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.
- “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).