We're fighting for a better transportation future
While we believe Puget Sound Regional Council developed an appropriate vision for the region’s future, that vision -- a sustainable, bikeable, walkable, transit friendly region -- doesn’t appear to have informed our next 30-year transportation plan, Transportation 2040. The outcomes of implementing Transportation 2040 as adopted will significantly deviate from the regional goals and state laws, resulting in increased roadway congestion and single occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips, reduced mobility options and a diminished quality of life. Our region’s residents and businesses value and deserve better.
Public support for a better plan:
During the Transportation 2040 DEIS comment period, Alternative 5 received overwhelming public support, on its principles of promoting sustainable transportation, reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG), promoting public health, and strategically investing in roadway projects. In fact, the vast majority of public comments in support of Alternative 5 encouraged PSRC to be even more aggressive in these areas, while de-emphasizing the additional highway capacity.
Major stakeholders and experts submitted comments with this guidance, including: the EPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US DOT, Federal Transit Administration, Cascade Land Conservancy, Cascade Bicycle Club, Bicycle Alliance of Washington, Transportation Choices Coalition, Futurewise, the Sierra Club, municipalities and counties from around the region including Seattle and King County. Similar direction was provided from various internal boards within PSRC, including the Regional Staff Committee and others.
Unfortunately the overwhelming public support for a more ambitious approach than Alternative 5 is not reflected in the adopted plan. On the contrary, the current plan includes an additional 500 miles of roadway projects as compared to Alternative 5. As a result, the plan performs worse in terms of shifting trips to bicycling and walking, nor does it reduce VMT/GHG to the extent that Alternative 5 did. While Alternative 5 wasn’t a “model alternative”, it illustrates the departure from what was strongly supported as the only alternative that would have began to move the region toward a sustainable future.
Climate protection and driving, the nexus
The adopted plan fails to meet state requirements and benchmarks for VMT and GHG reductions. With almost 50 percent of Washington’s GHG emissions attributable to the transportation sector, it’s not only reasonable, but imperative that a long-range regional transportation plan use the state law as a baseline. Unfortunately, under the current Transportation 2040 framework, as compared to the 2040 baseline, there will be no change in VMT in 2040, with VMT ranging between 19.9 and 20.6 per capita. In order for PSRC to meet the state’s benchmarks, daily per capita VMT should be at 14.06 miles.
The central Puget Sound region supports over half of Washington’s population and is a significant contributor to the state’s transportation sector emissions. With the best mobility options in place, it is this region’s responsibility to lead the way in reducing VMT and GHG. An 8 to 12 percent reduction in VMT from today’s levels is not acceptable.
The draft plan results in a range of GHG emission reductions between 5 percent and 28 percent below 2006 modeled emissions by 2040. (See Draft Transportation 2040 page 49.) This will not achieve the reductions required by RCW 70.235.020 of 25 percent below the 1990 emission levels by 2035 and 50 percent below 1990 emission levels by 2050. The plan didn’t even properly describe these requirements referring to them repeatedly as simply goals and, on page 49, cites to RCW 80.80.020 which has been repealed, not the current RCW 70.235.020 that readopted the emissions reduction goals as legal requirements.
The implications of not meeting the state’s VMT/GHG reduction levels are significant. This will further exacerbate climate change, further degrade air and water quality, and pose increased threats to human health and productivity.
The widespread support for strategic (i.e. limited) investment in roadway expansion projects (unique to Alternative 5) has not been upheld in the plan. While PSRC has a framework for project inclusion, it’s difficult to see how the majority of the proposed projects meet the criteria of supporting existing centers, etc., and more importantly, how these projects will meet the desired outcomes inherent to a more sustainable future. Many of roadway widening projects contradict the vision and goals framed by both Vision 2040 and Transportation 2040 and are in direct conflict with the public’s stated desires.
With 25 percent of trips less than one mile and 40 percent of trips less than two miles, there is realistic potential to fulfill these trips through walking or bicycling. Under the Transportation 2040 framework, the region will only see a 1.6 percent increase in daily bike and walk trips, which is equivalent to the 2040 baseline numbers. Unfortunately, the investment strategies fail to outline sufficient local revenue for our core urban areas to complete their sidewalk and on-street bicycle networks. Further, the current pricing scheme is designed to maximize benefits to drivers, and thus fails to reinforce appropriate mode choices. Without more support for the types of transportation investments that will support livable and vibrant communities, 30 years from now we will have gone further down an unsustainable path.
It’s all about priorities
In response to widespread public and agency concerns over the transportation projects included in the plan, the PSRC said that the prioritization process will address VMT, GHG, and other issues. Given the central role that project prioritization is to play, the project prioritization criteria and their weighting should have been included in Transportation 2040, but weren’t. Going forward, the criteria must include meeting the GHG reduction requirements, the VMT reduction benchmarks, supporting existing population centers and other preferred development locations indentified in the Vision 2040 regional growth strategy, multimodal transportation systems, freight mobility, storm water impacts and impacts on Puget Sound and its tributaries, and whether the jurisdiction in which the project is located has updated their comprehensive plan and development regulations to conform to Vision 2040 and Transportation 2040. It’s a long list, but critically important to the region’s future.
Paying the bill
PSRC developed a transportation plan that uses roadway pricing as a funding strategy and as a market-based means for reducing private automobile travel. However, by allocating the revenue from tolling to new or wider highways, and by setting the toll rates not to cover the costs of driving, but to maximize the benefits to drivers, it undermines the effectiveness tolling as a transportation demand management strategy, and does little to support alternatives to drive-alone trips. Moreover, with driving widely accepted to be subsidized between $0.70 and $1.20 per vehicle mile, it is clear that the plan does not go far enough in rebalancing the cost benefit equation for transportation.
Additionally, rather than simply using the money to widen roads, the revenue raised should be available to all modes of transportation and should focus on increasing transportation options. Finally, by failing to fund alternatives to driving, tolling will disproportionately impact impact low- and moderate-income families who are left with no choice but to continue driving.
Supporting the vision
The purpose of Transportation 2040 is to provide the transportation facilities needed to serve Vision 2040, the region’s land-use and growth strategy. However, the two plans are incompatible. Not only do the projects work in contradiction to Vision 2040’s aim to support liveable, walkable, bikeable communities by failing to fund those improvements, they make it difficult to comply with Vision 2040 by placing development pressure in rural/natural resource areas through transportation investments. Most counties and cities have yet to update their comprehensive plans to comply with Vision 2040, and thus the actual land use decisions that are happening on the ground have already significantly deviated from the Vision 2040. PSRC needs to ensure that counties and cities update their plans and that there is stronger compliance with Vision 2040. PSRC also needed to re-visit both plans and projects to ensure that they were working in concert, and failed to do so.
While the vision of a healthier, more sustainable region was supported by the public, agencies and local governments, PSRC failed to adopt a plan that serves in the best interest of the current and future residents of the central Puget Sound. In addition, PSRC failed to approach the process with a holistic evaluation of the costs and benefits (including health and equity) to fully illustrate the project outcomes.
The wealth of knowledge, research and vested interest presented to the PSRC during the DEIS and FEIS comment period, supporting a stronger commitment to GHG/VMT reduction, improving mobility and transportation options, and promoting human health was ignored, but is still relevant as we take this issue to the courts and work to build a better tomorrow for our constituents and the region as a whole.