Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Infrastructure’ Category

WSDOT: Freight Rail Fixes Are Key, But Funding Is Iffy

by Matt Rosenberg January 13th, 2014

Freight rail can continue to be a carbon-conserving boon to the environment and economy in Washington state versus higher-polluting trucked freight, and will benefit from at least $419 million in publicly-sourced improvements and repairs through 32 completed projects by 2018. But at least another $1.5 billion in identified freight rail improvements is needed by 2030 in the state, and likely more, with funding sources currently unclear.

Meanwhile, the main intercity passenger rail route serving Washington, the Amtrak Cascades train connecting Seattle to Vancouver B.C. and Portland, will see $744 million in investment by 2018, mainly from federal stimulus money for so-called “high-speed rail.” Overall, the state wants $6.7 billion for Cascades improvements by 2030 although the return on investment is far less evident than for the envisioned freight rail spending. These are among the key takeaways from 492 pages of information in nine newly-updated ‘technical notes” to the statewide rail plan. That plan is now being finalized by the Washington State Department of Transportation. The final version is expected to be online by month’s end but not necessarily with the technical notes, which currently are provided only to requesters.

Report Accents Ups, Downs of WA’s Economic Climate

by Matt Rosenberg December 23rd, 2013

Every year Washington’s economic data unit takes a good look at where the state ranks nationally on more than 40 key performance measures, and the latest report card came out late last week. It shows that in 2012 Washington had the cheapest business electricity in the nation, the third cleanest drinking water systems, was fifth best on research and development spending, remained third in foreign exports, and was in the top quintile on per capita visits to state parks and recreation areas. But our performance lagged on unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation costs, unemployment rate, condition of interstate highways, and college-going rates. We could also do better on air quality. Overall, our state leans more toward the second-tier of five, than first, the report suggests.

These are among the takeaways from the Washington State Economic Climate Study for 2013, issued December 20 by the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. The idea of digging into the data, says the council, is that business is responsible for increasing productivity, but government policies help set the table for success. The study includes several dozen 50-state rankings on core indicators drawn mainly from blue-chip federal government data sources for the most recent and the four preceding years, plus explanations of how the measures are calculated and why they matter. Following are some highlights.


Selected WA Rankings for the 50 states – Source: WA ERFC, Dec. 2013
‘08 ‘09 ‘10 ‘11 ‘12 Ave.
Drinking Water 8 2 1 1 3 1
Elec. Prices – Cmmrcl./Indstrl. 5 1 1 2 1 2
Exports 3 2 3 3 3 3
Exports, No Jets 6 8 8 8 7 9
State Parks & Rec. Site Visits 5 5 5 7 8 5
Toxins Released 15 6 12 10 10 11
Air Quality 1 23 23 25 22 22
College-Going – 2 & 4-yr. schools 24 24 27 28 30 28
Unemp. Rate 25 32 35 35 33 33
Unemp. Costs 44 42 46 39 28 42

Some Strong Points
Blessed with abundant hydropower, Washington’s weighted average industrial and commercial price of electricity per kilowatt hour in 2012 was 6.17 cents, the lowest in the nation. Idaho was next lowest at 6.27 cents. At the opposite end of the scale, highest prices after Hawaii and Alaska were in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and California. It was the third of the last five years that Washington had the lowest cost.

Exports
Washington in 2012 also held its rank as third greatest exporter in the U.S. measured in export dollar value as a percent of state personal income; bested only by Louisiana and Texas. Using that same yardstick but filtering out transportation equipment including Boeing foreign jet deliveries, the state ranked seventh in exports last year behind Louisiana, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Vermont and Alaska. The export data only includes trade in goods that are physically shipped, ruling out some software exports including most by Microsoft.

Clean Drinking Water
The state last year also ranked third lowest of 50 in percent of its population – just one-fifth of one percent – that was served by drinking water systems which were cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, either for exceeding maximum allowed levels of microbial, chemical or radiological contaminants under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act; or for violations of prescribed drinking water treatment methods. Only New Hampshire and Hawaii ranked better in 2012 and Washington is number one on the measure over the last five years combined, improving markedly since 2008 when it was just eighth best, according to the ERFC 2013 report.

Per Capita R & D Spending
Powered more by the private sector than government, Washington was fifth nationally in 2012 in total per capita research and development spending, exceeded only by Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Delaware. Washington’s five-year average rank is fifth.

State Parks Visits
The per capita rate of visits to state parks and state recreation sites in 2012 was far and away the highest in Oregon, followed by South Dakota, Hawaii, Alaska, Nebraska, Wyoming and Washington. The measure is based on total state parks and rec site visits including by tourists, versus the state’s population. Washington’s running five-year national rank is fifth.

Weak Spots
But though Washington did well in some areas, it has room to improve its competitive standing in others, according to the Council’s new report.

Challenges include unemployment insurance costs, worker’s compensation costs, and unemployment rate.

Some High Costs of Doing Business; Plus High Unemployment
Washington slid in 2012 to 38th from 17th in 2008 in controlling the dollar amount of worker’s compensation costs per $100 of payroll. Over the last five years its average ranking is 20th.

It is improving somewhat in unemployment insurance cost contributions collected from employers as a percent of total wages of covered employees, from 44th best in 2008 to 28th best in 2012 but its five-year average ranking is still 42nd.

Washington’s unemployment rate of 8.2 percent in 2012 was only 33rd best in the U.S., the same as its five-year average ranking in that measure.

Hurting Interstates
Our interstate highways are hurting, at least relatively. According to the new ERFC report, nearly seven percent of Washington interstate highway miles were in poor condition in 2011, the most recent year for which data were available. This puts the Evergreen State 44th of 50, a marked drop from the next most recent annual measurement in 2009 when it was 19th.

Not Competitive in College Enrollment
The state’s combined participation rate in two- and four-year colleges was another weak spot. Nationally, 6.4 percent of the population aged 18 and over is enrolled in two- or four-year colleges, versus 6 percent in Washington last year. That put the state 30th of 50, with a five-year average ranking of 28th.

Middling air quality
On air quality we ranked 22nd in 2012. The measure was percent of state population living in so-called “non-attainment areas” where the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards aren’t met. Metropolitan regions must for three years running meet NAAQS benchmarks on carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide in order to avoid being classified as “non-attainment” areas. The state ranked first in 2008 but in every year since has hovered between 22nd and 25th.

Overall, the ERFC report suggests Washington comes out in the wash looking pretty much like a second-tier state, but that’s out of five tiers, or quintiles which divide the 50 states on individual and aggregate performance metrics. Washington’s five-year average combined ranking is 18th of 50 states in 16 “innovation driver metrics” in contrast to a new report from Bloomberg News based on seven metrics and one year that ranks Washington first in innovation.

The state ERFC report puts Washington ninth of 50 over five years, or first tier, in five “business performance” measures; but 21st, or high in the third tier, over five years on seven economic growth and competitiveness indicators. On 10 combined quality of life measures over five years, Washington ranked 16th, or second tier. A handful of measures in the report were not for 50 states, but major metro regions instead.


Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

WSDOT seeks “toll educational” consultant for $2.3M

by Matt Rosenberg August 5th, 2013

The Washington State Department of Transportation is advertising for a contractor to conduct “statewide toll educational services” focused on the fourth of five Puget Sound highways currently designated for electronic tolling, I-405. The $2.3 million sought in “educational marketing” services will be for three years with up to two two-year renewals at an additional premium. Meanwhile, the state continues to explore a more sweeping “vehicle mileage tax” – with an update presented last week to the transportation commission outlining possible technologies and current study timelines.

Sound Transit Would Reject Key Reforms in State Audit

by Matt Rosenberg June 27th, 2013

In a draft status update to be presented this morning at its audit committee meeting, the three-county Seattle region transit agency Sound Transit pointedly rejects a score of key ethics reforms recommended for its Citizens Oversight Panel in a bristling state performance audit released last fall. If the responses are affirmed by the full ST board as is likely, there will be no COP meetings at night so citizens can more easily attend; no outside screening of COP appointees for potential conflicts of interest; no mandated geographic diversity; no restrictions on public advocacy of transit-related measures by COP members; no mandated separate annual fiscal report by the COP; and no use of outside experts by the watchdog panel. There will be some improvements to the COP’s Web page.

Cab car cost bump to grow Sound Transit’s queasy debt load

by Matt Rosenberg June 10th, 2013

The taxpayer-funded regional transit agency serving the three-county Greater Seattle region, Sound Transit, says its looming purchase of nine new cab cars for expanded service on its South Sounder commuter rail line between Seattle and Tacoma-Lakewood will cost $21 million more than expected, and its Pierce County regional subdivision or “sub-area” will have to issue debt to pay for the difference. According to a staff memo distributed to members of the ST Operations Committee last Thursday, that would pose at least three troublesome effects.

Pols urge “system-wide” tolling study; I-90 EIS looms

by Matt Rosenberg May 22nd, 2013

Proposed electronic tolling of I-90 just east of Seattle – to fill a $1.4 billion gap in building the western approach of a new bridge on SR 520 – is getting more complicated. There will now be a full Environmental Impact Statement, not just an Environmental Assessment. Regional pols are also pushing for a “system-wide” study of tolling in greater Seattle which they say should include looking at using vehicle tolling revenues to fund transit. And in the end it could be that instead of relying on I-90 user fees, tolling on a broader swath of SR 520 itself will help pay for the new bridge’s western approach.

New defense awards worth up to $82M to Washington firms

by Matt Rosenberg March 13th, 2013


Another few weeks, and another batch of U.S. defense contracts for Washington state companies worth tens of millions of dollars. Under the new contracts, companies in Seattle, Lakewood, Bremerton and Bingen will provide channel dredging, construction and base operations services, and support for unmanned drones gathering images and data over Afghanistan. The following are via recent announcements from the Department of Defense, at its weekday contract notices hub.

Manson Construction Co. of Seattle has been awarded an $8 million contract for maintenance dredging of Mobile Harbor Channel, Alabama, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Mobile.

The MACNAK Corte Design Build partnership of Lakewood, Wash. won from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Louisville, Kentucky a $14.3 million contract to perform construction work at an Army Reserve site in Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, New York. The work is to be competed by July, 2014.

A sister enterprise, Macnak-Saybr Joint Venture 1, also of Lakewood, won a bid worth up to $30 million over the next three years to deliver general construction services for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle.

Skookum Contract Services of Bremerton, Wash. won a $22.5 million incrementally dispensed award from the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Fort Lee, Virginia to provide base operations services at Fort Lee over the next two years. The first chunk of funding is for $2.2 million.

On the same day, InSitu, Inc. of Bingen, Wash. won from the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Maryland a $7.8 million modification to a previously-awarded contact for operational maintenance and support for the ScanEagle unmanned drones used to deliver real-time images and data for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The contract runs to January, 2014.

Public Data Ferret’s Military+Contracting archive


Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.