Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

WA Mileage Charge To Replace Gas Tax Gaining Speed ?

by Matt Rosenberg January 27th, 2014

A special state advisory group issued a new report this month to lawmakers and Governor Jay Inslee that there is a viable business case for a road user charge in Washington to replace the failing by-the-gallon state gas tax. Consultants and members of the steering body January 23rd gave an update to the legislature’s House Transportation Committee on the findings, and are now seeking almost $1 million more before the current session ends so they can refine operational concepts, policy particulars, a pilot program and transition strategies.

The state Road Usage Charge Steering Committee’s latest report says that if rates were held constant until 2040 the road user charge – a more sweeping approach than current piecemeal electronic tolling in the Seattle region – would yield $2 billion to $3 billion more in net revenue than the gas tax for surface transportation needs in the state. The report says any of the three user charge methods considered would help ensure “everyone pays more of their fair share for using the roads.”

Now, ever-more fuel efficient internal combustion engine vehicles and their electric and hybrid counterparts pay a lower share of upkeep for the road system because they use less gas while still adding to wear and tear. State reports in recent years have projected that the current gas tax would produce $5 billion less by 2023 than earlier forecasted due to better average mileage and the gradual rise of electrics and hybrids; and that the purchasing power of Washington’s gas tax revenues have been cut by half between 2001 and 2011 from a 77 percent jump in the Construction Cost Index.

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.

WSDOT Report Muses on Private Transport Partners

by Matt Rosenberg December 11th, 2013

A Toll Division Operational Review by the Washington State Department of Transportation released recently raises the idea of a state-regulated but privately funded and managed public utility that in theory could replace WSDOT so road projects can be financed more easily through means including bond sales not subject to legislatively-imposed limits on state government. Yet the notion is clearly less about action soon on any sort of deep structural change. It seems more intended to subtly prod a legislature slow to address systemic barriers to the current and quite arguably failing per-gallon gas-tax-based transportation funding model.

WA Transit Agencies Lag on Fare-box Recovery Ratios

by Matt Rosenberg December 9th, 2013

Washington state public transit agencies in 2012 badly lagged the national average in paying their own way for operating costs. Reports from the Washington State Department of Transportation and the National Transit Database show respectively that the 30 Evergreen State public transit agencies received just 13.6 percent of their operating revenues from fare payments versus an aggregate of 33 percent for all 824 transit agencies reporting nationwide. However, in Washington, transit system van pools had a remarkably strong financial performance, earning a full four-fifths of operating costs from riders.

EPA to WA: Get Smarter on Puget Sound Transpo Policy

by Matt Rosenberg November 17th, 2013

For its Environmental Impact Statement on proposed all-lanes electronic tolling of part of I-90, Washington should consider not just a single alternative but a package of them carefully picked from the current menu which includes a regional vehicle mileage tax (VMT), more transit funding, and widening I-90; as well as a broader regional tolling plan, heavier tolling on 520 than now, and a state gas tax hike. So says the Environmental Review Manager of the U.S. EPA’s Seattle-based Region 10 office in a recent letter to the state. Meanwhile, the City of Mercer Island, at the center of growing opposition to I-90 tolls, is voicing support for a gas tax hike alternative favored by the State Senate Majority, while also signaling openness to a compromise involving HOT lanes, or partial tolling on the highway, free to multi-occupant vehicles and available to solo drivers for a toll. Like the EPA, the city is accenting the need to consider several alternatives implemented together.

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.

KIng County audit hastens fix pledges on accident pay-outs

by Matt Rosenberg July 9th, 2013

King County could do far better controlling public risk and related liability pay-outs in negligence cases, especially those related to Metro Transit and other transportation functions, according to a recent and wholly overlooked report from the King County Auditor’s Office. It accents “critical weaknesses” in current risk control strategies. These include baked-in lowballing of the real risk bill to county taxpayers due to ignoring workers compensation costs in taxpayer-funded tort liability settlements; and lack of an overall risk control system including thorough accident data tracking and related performance standards. Another shortcoming is insufficient driver safety training, the audit finds.

Outside of transportation, the audit says the county “will continue to face compliance and claims risks” because of its sub-par system for responding to public records requests, and that it must speed efforts to implement risk controls around incidences of excessive force by the King County Sheriff’s office, and cyber-secuirty vulnerabilities. Top officials say they’re implementing some changes already, and more are to come.