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May 26, 2015

Opinion -- Transportation 2040 plan: What's the return on $174B?

Special to the Journal

It’s time to look at the facts about our Puget Sound Region Transportation 2040 Plan.

How do we know if our transportation investments, especially those for transit “work?”

For all the investments any of us make, private or public, we lay out performance measures and look at what kind of return we are getting on that investment.

We’ve done that using data from the most recently passed regional plan, “Transportation 2040 Update” adopted by the Puget Sound Regional Council.

We have identified six performance measures we believe people really care about:

• Mode share (how we travel)

• Job accessibility via transit

• Transit ridership

• Congestion

• Miles traveled

• Average speed

The price tag for all the planned transportation projects in the region between now and 2040, including Sound Transit’s light and commuter rail, is approximately $174 Billion in 2008 dollars. What does that buy the region?

The most sobering facts are that even by 2040, with light rail from Everett to Tacoma and Seattle to Redmond and doubling of bus service we only increase the percentage of people using transit from 3.1 percent to 4.3 percent. Almost 90 percent of those transit riders will be on buses, not trains.

And, despite those 72 miles of light rail line, fewer than 1 percent of the projected 19 million daily trips in 2040 will be taken on light rail.

Most of us will still be in cars because there are no viable alternatives to driving.

We would also take this opportunity to dispel the myth that Atlanta and Portland are much better off because they have rail systems. Our region has higher transit ridership than both — much higher than Atlanta — and highway congestion is worse in Atlanta and not much better in Portland.

Is it worthwhile to spend billions of dollars and waiting decades to get these ridership and congestion results? Are there better ways to spend transit dollars and get higher performance? For example, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) offers rapid boarding, limited stops and less congested special lanes. BRT can be in place in a matter of years not decades, and can reach many more people. Investment for BRT is service to customers, not expensive capital facilities like tracks, tunnels and stations.

Next steps

The data is clear, even if the region moves forward with planned transit projects over the next 30 years, we do not come close to achieving our transit and land use goals. Key performance measures like transit ridership, accessibility and traffic congestion improve for downtown Seattle and Bellevue, but for most of the region it is imperceptible or gets worse, in other words, sprawl continues.

Why do these plans and projects have such disappointing results and what do we need to do to really address our transit and growth management goals set almost 30 years ago?

We call for the state legislature to require the state Department of Transportation, Puget Sound Regional Council, Sound Transit and local transit agencies to do the following four things:

1. Performance measures — front and center Clearly and consistently state the region’s goals and projected actual performance measures for the following and how exactly they will be achieved:

A. Transit ridership by mode (bus, light rail, commuter) and cost per new rider

B. Carpool/Vanpool ridership and cost per new rider

C. Speed and reliability for all vehicles including freight

D. Percent of growth in urban centers

E. Access to jobs by transit

F. Vehicle miles traveled

2. HOV lane function

Identify how the state will deliver on its commitment to keep the HOV lanes at 45 MPH 90 percent of the time.

3. Consistency among plans

Explain the justification for PSRC specifying user-based fees in its Transportation 2040 Plan for expressways when there are no laws on the books to allow them and no plan to prevent soaring congestion on the arterials.

4. First do no harm

Do not allow any further Sound Transit tax increases to be on the ballot until these threerequirements have been met.

This isn’t the old argument of roads vs. transit. This is about having real plans, honest conversations and decisions based on facts that influence our quality of life and shared economic prosperity.

Contact your elected officials. We each have a right and responsibility to ask, what is going on? Where is the viable and sustainable plan for our region?

Please see the following link for our sources and actual documents. http://www.effectivetransportation.org/What%20the%20Data%20Shows%205.20.15.pdf

To contact your Legislators http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/

Legislative Hotline: 1-800-562-6000

Maggie Fimia is a former King County Councilmember and PSRC Transportation Policy Board member. John Niles is president of Global Telematics and Victor H. Bishop is a transportation engineer.

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