the meeting’s optimism with some caveats. “It is vital that the federal and state efforts compliment each other - that’s a no-brainer,” she said. “You are calling for performance audits, but they cost money. We need to make sure this doesn’t cause a lot of extra paperwork at the state level. Money from the federal level comes with
tight strings. There needs to be more flexibility with the money we receive, at the state and local level.”
en. Haugen, who lives on Camano Island, said that the goals identified in the BPC plan were in line with the state’s. “Our first priority is preservation – we need to maintain our existing system,” she said. “The environment is a priority for the state of Washington too.” Senator Haugen warned, however, that adopting carbon emission reduction programs like that in California would reduce revenue by $90 million by 2010. Joni Earl and Paula Hammond both said they would be watching very closely to see how any new legislation proposed prioritizing which projects were funded. What it boils down to is, do you fund projects in a certain area because they are doing the worst? Because their performance/congestion/safety is poor? Or do you reward well-functioning systems, applauding them for high performance with money? Under the BPC plan, while states will still receive “formula funding,” meaning pre-prescibed funding based on population and perceived need, there will be a growing emphasis on competitive funding, rewarding the brightest and the best ideas. “I am not a big fan of the stick, I like the carrot better,” Hammond said. “This might a turning point to incentivize the way we fund transportation projects.” Earl referred to the “modal wars” in the state – rail vs. road – and said that Sound Transit was very used to competing for money in this parochial and sometimes belligerent environment. She would know. Earl is widely credited with bringing Sound Transit back from the brink of obscurity and securing the funding for the first phase of the Puget Sound area light rail system which opened recently. “Performance criteria is important and integral,” she said. “We are not afraid of performance criteria at all. But competitive dollars are very speculative, and it makes planning very difficult.” Late in September, the BPC will take their traveling show to the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, one of a number of stops in major cities around the nation.
Jake Lynch is editor of the Issaquah and Sammamish reporters. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
NAVIGATE THE FUTURE
Futurist tells what lies ahead Region could see large scale transportation, less dependence on cars, more public transportation
By MATT PHELPS Reporter Newspapers
uturist and Kirkland resident Glen Hiemstra sees many factors driving regional transportation, including the growth of the retirement population, the success or failure of Light Rail and advancements in battery technology. For commuters, he also sees choice. Hiemstra, founder of the Web site www.futurist. com, envisions a day in the next three decades when people participate in a ride share system that provides a small electric vehicle from their residence to some kind of mass transportation hub such as light rail. “Automobile travel is likely to become increasingly expensive,” said Hiemstra, who said that there will need to be major advancements in battery technology to continue on the path toward sustainability. “The lack of an alternative will mean that people will stick it out as long as they can.” That fact will mean maintaining the current infrastructure. But the region has some restrictions in size and population. “We have such an auto driven culture,” said Hiemstra, a consultant who also gives speeches, writes a blog and authored the book “Turning the Future Into Revenue: What Businesses and Individuals Need to Know to Shape Their Future.” But the futurist predicts that will change over the next few decades. “People will start to look for an alternative, and there will be increasing pressure for public transportation,” said Hiemstra. “Over the next three decades we might see an extension of light rail. But that is a big “if”: if light rail is viewed as successful.”
iemstra sees great pressure to extend light rail out of Bellevue and Redmond. “There will be a shift from buses to light rail access,” he said. He also envisions the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad or city streets as a place for light rail. One factor contributing to the changes in transportation is the growth of the population over the age of 65. Hiemstra said that the retirement population
Cars on today’s roads still are mostly gasoline driven, but all that is likely to change in the future as companies work to perfect plug-in hybrids, fuel-cell electrics and plug-in all-electrics. MATT PHELPS, REPORTER NEWSPAPERS
could reach 25 percent in the next few decades. “As local population ages there will be a greater need for large-scale transportation,” said Hiemstra. He said the private sector could become increasingly involved in residents’ day-to-day needs. Retirement communities that utilize vans for their residents and even private companies that provide service to the local population could become a way for people to reach shopping destinations, work and bigger hubs of transportation. The increased efficiency of electric ride-share programs could have a big effect. “You could have a bank of electric bikes or small one-to-two person car vehicles that would take you the last few miles to your house,” said Hiemstra. “There are already some companies providing it.” That idea is already taking shape in Europe with some startup companies. “We will have a much greater number of transportation options,” Hiemstra said.
ne element that could reduce the need for more transportation is the rise of realistic three-dimensional communication through the internet or other yetunthought-of communication systems. “It would replace the need for business travel over the next three decades,” Hiemstra said. He said that the expansion of freeways will eventually reach capacity and a point where adding lanes becomes non-productive. “It will happen after about one or two more rounds,” Hiemstra said. “Our population will also max out. There has been talk about a freeway to the east near Redmond and Issaquah up to Everett. But it is more likely to be an expansion of Light Rail or something like that.” As far as transportation across Lake Washington is concerned, Hiemstra does not see any use of maritime transportation such as passenger ferries. “It would only service a few thousand people,” he said.
Matt Phelps is a writer for the Kirkland Reporter. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Glen Hiemstra’s future
Here comes the plug-in all-electric vehicle By GLEN HIEMSTRA www.futurist.com
Plug-in hybrids This is the strategy behind the GM “Volt.” While current hybrid vehicles use an electric motor to supplement a gasoline engine, in a plug-in hybrid the concept is reversed. A small gasoline motor is used solely to run a generator to recharge batteries when needed, while the drive train is all-electric. GM is working with two different companies on next generation batteries aiming for high power, fast charging and long life cycle performance that will tip the scale toward an electric future. Fuel-cell electrics A decade ago it was assumed by many experts that next generation vehicles would mostly be all-electric vehicles powered by hydrogen-based fuel cells. It is an elegant idea – a car so clean it emits only water from the tail pipe. An even greater advantage is that a fuel-cell car is, potentially, a mobile private power station. Since a car is typically driven an hour or two a day, the rest of time a fuel cell car could generate enough electricity to power most needs of a typical home. The problem is that while hydrogen is abundant, it must be separated from other substances, ideally water, and then transported and stored. All of this is complex and expensive. Because of these problems, most experts
Prediction: The next 15 years will see a transition in automobiles far faster than imagined today. Glen Hiemstra
today have reversed course, and do not consider hydrogen fuel cells to be a significant part of the vehicle future. Plug-in all-electric This is the dominant play, I believe, and the one with the most critical implications for the lubricant industry. A plug-in electric is a simple solution. All you need is an electric motor (or four of them, one for each wheel), and a battery pack capable of the same high power, and fast charging time as needed in a plug-in hybrid. You also need the battery to be capable of longer life for longer distances.
NAVIGATE THE FUTURE
Every day policymakers make decisions that impact your mobility. Washington Policy Center, the stateâ€™s premier public policy research organization, is the only group focused on making congestion relief
the #1 priority in transportation planning.
For more information visit washingtonpolicy.org or call 206-937-9691
Travel light Link light rail is here. Now thereâ€™s a smoother, quieter, greener way to avoid the hassles of game-day trafďŹ c and parking: Take Link light rail to and from the game. Travel from Tukwila to Westlake Center with 10 stops along the way, including a convenient stadium stop just minutes from Safeco Field.
For more information on Sound Transit services, visit soundtransit.org.
A 40-page supplement addressing transportation issues in east and south King County, Wash., USA; published in September 2009 by the newsroom...