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September 26, 2022

Letter to the Editor: Port needs to focus on rail rather than roads

In the September 21, 2022, DJC there is an article regarding the Port of Seattle's effort to “lessen congestion” at the airport by increasing the roadway, "Ramp removal at the airport making way for more lanes."

The project is the first of a two-part $79.3 million job that will widen the roadway into Sea-Tac in an effort to lessen congestion.

The answer to airport congestion is evident: to lessen congestion don't make the pick-up and drop-off roadways free. Nothing else works, its basic engineering economics. This $80 million project will not lessen congestion,

Will the Port of Seattle hold responsible the Responsible Engineer to the boldly stated claim of less congestion?

Will the Responsible Engineer place their stamp on a document stating the engineering requirement is measurably less congestion at the airport? Why not?

Is it because no PE in their right mind would make that foolish claim given insurmountable evidence to the contrary?

When the Port of Seattle stops feeling the need to coddle the car-dependent, congestion will be solved. Not before. Six-lanes, 16-lanes, 26-lanes, there is no paving the way out of congestion. More free pavement, more driving, more congestion. Since drivers don't pay for that pavement they feel no responsibility to conserve it or minimize their usage. As a teenager I drove my plumb crazy purple 1970 Dodge Challenger up and down the airport's round parking garages time after time and got out the parking gate before being required to pay the parking fee that kicked in after some number of minutes. We didn't pay a cent for the use of those wildly fun round-about roadways, if the port had charged even a quarter we would have opted to play a video game instead.

Want to lesson congestion at Sea-Tac? Charge drivers money. Enact a toll on the roadway in and adjust the toll amount to the congestion desired. That's it. We recently paid $20 to park in the hinterlands of Puyallup, wonder what a $20 drop off/pick up toll would do to the congestion “problem” at Sea-Tac? The answer is less congestion.

Sea-Tac could easily spend a fraction of that $80 million to substantially improve the experience of Sea-Tac travelers and airport employees and enable accommodation for any foreseeable future passenger predictions.

The Port of Seattle's number one focus needs to be improving the Sound Transit light rail experience at the Sea-Tac airport light rail station to make it first class, so light rail becomes well-known as the quickest, surest, and easiest way for travelers to make their flights and get home without hassle. Simple. Safe. Convenient.

Improvements such as airline boarding pass doubles as transit pass, reconfiguring the walkway to provide conditioned space to transit riders between the train and the departure/arrival gates, moving walkways, as well as space for coffee shops, retail, and other vendors where travelers can take a break before hitting the security lines.

Rather than port officials squandering money that can never be recovered, make an investment in spaces for vendors that have the potential to generate future small business income, employment, and good will for the Port of Seattle. Better traveler experience, fewer missed flights, a real first-class and world-class airport.

— By Jon Mathison, P.E.

Jon Mathison, P.E., is a professional engineer, President of the Washington Society of Professional Engineers' Seattle Chapter, an IEEE Senior Member in the Power Energy Society, and trustee for the International Society of Automation's Seattle Chapter

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