The following subjects have been identified by the WSTC as those upon which the Commission will focus and place a high priority on over the next year.
There are two areas of particular importance to the WSTC – 1) meeting the Commission’s statutory obligations; and 2) providing useful advice and input to the Governor and Legislature on critical transportation policy issues.
MEETING STATUTORY OBLIGATIONS FOR 2008/ 2009
Ferry User Survey
This project, led by Commissioner Distler, with participation by Commissioners Ford and O’Neal, was completed in December 2008 and will be submitted to the Legislature and Governor during the 2009 Legislative session.
Long-Term Ferry Funding Study
This project is being led by Commissioner Ford, along with Commissioners O’Neal and Distler. It is due to be completed in February 2009 and will be submitted to the Legislature and Governor in the 2009 Legislative session.
WTP Update Process
The WTP update effort is being led by Commissioner Moser, along with Commissioners Hill and Forner. According to statute, the WTP must be fully updated by December 2010, and thus the process will be well under way by late spring 2009. The Commission aims to create a Plan that centers on a more effective, efficient and interconnected statewide transportation system by encouraging coordination of projects, needs, and funding by and from the state, counties, cities and regional organizations.
Toll & Fare Setting
The Commission will review 2009/2010 toll rates for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, after considering the advice of the Citizens Advisory Committee. Because of debt repayment requirements, the next toll adjustments, if any, to the TNB tolls should be in effect by July 1, 2009. However, the Commission can and must make changes to toll rates as necessary, regardless of date.
The Commission will also, in coordination with WSDOT, consider changes to the current ferry fare structure and fare levels, and may make adjustments to either or both for effect on or after September 1, 2009, subject to the provisions of law.
Changes to tolls or ferry fares will involve significant public outreach prior to final adoption.
Long-Term Air Transportation Study
This study, under the leadership of Commissioner Moser as Chair, will be completed by July 1, 2009. The final study report will provide policy recommendations to the Governor and Legislature regarding the state’s role in meeting statewide commercial and general aviation capacity needs. Those regions of the state which should receive improvements will also be identified.
PRIORITY POLICY ISSUES
Operational Safety of Highways
The Commission, in speaking with regional representatives throughout the state, has found that rural two-lane roads need greater focus regarding their capacity and condition. WSDOT data continues to confirm that such roadways, both county and state, are the most dangerous in the state. Capital improvement options are limited for many reasons, not the least of which is the unavailability of sufficient funds. The Commission will continue to coordinate efforts with the WSP and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission in addressing cost-effective ways to finance and address rural safety needs.
There are effective, less costly operational fixes that can enhance the level of safety on two-lane roads with known dangerous locations and segments and we suggest these approaches be taken as possible:
- Increase use of electronic signage displaying the speed of passing cars.
- Add safety warning signs and reduce speed limits.
- Improve traffic throughput in populated areas and give more focus to safety of residents.
- On rural roads with considerable residential development, WSDOT should moderate its priority of increasing traffic throughput and give more focus to residents’ safety.
- Work to improve adequate shoulder space on county roads.
Exploring Alternative Sources of Transportation Revenue
Today’s reality involves relatively high gasoline prices, less revenue for transportation, continuing demand for safer and improved transportation facilities, growing maintenance and preservation demands, the associated issue of climate change, and a greater effort to be more responsible in cleaning up and managing pollutants from run-off on our highways and roads. We must intensify efforts to meet these challenges and suggest the following:
- If transportation funding is to be sustainable long-term, we must too consider alternatives beyond traditional approaches. A Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) based system in which drivers pay for the miles they drive with per-mile rates varying according to location, time of day, and day of week is a technically feasible approach. However, it appears doubtful that one state can implement such a system on its own. While there are serious political challenges with such a concept in the short term, the topic is gaining interest nationwide and is actively being discussed in Washington, D.C. One possible approach that would allow time for development while keeping the idea moving forward would be to implement a federally funded pilot VMT-based project on the West Coast -- perhaps an I-5 “Corridor of the Future” project. This idea is advocated by the West Coast Transportation Commissions.
- Consider imposing a state carbon tax structure based upon vehicle type. Ordinarily this concept would be a long term notion in this country and in Washington State. However, such taxes are being implemented in other parts of the world and should be acted upon in the near future in this state and nation.
- Other alternative funding sources that should be reviewed for application to everything from ferries to road maintenance:
- Increase vehicle registration fees
- Reinstitute some form of a value-based vehicle “excise tax” with a reasonable depreciation schedule.
- Increase the use of tolling in urban and suitable rural areas.
- Explore, using cost-benefit analysis, public/private partnership investments in delivering capital construction projects and how such investments can be employed to help shape our economic and environmental future around sustainable mobility.
Tolling and congestion pricing should be applied over time where appropriate, to transportation facilities as identified in the Commission’s 2006 Tolling Study. Pricing has been proven to be an effective means to manage congestion, maximize the efficient use of scarce transportation resources, and reducing VMT which carries climate change benefits. Tolling has these effects in virtually all cases in which demand out-paces capacity, including both highways and ferries. Indeed, the recent experience in the United States with relatively high gas prices began to demonstrate the impact of pricing on personal transportation decisions. We must act now to move critical tolling projects forward.
Transportation budget and policy decisions must continue to meet the needs of the entire state and its transportation network. Economic vitality and transportation are directly tied to one another, and therefore must remain a high priority in all transportation policy and funding deliberations and decisions. Economic vitality should be included in statute as a priority goal for planning and funding transportation investments statewide.
Puget Sound Partnership
Untreated storm water and other run off from paved surfaces has been identified as a primary source of pollution for our streams, rivers and the Puget Sound. Given its direct role, Transportation should enhance its relationship with the Puget Sound Partnership and other relevant agencies to help develop a stronger joint approach to cleaning up Puget Sound and surrounding watersheds, streams and rivers. The interrelationship between transportation and environmental protection is becoming more apparent and must become a joint venture.
A policy framework should be established that pushes our state and nation to find ways to reduce emissions. Some old ideas need new emphasis and action:
- Enhancements to alternative modes of transportation including bicycle paths, sidewalks, and transit systems.
- Incentive programs aimed at getting private vehicle owners and public transportation agencies to drive vehicles that use pollution free alternative fuel sources.
- Establishment of a national carbon tax and/or a cap and trade program.
- Encourage and support a revenue system based on vehicle miles traveled.
- Provide better connectivity between modes of travel that encourage use of existing public transportation.
Provide more passenger rail / public transportation on corridors that demonstrate high ADT by single occupant vehicles, or the potential of high demand given the travel characteristics of those corridors.