Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for May, 2010

Puget Sound Regional Council’s “Transportation 2040:” A $64 Billion Question

by Matt Rosenberg May 10th, 2010

According to the final draft of the “Transportation 2040″ plan for the four counties of Central Puget Sound, in the next 30 years we’ll need to raise $64 billion more than we’ve currently got coming – in order to maintain, operate and improve our surface transportation network. Office-holders will make the final decisions, but the plan suggests they’ll need to work hard to sell voters on raising about $34 billion more in system-wide tolling and $30 billion more in taxes and fees for surface transportation. (p. 66, Figure 25, “New Revenue General Scenario”).

The big payoff, according to the plan, is that congestion actually gets reduced from current levels and the environment and economy are protected, despite a 36 percent increase in population and a 51 percent increase in jobs. However, the plan states upfront (p. 9) that success will depend on the region more fully embracing the idea of development in concentrated high-density clusters, versus the current and more dispersed pattern. The plan was developed by the Puget Sound Regional Council – the regional transportation planning organization for King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties. It has already been approved by the PSRC’s Executive Council, but must be voted upon by the PSRC General Assembly May 20th to win final PSRC endorsement.

KEY LINK: Final draft of “Transportation 2040,” Puget Sound Regional Council, 4/15/10.

KEY FINDINGS

  • “Current law revenues,” or the amount of money expected for transportation projects between now and 2040 in Central Puget Sound based on actions already taken, is $125 billion. The “constrained,” or baseline minimum level of investment required in the same period, is $189 billion, leaving an unfunded portion of $64 billion. (pp. 60-61). 60 percent of the $189 billion will need to be spent not on new projects or new service, but simply to maintain, preserve (or replace) and operate current facilities or services. This includes bridges, streets, transit and state ferries. New items would include expanded transit, additional tolled highway capacity, expanded local roads, and improved biking and walking infrastructure. (pp. 13-14)
  • To address the unsustainability of the gas tax, and growing peak-hour congestion, booth-free electronic tolling keyed to real-time congestion will likely need to be adopted on all the region’s major highways, rather than on a piecemeal basis. “A combination of high fuel prices…more efficient cars and trucks, and…alternative fuel vehicles means less reliance on the gas tax…a new finance system..must be developed” (p. 11) “…A comprehensive congestion-based tolling system would institute a structure of fees varying by time of day, type of road, and type of vehicle…Congestion tolls should be viewed as tools for giving signals to people about the costs of their use of the system, allowing them…to make sensible decisions based on those costs. Generally, the effectiveness of congestion tolling is the greatest with broad geographic coverage.” (p. 62).
  • Other than suggested tolling revenues totaling $34 billion, funding tools recommended in the plan to raise the remainder of the needed $64 billion include local property taxes; local parking, license and impact fees; increased transit and ferry fares; sales tax increases for regional Sound Transit and local transit; additional motor vehicle excise taxes; state fuel taxes and bonding net proceeds; and fuel tax replacement. (p. 66, Figure 25, “New Revenue General Scenario”).
  • The plan can be realized only through a gradual approach, with broad support. “Such a new revenue ‘general scenario’ will require legislative action across a broad range of governments, including cities, counties, the state and the federal government….The general funding scenario has three primary elements: 1) early revenue actions that support that support state, local and regional investments, 2) a phasing in of new revenue sources that are based on the use of the transportation system, and 3) guidance on the use of tolling revenues.” (p. 63).

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Transportation 2040 Background Report: Growth And Transportation In The Central Puget Sound Region, (updated),” 3/09

Transportation 2040 home page

Consumer Product Safety Commission: Product Recall Database A Robust, Versatile Tool

by Matt Rosenberg May 3rd, 2010

If you follow the news at all, it’s likely you’ve heard of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and product recalls they’ve enforced – maybe a toy that poses a choking hazard because of small parts that can easily get loose, or blinds with faulty strings or hooded sweatshirts that raise a heightened risk of strangulation. It’s good the CPSC is on the case, and not a big leap to figure they’ve got a useful Web site. But if you’re going to be making an important purchase – whether it’s childrens’ pajamas, a mattress, a snowmobile or one of a few hundred other types of products the CPSC oversees – you owe it to yourself to do more than apprehend the occasional product recall news item that makes it into print or on the air. Take matters into your own hands: Actually use their robust database of product safety recall information.

The good news is, not only could it literally save your life or that of your loved ones, it’s quick and easy. And the upsurge in the selling of used goods – due not only to the down economy but also popular online marketplaces such as e-Bay, Amazon.com and Craig’s List – means buyers had better take extra precautions ensuring they’re not buying faulty goods.

The key starting point is the CPSC page titled “Product Recall And Safety News.” It lets you search and find recalled merchandise based on specific product type, company, product name/description, hazard type, country of origin, or month and year of recall. Each of the items returned in a given search is in hyper-linked text which leads you to a more detailed report about the specific product recall. When it comes to categories, you can opt for data sets showing recalls in broad categories such as infant/childrens’ (not including toys), toys, household, outdoor, sports and recreation, or specialty.

But a more focused approach is possible, and a time-saver.

Suppose you’re looking to buy a new or used snowmobile. First go to that “Find Recalled Products By Product Type” page, then select “snowmobiles,” and click “find” to view the results, arranged with most recent first. A recent check showed there were 43 product recalls issued over the years for snowmobiles (some covering several different models) and two more for accessories. Different hazards cited included laceration from projectiles, explosion, fire, loss of steering control, shock, drive axle failure, risk of injury to riders, explosion, and crash. For All Terrain Vehicles, there were 86 recall notices listed and two more for parts or accessories. Hazards cited included loss of control, crash, or fire. There’s plenty more recall information for many other products, such as clothes dryers, sports water bottles, decking materials, dehumidifiers, fire extinguishers, furnaces, hair dryers, hedge trimmers. hot water valves, hunting accessories, shoes/sandals/boots, smoke detectors, pressure washers and cell phones.

Specific recalls announced in April included a scuba diving buoyancy control device that could malfunction and cause drowning (20,000 units had been manufactured); inversion benches used for fitness training (33,000 units); outdoor propane gas fire columns sold through Costco (5,800) via a Hong Kong distributor; Chinese-made chrome shelving sold by Costco (6,800); and Crate And Barrel glass water bottles manufactured in the U.S. (44,200). CPSC is also working with other federal agencies and providing updated information here to the public on Chinese-made “problem drywall” believed to be connected with health problems or metal product corrosion among 3,082 homeowners in 37 U.S. states and several U.S. territories.

The CPSC has integrated social media “share” functionality into each product recall notice so you can easily post items of interest to your Twitter or Facebook pages. RSS and XML feeds are here.

Legitimate tips about defective products are welcomed by the CPSC, via online forms found here. The Commission also provides an online library to help consumers make purchases of certain types of products particularly prone to safety problems.

A final note: certain products such as vehicles, food and drugs, and chemicals are not under the CPSC’s jursidiction. Here is their rundown – with links – of where to turn.