Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

North Sounder low ridership, high costs “not acceptable,” says oversight body

by September 27th, 2012

In a report aired publicly today at the board meeting of the Seattle region’s three-county regional transit agency Sound Transit, its Citizen Oversight Panel said at half of original projected passenger levels, North Sounder commuter rail service running between downtown Seattle and the City of Everett in Snohomish County via Edmonds and Mukilteo isn’t drawing enough ridership now to justify its continued existence. “The status quo of low ridership and high costs on North Sounder is not acceptable,” a special working group of the COP stated to Sound Transit Board Chairman Pat McCarthy in a cover letter to the report. The COP said the markedly higher per-boarding costs for North Sounder are especially troubling when Sound Transit’s “Sound Express” buses to and from Snohomish County are often standing room only. COP’s North Sounder Alternatives Task Force in the report urged Sound Transit to work with Mukilteo and Edmonds on the difficult challenge of improving parking capacity near those stations; also to confront another big but more long-term challenge of adding a North Seattle stop; and to set a 2020 deadline for bringing average daily ridership to originally projected levels of 2,400 per weekday.

WA gas tax, license fee hikes eyed; local MVET option seen

by September 23rd, 2012

Around Washington state this fall city councils, regional associations of cities and regional transportation planning boards are trying to find common ground on what sort of transportation revenue measures to push in the Winter 2013 session of the state legislature to address worn-out and crowded roads and highways and transit system preservation. High-profile electronic tolling in Central Puget Sound will cover only a modest portion of that region’s funding needs. Statewide, a governor’s task force early this year identified $50 billion worth of necessary surface transportation work in the next decade. But a recently approved Congressional transportation spending bill funnels only $1.3 billion here in the next two years. So cities are working to develop a consensus position to advance in Olympia. Several key possibilities, according to a staff memo to be discussed by the Bellevue City Council Monday night are:

* an increase of eight cents in statewide gas tax;
* a local option hike of baseline countywide vehicle license fee from $20 to $40;
* and perhaps even allowing counties to implement a one percent motor vehicle excise tax (MVET).

Though local option measures could advance this year, a statewide gas tax hike might have to wait until 2014. The one percent MVET could be a local option only, not imposed statewide. A city or county council would be able to approve it, or could choose to let local voters decide. Counties which adopted an MVET would get two-thirds of revenues for transit and roads, and cities would get the rest to repair and build arterial streets.

For King County, the Bellevue memo says, a one percent MVET would yield about $75 million annually. Likewise, as outlined in the Bellevue staff memo, an increase in local vehicle license fees from $20 to $40 would not be imposed but could be approved by an elected city or county council or a local transportation benefit district. Another idea being considered is an annual electric vehicle fee of $200.

Bellevue staff say a local option MVET is attractive because it can be used for all surface transportation purposes including transit whereas the gas tax is for roads only; and that the MVET is progressive, based on the value of the vehicle, rather than the same for all regardless of income or vehicle value, like the gas tax. Similarly, a City of Shoreline staff memo also dated September 24, on legislative priorities, says the progressive MVET is preferable to the flat vehicle license fee. However part of the political baggage carried by the MVET is a fair play problem, as some vehicle owners loudly voiced concerns over inaccurate value assessments and overcharging when it was previously in effect in Washington. There’s a thorny backstory, though. In a ballot initiative led by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman in 1999, Washington voters opted to end the oft-reviled MVET, and despite a later court ruling invalidating the measure, legislators chose to let it lie.

King County’s Metro bus service has a lot riding on extension and growth of the vehicle license fee. Following passage of enabling state legislation, the county council in August 2011 approved a temporary 2012-13 license fee of $20 to help maintain bus service and control congestion, with the proviso that a broader funding approach would be implemented in the future.

A gas tax hike of eight cents wouldn’t actually do much good, at least in the state’s most populous and traveled sectors, where mega-project tabs easily run into the billions. According to the Bellevue staff memo, a gas tax hike of eight cents would generate $2.56 billion in a decade with two thirds to the state and a third, or $896 million altogether, to local governments. But the memo notes, “this part of the proposal represents a very modest level of revenue when you consider that the cost of expanding I-405 south of Bellevue through SR 167 is $1.7 billion. the gas tax is attractive in so far as it is a user fee, a principle supported by the Council over the years. However, to address major corridors like I-405, the statewide gas tax level would have to be much higher.”

Although not mentioned in the memo, other unfunded or underfunded mega-projects dot the Seattle regional landscape. Completion of the replacement bridge across SR 520 on Lake Washington requires a missing $2 billion. High priority work on I-5 in Seattle to repair pavement and ease bottlenecks is estimated in the several billions. Crucial safety fixes to U.S. Route 2 in Snohomish County have been pegged at more than $1 billion. Likewise the extension of SR 509 to I-5 just south of SeaTac Airport, a key freight mobility and congestion relief project. Between 2010 and 2040 in the Central Puget Sound region of King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties, $64 billion more than anticipated revenue will needed to keep roads, bridges, and transit in decent shape, according to the Transportation 2040 report released by the Puget Sound Regional Council.

That’s why the state is moving ahead with first-stage exploration of a more sweeping approach to tax vehicles by the mile using on-board devices or other high-tech solutions. The Bellevue staff memo does mention this option, but says it “appears to be significantly difficult to implement and may be years away from widespread acceptance.”

RELATED: “How To Get Involved In The WA Vehicle Mileage Tax Study,” Public Data Ferret.

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.

“Quick Stop” Skills Key To Passing WA Motorcycle Test

by September 20th, 2012

Washington residents who’d like to drive a motorcycle have to pass a riding skills test to get the added “endorsement” on their driver’s license. The state Department of Licensing guide to the process says you can do it in one step at an approved motorcycle training school, or in two steps starting with a knowledge test that gets you an instructional permit to ride before taking the riding skills test. There are five key riding skills tested: cone weave and normal stop; turn from a stop, and U-turn; obstacle swerve; quick stop; and handling curves. DOL has been releasing instructional videos on its YouTube channel for each of the five riding test skills. Today the department posted the “quick stop” video. We’re providing it below, for the convenience of future test-takers.

You’ll find the other four episodes in the right margin, here.

RELATED: DOL’s YouTube channel.

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.

Now THAT’S Boring!

by September 18th, 2012

From the Washington State Department of Transportation via Flickr comes this arresting image. Here’s WSDOT’s caption:

“Workers stand in the shadow of what will become the world’s largest-diameter tunnel boring machine.

Currently being assembled in Japan, the machine will dig the (State Route) 99 tunnel beneath downtown Seattle starting in summer 2013. Scheduled to open to traffic in late 2015, the tunnel will replace the central waterfront section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

WSDOT’s record-breaking tunnel boring machine takesshape


  • WSDOT’s SR 99 tunnel project page and document library.
  • WSDOT’s SR 99 “Preparing For Tunnel Construction” Flickr photo vault.
  • Public Data Ferret’s Washington State+Transportation 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.

    Chrysler needn’t pay last $1.3 billion owed to U.S.

    by September 18th, 2012

    The Congressional Research Service reports that the reformulated Chrysler Corporation cannot be required to pay the last $1.3 billion of $10.9 billion in loans received from the United States government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) starting in Fall, 2008 to help stabilize its financial fortunes. Titled “TARP Assistance For Chrysler: Restructuring and Repayment Issues,” the report released this month by the research arm of the U.S. Congress and Senate says that due to the vehicle manufacturer’s financial restructuring, “an approximate $1.3 billion shortfall remains” in payback – and that because “the U.S. Government has no remaining financial interest in New Chrysler,” the company “has no legal responsibility to make up this shortfall.”

    Woodinville traffic impact fee hike sparks council debate

    by August 15th, 2012

    Woodinville’s City Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to revamping its traffic impact fees – opting for a system that would charge developers of newly-built homes a one-time per house fee more than double the current level but still in the middle range of such fees levied in nearby Eastide suburbs. The council backed by a 4-2 vote a formula that would eventually charge $440 for every new “average daily trip” per new dwelling in the town of 11,000. The city currently pegs almost ten new average daily trips to each new home, so after a planned five-year phase-in of the raised fee, a new Woodinville single-famly house would be charged $4,210 for traffic impacts. The fees are typically passed on from developers to home buyers. The city’s fee hike will not be approved unless it passes a second council vote on Sept.11.