November 16, 2006
A Billion Here, A Billion There....Pretty Soon: Real Money
A new, 172-page report from the legislatively-mandated Puget Sound Regional Transportation Commission identifies a staggering $134 billion of estimated road and transit project needs over the next 24 years in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties. Pages 1-7, 5-1 and 5-2 specify this aggregate dollar total. An article in today's Seattle Times titled "Transit Report Urges Tolls, Not Taxes" fails to mention the price tag for roads at all, though it is essentially equal to that of the $66 billion in identified transit needs for the region. The omission is notable, as is the headline characterizing the document as a "transit" report. On p. 1-7, the RTC report notes that the $66 billion transit needs estimate "represents approximately half of our expected transportation expenditures;" the rest being for local and state roads, which are discussed throughout the report. How to do it all? We could say: shave at least one-third of the total off. That there's always some stuff that'd be nice to have, but that we can and should do without. Then again, the estimates are in 2001 dollars and as always, costs for everything keep going up. What else is needed besides cargo ships full of money? Perhaps, the report says, creation of one super-agency; plus tolls, other user fees and public-private partnerships. And, the report makes clear, voter-approved tax hikes.
The legislature would have to approve any new super agency and its powers; it's unlikely this would allow recission of a somewhat controversial provision under current laws, that both road and transit revenues would have be approved by voters for either to be collected. This provision obtains for an anticipated but stalled joint ballot proposal from Sound Transit and the planning committee of the envisioned Regional Transportation Improvement District (RTID) which would cover Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.
One four-county super-agency could mean the effective end of six regional transit agencies and the state legislature's authority over transportation tax and toll collection, acording to the RTC report (p. 9-6, 9-7). It's less government overall, but less locally-responsive, the argument might go. Two less sweeping, seemingly more ineffectual and bureaucratic governance models are also proposed. (The RTC's membership, for those interested, is profiled here).
Sound Politics commenters are, to put it mildly, a rather tough sell on transit, and large revenue raising schemes for roads. Their valid concerns about transportation "bang for buck" and real congestion relief are shared even by more moderate and more crucial swing voters in the suburban crescent east of Seattle; although their pronounced hostility to expanded transit is clearly not.
The RTC report appreciatively notes the voter thumbs-up last week for a small King County sales tax hike boosting bus service and maintenance; and Seattle voter approval of a (misguided, in my view) local property tax hike for road repairs. The RTC tome also notes voter retention of a legislative gas tax hike last year, plus rejection of the horridly overspent Seattle monorail project, and opines, "this is the new reality of transportation funding; very smart and discriminating voters that will thoroughly scrutinize proposals despite widespread frustration with congestion, inadequate capacity and deteriorating older...facilities" (p. 6-17).
I dunno. There are smart and discriminating people out there, but they tend to be overbooked. They're mostly thoroughly scrutinizing the family calendar on the kitchen wall; their workload at the office; and how long it takes to get from work to after-school-care to the supermarket to home to soccer practice and then back home. Most folks go with their gut. And the feeling in most guts around Puget Sound is that when it comes to traffic, there's no free ride any more; but no one wants to get ripped off paying for a "fix" that doesn't deliver.
Public comment on the draft RTC report is open through Nov. 30. Scrutinize it a bit, and e-mail your thoughts to email@example.com. Comments will be included in a a new draft of the RTC report, to be submitted to the legislature and governor.
Posted by Matt Rosenberg at November 16, 2006
12:27 PM | Email This
Tolls are about the dumbest way to collect taxes...
...unless the real goal is to create more union jobs for the politically connected, uneducated sap.
When I moved back here from Chicago, I was so thrilled not to run into a toll booth every 15 miles.
In Illinois, over 50% of all tolls collected go to pay for the employees collecting the tolls. (Salary+benefits+pensions)
Dumb. Very Dumb.
I don't know, with transponder technology the need for alot of collection employees could be eliminated. Just charge a higher toll for anyone who pays cash. That extra amount will towards paying the employees who collect it.
Since I rarely use the viaduct and will hardly ever use 520, yet I will still be paying alot for both, I would rather the rest of the money come from the people who use it on a regular basis.
Let's see how Tacoma plans to spend spent Motor Vehicle Fuel Tax Revenues. A partial list of expenditures for the years 2007 through 2012 from account1060 (State Motor Vehicle Fuel Tax revenues) as identified in the Tacoma Six-year Transportation Program include the following:
· $350,000 for Business District Beautification
· $981,952 for Business District Capital Projects
· $525,000 for Citywide Streetscape Program
· $425 for Citywide Trees
· $200 for Historic Water Ditch Trail
· $50,000 for Pipeline trail
· $50,000 for Prairie Line Trail
· $350,000 for Sidewalk Abatement Program
(incidentally responsibility for the cost for this
lies with the abutting property owners)
· $50,000 for Spanish Steps Rehabilitation
· $76,000 for Public Safety (Requested by TPD,
although needed this hardly qualifies as a
transportation related expenditure)
· $26,000 for Stadium Street Banners and Lighting
· $198,384 for Wapato Park Street Lighting (described
as ornamental in nature)
Guess how much has been programmed for residential street maintenance or repair? how about ZERO, not one thin dime.
This revenue stream amounts to about $4.6 million annually and will increase by a couple million thanks to the 9.5 cents/gallon increase recently passed by the State Legislature. It represents the 11 cents/gallon of tax everyone pays when they buy gas or disel. If you really want to be sick think this one over before believing that there is a funding short fall: Tacoma's Mayor and about half the council members have used State Gas Tax revenues to do such things as rehabilitate their alley or to do other improvements adjacent to their property.
4. Oh, by the way you have not read about this in the News Buffoon because they CHOOSE NOT TO PRINT IT. They know about it, I have been pointing it out for years in letters to their editorial staff. I have also submitted numerous Letters to the Editor regarding this issue yet the News Buffoon complete with supporting documentation. think about that next time you decide if you are going to continue to subscribe.
5. This RTID proposal next year will be a bloated mess. If it is voted down there will be a smaller offering within a year or so (i.e., just money for the 520 rebuild). Vote no in 2007, and force 'em to put a reasonable measure on the table.
6. Thank you for posting this report info, it is a real public service. Transportation is not my area of expertise, but for those who are knowledgable. Does this plan facilitate the movement of workers between cities? This region is not accustomed to tolls. What is the economic impact on the disposable income of lower and middle class employees who need to commute to jobs and for a variety of reasons can't use public transport?
7. What is the economic impact on the disposable income of lower and middle class employees who need to commute to jobs and for a variety of reasons can't use public transport?
If they cannot use public transit, then they can use the free option (I-90 in the case of 520, or I-5 instead of the viaduct).
Looking forward to reading the report.
Tolls will only affect those that the liberal elite love to pretend to care for....the Middle to low end "worker" who will be affected by paying triple for what the government is supposed to provide.....roads & infrastructure.
Why don't the victims in the State just give the government the finger and tell them they are not helpless and in need of "them" to keep them from starving to death in the ditch of a rich republican.
I'm getting really sick of this.....don't any of these people have a clue?
I'm for the end of multiple smaller agencies for the formation of regional entity. A big part of the problem over the years has been a lack of coordination between different jurisdictions.
The other thing that will help greatly is to make sure that only a small percentage of regional improvements are initially dedicated to mass transit. There's just far too much road infrastructure that needs improvement, or was never built in the first place. If roads are ignored, it will ultimately be at the peril of the whole region with respect to competition. Portland is growing very well due to a much better regional infrastructure. Seattle and Tacoma will lose out to other western ports in the long run if there are not enough roads.
I'm also in favor of tolls to pay for bridges, although only if there is a higher toll for cash and a mandate for transponder technology to eliminate the foolishness of human toll collectors.
Unfortunately, even with wise decisions, less transit, better efficiency of a single regional body and the help of tolls to pay for bridges, there is still an extreme gap between what is needed and the funds to pay for that gap. A lot of that has to do with the poor tax structure in this state, and a history of incredibly bad transportation policy. I don't expect that to change anytime soon.
One good idea would be to incentivize online commerce with tax credits to make WA, a state where a large share of e-commerce revenue would end up. We could play off of Amazon and sort of like tourism in Vegas, we could build a system that would create lower overall costs and shipping costs for e-commerce businesses in exchange for some revenue for transportation. That would also create a lot of jobs for WA. Just a thought.
One thing's for sure, if we don't get creative in a way that does not overly tax our citizens, but still accommodates growth, we are screwed. I have absolutely ZERO faith that out current Democrat leadership can walk this fine balance.
Republicans need an issue to win back the legislature. Here it is.
The old Kemper Freeman/Rob McKenna proposal would have increased lane capacity by 15-20% while the same dollars would have increased capacity 5% if transit were completed.
11. Problem is, the Republicans in leadership in our State government and party are largely RepubliCRATS. Without a substantial houscleaning and rebuilding of the party, I doubt there will be enough influential Rs supporting the Freeman/McKenna plan to make it a campaign issue.
12. One thing I don't like about transponders is the fact my movements can be tracked by the mechanism....not to be a conspiracy nut...but I just don't really trust the dept of trans with that info.....
13. Sound Transit is in some deep doodoo. They fired their longtime CFO six weeks back. He had not been paying attention to some of the agency's financing limits when developing budgets. The board is hanging out there now, and the mood is ugly. That's supposedly a big reason why this report recommends a takeover by a new governance structure - the board members now are appointees and they want off before they get sued for approving the budgets.
$66 Billion over 24 years. That's $2.75 Billion a year. Lets use the following assumptions There are roughly 1.2 Million households in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, lets assume 100% of homes have two people commuting daily. That's $1,150.00 a year per person in taxes, or about 10 cents per mile for an average 12,000 mile per year commuter. Now since the average car gets 25 miles to the gallon, we'll need to increase the gas tax by $2.50 a gallon to pay the taxes.
Now, lets be generous and estimate that 10% of commuters are going to use transit when gas goes to $5.00 a gallon, that's about 1.6 million transit trips a year (to work and back 220 days a year), adding the current fare to what needs to be raised to cover the $2.75 billion per year transit investment means a one way fare of just over $30.00 or $60.00 a day to ride the bus.
If you make $12.00 an hour, after paying taxes, you have just about $60.00 left in your pocket after a day's work, so clearly, we'll have to raise the minimum wage commensurate with the increase in the cost of living. Which means that prices will have to be raised at all Washington businesses, which means that every time you buy something you'll pay more in sales tax into the state general fund so the legislature will have more to spend on all of the highly effective and extremely efficient and well managed programs and agencies we already have.
I don't see a downside here. (now where did I put that sarcasm font?)
This was a transit estimate Dan, you honestly need to double or triple that amount. Just to be hones, you know.
What is it with one size fits all? One megaagency is going to help with what? Get rid of the local agencies and you replace them with what? One big multiple agency?
Jeff B., you know as well as I that the bigger an agency gets, the more out of control it gets. It is basic Socialism 101 or Government 101.
It is instructive to know that the "leaders" of Washington state want you out of your car. Everything in this state springs from that attitude. Hence billions spent on buses and trains and zeero spent on lanes or any convenience to make driving better for the general populace. You will pay more to drive less and they really don't care. Sooner of later they will win. Hell, they're winning already. They make traffic purposely intolerable (ever wonder why a bus blocks rush hour traffic on the corner of a main artery for multiple blocks in two directions?), do nothing about it and then demand more money to "make it better". My brother-in-law used to work for Spokane Transit and admitted to me that they did this all the time.
They control the horizontal and they control the vertical.
Sorry for the length here, but this is an interesting discussion, and channeling my inner Matt I'm going to keep my comments tightly focused on the provision of transit. That is, I'm not going to discuss the neverending hair pull between roads advocates and transit people.
Let's start with a provisio that I'm guessing that most SP readers agree with: government costs money. And it's money that if left uncollected by government you or I could put to good use.
So while Matt mentions that a super-regional agency might be less responsive to local concerns and commenter swatter rightly notes the tendency of big government agencies to get only bigger, there are probably some real cost savings to be achieved by regionalizing transit in the Puget Sound region (whether that results in a reduced sales tax rate is a discussion for another day).
First off, Sound Transit is arguably a regional transit agency, but it only includes the "urbanized areas" of Pierce, Snoho and King Counties. This was a fine political compromise when enacted, but I would imagine that there are many transit consumers who do not fully participate in the funding of transit due to the rapid growth of the region.
Also, Sound Transit regional express buses are operated by the unionized drivers in each jurisdiction where they operate. So the express from downtown Seattle to Lakewood is driven by a Pierce Transit driver, likewise the Everett to Seattle run driven by a Community Transit person. I can only imagine what fun it is to administer those contracts.
Question: Why is there a separate Everett Transit separate from Snoho's efforts?
Are there redundant routes between all the different jurisdictions? I bet yes.
Finally, King County, Snohomish nor Pierece nor Sound Transit have never been particularly responive to their customers. Why not consolidate? Would it get worse? Maybe but it couldn't get much more so.
Regional market power on bus purchases and fuel buys could only be for the positive.
Transit's not going away in the Sound, may as well make it cheaper through market scale.
P.S. And yes, the government can subpoena your transponder records. Happened in a NYC homicide case awhile ago and "Law & Order" made an episode out of it.
18. ST's finances are a smoking crater. It's radioactive and NOBODY - not the State, not the counties - wants those liabilities. Just put ST out of its misery, that's the attitude.
The last thing we need is yet another government agency spending our transportation tax dollars to produce stupid reports that repeat the obvious: we need more roads and more transit and we're going to need to pay for it, or suffer the consequences of neglect along with higher costs when we finally quit fighting.
This problem won't be solved by the extremes: Sound Politics and Horses Ass could fight about this for years and the costs will only go up. Or Kemper Freeman can fight everybody else and keep dragging the GOP down with him.
Can we please work with what we have and get the 520 bridge fixed before the year 2025? The sooner we come up with the cash and cut the contracts, the less we'll all pay in the long run.
It looks like this latest group did some interesting work for all the egg-heads out there but has done nothing at all to fix any problem. Nothing. Looks to me like it may be making itself a tool of a decades long stupid fight by bringing up a bunch of tired old knocks on transit with absolutely no background or sourcing to substantiate their wild claims.
We're generally all doing pretty well compared to most other in terms of making a living around here. We don't need more studies to make the roads better. We need agreement by silly Commissions like this to get out of the way.
A lot of the stuff in this report looks like the same old tired debating society nonsense. It is important to take a long view. But for heck sakes, let's stop the debating and get on with the fixes. If there's money to fix the 520 on the ballot in 2007, I'm voting for it and I'll bet the vast majority of people around here will too.
This all sounds great to many of the politicians. Do you think people will have an opportunity to vote on it - or will it be ramrodded through by City and County councils, like the tunnel vision is by Seattle ?
ST light rail is frivolous and takes up a large chunk of the costs. Besides, the agency is out of control. If Dino Rossi gets elected governor in 2008, we should see some progress in prioritizing these projects, cost savings and reeling in Sound Transit. With any other Democrat Governor, it will be hopeless - mark my words.
It's clear that there will need to be some cost cutting there. Fixing the 520 bridge and widening 405 should be the top two priorities. The prices will not go down with time.
21. The following quote is so true:
"We have under-funded major transportation infrastructure in the Puget Sound region for
the past 30 years despite steady population and economic growth."
Figure 4.4 on page 32 is very telling. But what is the answer. More Mass Transit. We have to get the people out of their cars.
From the Seattle Time today: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003434972_traffic17m.html "Chokepoints need fixing and lanes need to be added to help unclog the freeways, MacDonald said. However, he added, such big increases in congestion in just two years, coupled with huge price tags and long timelines for new highway projects, show that "we're not going to build our way out of congestion.""
I find it very telling when I talked to a Democratic leader in ND about a 4 lane new construction to extend between two cities. Marshy lands and small hills but still a job of 79 miles of highway added 2 additional lanes the entire distance costs about a million dollars per lane mile and they were complaining about the expense and looking at costs savings.
The question is why can ND build highways so cheaply. Is it land cost? (Add lanes to the center between the interstate). Is it enviromental studies (What animal is going to live between two lanes of an interstate)? Is it endless meetings that never solve anything and take a decade to figure out a road needs to be expanded or approval from Dozens of agencies for every road Project (Make it an emergency and cut the red tape). Or is it taxes for items used (General fund taps into the gas tax because they are taxing all the revenue to add it to the general fund. Would it not be better to make all Material used for Road Construction to be free of state Sales Tax. Oh thats right it would cut tax revenue to the state)
Lots of little things can add up to reducing costs. This plan talks about a lot of expenditure it is funny that half the money spent is for mass transit. Because they can not fix the roads to lower congestion they can only move you from your cars to lower congestion. Less Cars means less Congestion. Never mind that population growth is still continuing. Half the money to 5% of the population. The other half to fix and maintain roads. Guess who will spend the money first. Roads will take a decade to get out of committee but Mass transit will start building Day 1. Regional boards do not work because they are committees. You need a Highway department that Is not limited and restricted at responding to Traffic Needs.
The killer is the State has 1.9 Billion more in revenue collected. How much will moved to Transportation Needs in the State. I bet not a dime. They will find more social programs to spend this money on. (http://www.komotv.com/news/local/4669461.html)
I just read this report again and I am wondering who wrote it, Democrats or Republicans?
Looks like Republicans to me: their main point seems to be that the government is broken. Then they launch this gigantic new agency they say is required to fix things. (Their answer to broken government is: More government. And more elected officials. No kidding.)
Will that ever happen? They can't even agree to a common sense transit agency merger in Everett. That football has been in the air for years.
Looks like all the Democrats on this transit commission got hoodwinked by what appear to be at least two Republicans who simply produced talking points for GOP legislators in 2007 and Dino Rossi in 2008.