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UW-Bothell hopes new I-405/SR522 interchange facilitates growth

University of Washington, Bothell, Chancellor Kenyon Chan. Photo by Tom Corrigan

University of Washington, Bothell, Chancellor Kenyon Chan. Photo by Tom Corrigan

By Tom Corrigan
Reporter Newspapers
“The significance is huge,” said University of Washington, Bothell Chancellor Kenyon Chan.
On Sept. 18, WSDOT and the UW-Bothell were scheduled to hold a ribbon cutting for the new Interstate 405/State Route 522 ramp leading to the joint campus of the university and Cascadia Community College. The ramp was to open to traffic a week later.
With the arrival of the ramp, for the first time, the campus has a second entrance.
“It will allow the UW-Bothell to grow as it should,” Chan said.
Focusing his comments more on the traffic implications of the new ramp, Bothell Transportation Manager Seyed Safavian said the ramp should have a major effect on his city’s streets.
Prior to construction of the ramp, all traffic headed to the campus was funneled through the entrance off Beardslee Boulevard in Bothell.
While the schools were limited to one entrance, their student populations also were limited due to an agreement with the city of Bothell.
Under that agreement, UW-Bothell had to at least secure funding for the ramp before the combined enrollment at the university and Cascadia could exceed a combined 3,000. Chan noted UW-Bothell’s student population alone should reach 2,300 this year.
State officials have set the price tag for the ramp at $52.3 million. Chan feels that in the long run, taking into account the economic contributions of two thriving schools and their graduates, the ramp will more than pay for itself.

Last month, workers put the final touches on the Interstate 405/State Route 522 ramp to the University of Washington, Bothell. Anecdotally, a retaining wall built for the ramp is said to be the biggest in the state, if not a good portion of the Northwest. Photo by Andy Nystrom

Last month, workers put the final touches on the Interstate 405/State Route 522 ramp to the University of Washington, Bothell. Anecdotally, a retaining wall built for the ramp is said to be the biggest in the state, if not a good portion of the Northwest. Photo by Andy Nystrom

“It’s a good investment,” he said. “It’s interesting that a transportation project was an investment in the future of students.”
Ultimately, Chan envisions the UW-Bothell growing to between 6,000 to 7,000 students. The university has been expanding at a pace of about 200 to 300 students a year. However, with the ramp, and just as importantly, with added academic programs, Chan feels future growth in student population could happen more rapidly.
In terms of physical growth, UW-Bothell added its first campus housing this year and has plans for more. UW-Bothell Vice-Chancellor Marilyn Cox said the school recently received a $5 million grant to begin design of a new science and academic building. Further, with completion of the ramp, UW-Bothell officials plan a major updating of their master plan. A student activities center could be a primary focus of that plan, according to Cox.
Along with school officials, Safavian said he expects the new 405/522 entrance will handle about 80 percent of the traffic headed to the campus.
“I expect that this will remove substantial pressure off Beardslee,” Safavian said.
UW-Bothell officials said about 25 percent of the school’s population comes from Snohomish County and the ramp  is an obvious benefit to those students.
But Safavian added direct access from 522 also helps campus traffic heading into Bothell from points west.  Prior to the opening of the ramp, that traffic was forced to cut through downtown Bothell, or worse in Safavian’s opinion, make their way to Beardslee using Bothell side streets.
“One complaint we constantly get is that the traffic going to the campus uses local streets,” Safavian said.
With the ramp in place, traffic should be able to simply stay on the city’s state routes, if nothing else, easing congestion in downtown Bothell.
As WSDOT officials have been quick to emphasize, the ramp was completed eight months ahead of schedule.
“We were very impressed by the magnitude of the project,” Chan said.
He expects the ramp and an expanded UW-Bothell campus will tie in well with Bothell’s well-advertised plans to revamp and grow its downtown.
The ambitious plan includes a large-scale mixed use development and a major realignment of Main Street and State Route’s 527 and 522. Chan envisions the university and the city coming together with what he called a “town and gown” development.
“Bothell has a wonderful urban renewal plan… We will connect to that,” he added.
Tom Corrigan is a writer for the Bothell Reporter. He can be contacted at tcorrigan@bothell-reporter.com.


Kirkland on move to more places, more often

Kirkland resident Sally Brown carries a pedestrian flag while crossing Central Way in downtown Kirkland recently with her daughter, Caroline Schmale, 7. Photo by Carrie Wood.

Kirkland resident Sally Brown carries a pedestrian flag while crossing Central Way in downtown Kirkland recently with her daughter, Caroline Schmale, 7. Photo by Carrie Wood.

By Carrie Wood
Reporter Newspapers
On any given afternoon, chances are you can find Daryl Grigsby riding his bike along the streets of downtown Kirkland.
Grigsby leads by example, as the city’s Public Works director who manages the city’s operations for transportation, among other services.
Looking at the future of transportation in Kirkland, he refers to the city’s transportation strategy as a three-legged stool: active transportation, building projects to deal with capacity and intelligent transportation. The city hopes the strategies will meet its vision of “more people, more places, more often.”

Active transportation
The city recently completed its Active Transportation Plan that outlines city plans to add more sidewalks, bike lanes, bike facilities and pedestrian connections.
The city’s approach is to look at what projects could keep traffic moving at a reasonable level, while promoting other modes of transportation, such as walking, cycling and transit, Grigsby said.
“A lot of people don’t know – and this is the under-riding premises of this plan – but one quarter of all trips we take out of our house are less than a mile,” he said, noting the plan aims to take that percentage of trips and convert them from a car to walking, cycling or transit. This would alleviate congestion, reduce gas emissions and facilitate a healthier lifestyle, he added.
The plan outlines several goals that the city expects to reach in the near future, including to develop a section of Cross-Kirkland Trail on the Eastside Rail Corridor by 2015.
The plan also aims to reduce crash rates involving pedestrians and cyclists by 10 percent between 2010-2015.
The overall goal is to increase the number of pedestrians and cyclists, because “ironically the more pedestrians and bicyclists there are, crash rates actually go down,” Grigsby said.
One way to get more people on the streets is through the city’s commitment to pedestrian safety, he noted.
Deputy Mayor Joan McBride says the city has been a leader in pedestrian safety for years. Kirkland currently has pedestrian flags at about 70 locations throughout the city – more than any city of a comparable size, she said. In addition, the city has 30 flashing in-pavement crosswalks.
“We try to be a city that pilots new pedestrian safety tools and we’re very proud of that,” McBride said. “I’m sure with this new plan we’ll continue to look for all those new tools to slow down traffic a little bit.”
Continuing this commitment to safety, the city will improve lighting at all uncontrolled crosswalks on higher volume streets, which could be funded in 2010 and future CIP programs.
The city also has focused on installing more sidewalks, with the recent completion of sidewalk and bike lanes on 116th Ave. N.E., from the Houghton Park & Ride to 60th St.
The city also received grants for sidewalk projects and recently installed sidewalk on 99th and 100th avenues in Juanita, and off 132nd Street in North Rose Hill.

"A lot of people don't know - and this is the underriding premises of this plan - but one quarter of all trips we take out of our house are for less than a mile." - Daryl Grigsby

"A lot of people don't know - and this is the underriding premises of this plan - but one quarter of all trips we take out of our house are for less than a mile." - Daryl Grigsby

By 2016, the city plans to complete sidewalk on one side of all principal and minor arterials, as well as sidewalk on one side of all school walk route segments by 2019.
In addition, the city will increase the number of children who use active transportation to travel to and from school by implementing programs at Kirkland Junior High, Lake Washington High School and Juanita High School by next year.
Also next year the city will begin work on installing sidewalks on school walk routes, using a half million dollar grant Kirkland received from the state’s Safe Routes to School Program.
The Active Transportation Plan also aims to make bicycling more convenient in Kirkland.
Through an on-line survey, residents told the city they wanted improved bicycle parking, better on-street bicycle facilities, more directional signs and a way for cyclists to activate traffic signals.
The city recently installed new pavement markings to help cyclists trigger traffic signals. The city also plans to re-stripe streets so that space is reallocated to bicycles and away from cars by 2011, and complete installation of 50 percent of directional signs by 2011 and 100 percent by Dec. 2013.

Driver accommodations
Though the city promotes active transportation, it still can’t ignore that many people do drive, Grigsby says.
Some projects the city recently completed to accommodate drivers and deal with capacity include an addition of two left turn lanes at the intersection of Northeast 124th Avenue and 124th Avenue Northeast in Totem Lake, as well as the installation of a traffic light at the intersection of Third Street and Kirkland Ave. that has helped mitigate traffic.
The city has also begun work on 85th corridor improvements and within the next couple of years will install a signal at the intersection of 85th and 124th streets that will increase turning capacity for drivers, sidewalks on both sides of 85th and underground utilities.
The extensive project, currently in the design phase and largely funded by Sound Transit, will require property acquisition and negotiation, Grigsby said.
“The city’s long-term vision is to make 85th Street a true business district, where there’s pedestrian activity,” he noted.
In partnership with King County Metro and Sound Transit, the city has also just begun work on a new downtown Transit Center that will be completed by Oct. 15.

Intelligent transportation
On a recent afternoon, Iris Cabrera watched live footage of an intersection on 124th Street from her computer screen at City Hall.
A transportation engineer for the city, Cabrera described how she is able to monitor seven intersections in the city on her computer. The intelligent technology allows her to see how a traffic signal is operating. King County remotely manages the 124th corridor and can temporarily modify the signal timing if needed.
Grigsby said the City Council hasn’t invested a lot of money in this type of technology yet, but it recently completed its ITS (Intelligent Transportation) Strategic Plan that outlines ways ITS can help the city improve its transportation system.
Its a way to use technology to get more out of the city’s road and signal system, instead of adding more lanes, Grigsby added.
Carrie Wood is editor of the Kirkland Reporter. She can be contacted at editor@kirklandreporter.com.

For more information about the City of Kirkland’s Active Transportation Plan, visit www.ci.kirkland.wa.us/depart/Public_Works/Transportation_Streets/Active_Transportation_Plan.htm

Bothell hopes I-405 projects ease congestion

Last month, workers put the final touches on the Interstate 405/State Route 522 ramp to the University of Washington, Bothell, Anecdotally, a retaining wall built for the ramp is said to be the biggest in the state, if not a good portion of the Northwest. Photo by Andy Nystrom.

Last month, workers put the final touches on the Interstate 405/State Route 522 ramp to the University of Washington, Bothell, Anecdotally, a retaining wall built for the ramp is said to be the biggest in the state, if not a good portion of the Northwest. Photo by Andy Nystrom.

By Tom Corrigan
Reporter Newspapers
According to Bothell Transportation Manager Seyed Safavian, the major road issues in his turf, so to speak, are hard to miss.
“When you listen to the radio, the choke points are always the same,” he said.
And one of those choke points is often Interstate 405 through Bothell. There are a couple of projects – one finished and one on the way – that might not keep Bothell out of the traffic reports, but according to several sources should ease some of Bothell’s and I-405′s routine congestion.
For those motoring past Bothell on the freeway, probably the most notable project is the rapidly moving plan to add a new lane to the northbound side of 405 between Northeast 195th Street and State Route 527.
Several sources labeled the 405/195th interchange, especially during the afternoon rush hours, as one of the most congested spots along the 405 corridor. But even as that project moves forward, one troublesome situation in close proximity to that choke point should be greatly alleviated, at least in theory, by the time you read this.
On Sept. 18, WSDOT and the University of Washington, Bothell were scheduled to hold a ribbon cutting for the new I-405/State Route 522 ramp leading to the campus of the university and Cascadia Community College. Among other benefits, the ramp project was designed to reduce traffic congestion in and around Bothell. It was to open to the public the week following the ribbon cutting.
As for the additional lane on 405, the plan greatly was sped along with the infusion of federal economic stimulus money, according to Denice Cieri, WSDOT deputy director for project development. WSDOT 405 Engineering Manager Brian Nielsen said the additional lane originally was part of a much larger package aimed at improving traffic flow on 405. When federal stimulus money became available, state officials quickly removed the 195th Street scheme from the larger plan.
Nielsen said federal officials were looking for “shovel-ready projects.”
“Because we had done some preliminary work,” he added, “we felt we could get this project out quickly.”
On Aug. 21, the state awarded a $19.3 million bid to Kiewit Construction of Renton to design and build the new lane. I-405 Project spokesperson Susan Hoffman said the apparent best bid was 36 percent less than the available funding of $30 million. According to Kim Henry, eastside corridor project director, Kiewit not only came up with the lowest bid, but also the quickest construction plan.
If the bid gains final approval, construction could begin later this fall, state officials said. The work could be finished and opened to traffic in one construction season, meaning the summer of 2010.
In a press release, Hoffman talked about the auxiliary lane improving traffic flow in a section of 405 which has experienced more than 100 collisions in the past three years. Of those accidents, the state blames 84 percent on traffic congestion. And of that 84 percent, 60 percent resulted from stop-and-go traffic as well as weaving traffic entering and exiting the freeway between 195th Street and 527.
“This allows extra space for cars to sort themselves out,” Nielsen said.
“We think it will substantially improve traffic flow,” Safavian added.
A WSDOT benefit and cost analysis showed the project exceeds a 4:1 benefit ratio, numbers Cieri called “very, very good.”

With an aerial map of Bothell behind him and various project specs in front of him, Bothell Transportation Manager Seyed Safavian talks easily about traffic problems in and around the city for which he works. Photo by Tom Corrigan

With an aerial map of Bothell behind him and various project specs in front of him, Bothell Transportation Manager Seyed Safavian talks easily about traffic problems in and around the city for which he works. Photo by Tom Corrigan

Hoffman noted one other benefit of the additional lane is allowing drivers better access to the business parks on 195th Street as well as the UW-Bothell campus.
WSDOT spokesperson Meghan Soptich Pembroke said the $52.3 million UW-Bothell ramp was completed eight months ahead of schedule. Originally slated to be finished in the spring, even landscaping work was instead to begin this month. The ramp creates a new southern entrance to the UW-Bothell and Cascadia campus, the only entrance previously being at the northern end from Beardslee Boulevard at the outskirts of downtown Bothell.
The ramp is significant for a number of reasons, according to various sources. Safavian and others talked about it obviously relieving congestion around the campus’ northern entrance. UW-Bothell Transportation Coordinator Ruth Honour said she expects the new ramp will carry 80 percent of the traffic headed for the campus. Safavian said city officials clearly are counting on the new entrance to reduce the amount of campus traffic using city streets, confining more of that traffic to 522.
“I can tell you the entrance is an absolutely critical piece of campus infrastructure,” said Marilyn Cox, UW-B vice-chancellor for administration and planning.
The ramp and new entrance were part of a bargain struck between the city of Bothell and UW-Bothell officials, the deal being that funding for the ramp had to be obtained before the combined student population at Cascadia and UW-Bothell exceeded 3,000. Director of government and community relations for UW-Bothell, Kelly Snyder said the number of students attending the campus should have hit 5,000 this fall.
“The vision to open this campus to its full potential has been achieved with the (ramp) project,” said Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb.
Tom Corrigan is a writer for the Bothell Reporter. He can be contacted at tcorrigan@bothell-reporter.com.


Transportation Q&A with Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger

Trans_Bus_Bellevue

Q: Transportation is a critical concern in Bellevue and residents perennially list it as a top issue in the city’s annual performance measures survey. What is Bellevue doing to help commuters, residents and visitors get around?
A: We are working on several fronts to improve our transportation system. Regionally, we’re working to remove the remaining impediments to construction of a new SR 520 bridge and improve that vital corridor. Also, we have devoted a great deal of attention to the expansion of light rail to the Eastside.
In Bellevue, the council has identified critical mobility projects necessary to improve traffic flow into and out of downtown. Some of these improvements are underway on I-405; others are road projects within downtown, the Wilburton area and the Bel-Red corridor. Keeping in mind that we cannot just pave our way out of congestion, we are expanding critical roadways in a very targeted way that will get us maximum mobility for our money.
Other efforts include commuter programs providing good options to driving alone and upgrades to our pedestrian and bicycle networks.

Grant-DeggingerQ: What are some examples of roadway projects that make travel in Bellevue more convenient?
A: In recent years Bellevue has partnered with the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) on major projects designed to make it easier to get in and out of Bellevue. One of those, called Access Downtown, expanded the capacity of downtown interchanges to I-405 and added a special bus and carpool ramp that conveniently connects the freeway to the Bellevue Transit Center. Currently, we’re partnering with WSDOT to extend Northeast 10th Street across I-405, tying downtown to the city’s growing medical district. We’re also coordinating with WSDOT on the I-405, South Bellevue Widening Project to reduce congestion on one the region’s toughest stretches of freeway, south of downtown approaching I-90. Finally, the so-called braided ramp project on I-405, north of Northeast Eighth Street, will begin soon. This project, designed to eliminate the freeway “weave” between downtown and SR 520, is funded in part by the federal stimulus package.

Q: Why’s it so important to improve the transportation system in the downtown area?
A: Downtown Bellevue is the second largest employment center in the region. Currently there are roughly 40,000 people who work downtown, but that number is expected to jump to 63,000 by 2020; the number of downtown residents, approximately 5,500 now, is projected to hit 14,000 by 2020. We simply must find new ways to move people more efficiently if we are to keep up with anticipated growth. We think the key to our transportation future is a gradual shift away from solo driving and toward alternatives that are convenient, economical and environmentally friendly.

Q: What other steps is Bellevue taking to maintain a balanced transportation system in the future?
A: Last year, the City Council approved a Mobility and Infrastructure Initiative designed to improve access to and from downtown and the Bel-Red area. The initiative features a mix of road building, “intelligent transportation” improvements to the city’s traffic signals system, improvements that compliment Metro’s “Rapid Ride” bus service between Bellevue and Redmond – scheduled to begin in 2011 – and improvements to our pedestrian and bicycle system. Another significant improvement, albeit one that won’t arrive for a while, is Sound Transit’s light rail service.

Q: Sound Transit’s light rail line expansion approved by voters last year includes East Link, which will run from Seattle, through Bellevue to the Overlake area of Redmond. What has Bellevue done to make sure the route best serves local and regional interests?
A: Prior to the release of a draft environmental review of East Link late last year, Bellevue embarked on a year-long “Best Practices” effort. A panel of citizens who serve on our boards and commissions studied light rail systems in other West Coast cities in order to learn lessons that could be applied in Bellevue. The work resulted in many changes to the city’s comprehensive plan and serves as a guide to help protect neighborhood character and make sure the East Link route delivers efficient, reliable service in a manner that’s compatible with our city’s goals and values.

Q: Council members and others have expressed a desire to have a light rail tunnel beneath downtown Bellevue, rather than the street-level system recommended by the Sound Transit Board. Why is a tunnel important?
A: The council is very concerned that running light rail on the surface through downtown will seriously back up traffic and slow down the light rail service. A tunnel option would prevent both of these impacts. Plus, projections show that a tunnel would attract higher ridership than the surface option. We are continuing to work with Sound Transit in finding ways to address the tunnel option.

‘I-5 alternative’ plan is logical, but is it likely?

Trans_Aub-local.highway

By Mark Klaas
Auburn Reporter
Valley Freeway, meet I-405.
Two of Puget Sound’s most congested highways could meet halfway in a bid to alleviate regional traffic trauma.
So hope state transportation and legislative leaders.
Different in personality but similar in function, more rural State Route 167 and more urbanized Interstate 405 hold a critical, direct link in whether the state ultimately can create a 50-mile-long “I-5 alternative” for commuters all too familiar with workday gridlock.
The Washington Department of Transportation is conducting an I-405 and SR 167 Eastside Corridor Tolling Study – a phase-by-phase, option-by-option inquiry to determine if a vastly enhanced north-south freeway alternative is possible in the years ahead.
Auburn’s Senior Activity Center recently staged a WSDOT open house/discussion session with the public. Few attended, but many officials hope the campaign will catch on. Comments will be included in a report to Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature in January.
“People want a choice,” said Denise Cieri, WSDOT engineer and deputy project manager. “The biggest challenge is getting people educated on what the benefits would be.”
The study seeks public input to determine if east can meet south, buoyed by a smoother I-405/SR 167 connection, additional express toll lanes and other time-saving means to serve commuters.
In these difficult economic times, it is a daunting attempt to explain the benefits of a creative, yet expensive “I-5 II.”
The big question in all of this is: Who will pay for it?
Options include raising the federal gas tax, utilizing toll revenue and securing federal funding.
“We’re trying to leverage any money that’s available,” said Janet Matkin, WSDOT spokesperson. “It’s a good plan. It’s finding the funding to implement it.”
To make it possible, the WSDOT wants to pay for the project carefully by introducing it step by step.
Some Auburnites, however, remain skeptical.
“If they put in a toll, what convinces me they won’t raise it?” said one woman.
The I-405 Corridor Program would involve more than 150 individual, coordinated projects to relieve congestion and improve mobility for motorists, transit and freight users along the freeway’s 30-mile length. The master plan for repairing snarled I-405 traffic includes many transportation modes, adding up to two new lanes each direction to I-405, a corridor-wide bus rapid transit line and increased local transit service. It will fix bottlenecks such as the SR 167/I-405 interchange mess, improve major arterials, expand transit centers and add about 1,700 new vanpools and more than 5,000 park-and-ride spaces.
“The connectivity to 167 is a key expansion puzzle piece,” Cieri said.
The Valley Freeway is a major player in all this, and Auburn stands to gain. The project aims to improve safety and relieve congestion on 27 miles of SR 167 between Renton and Puyallup.
Do nothing and traffic promises to worsen.
In the Green River Valley, the population grew by 68 percent 1980 and 2000, and is projected to grow another 39 percent by 2030, according to WSDOT numbers. Employment nearly doubled between 1980 and 2000 with growth projections of another 50 percent in 20 years. This could mean another 90,000 jobs in the Valley by the year 2030, which is good news. Increasing development, however, often brings more bumpers and exhaust pipes.
A corridor that carried 15,000 vehicles per day in 1970 now carries 120,000 vehicles on a busy weekday. Without future investments, southbound travel time on the corridor could zoom from an average of 20 minutes to more than an hour by 2030.
For now, transportation officials are considering the addition of up to two express toll lanes that would connect with existing high occupancy toll, or HOT lanes, on state Route 167.
A nine-mile stretch along Auburn has served as a mildly successful pilot project for WSDOT. During peak hours, more commuters are using HOT lanes where drivers pay on average of a dollar to use the lanes, even if driving alone, to save an average of 10 minutes on a commute.
State officials say traffic flow on the general purpose lanes of SR 167 has improved as a result of the HOT lanes project.
If approved, phase one would turn existing carpool lanes on sections of I-405 into HOT lanes.
Officials said in years to come, if funding is available, there could be a 50-mile HOT lane corridor running from Puyallup in the south to Lynnwood in the north.
The plan is worth a close look and consideration.
Seattle-Tacoma is not Southern California, where freeway options abound. Nationally, more cities are resorting to tolls to build and maintain freeway systems.
Perhaps it might be time for this region to face the music and consider such an alternative.
Note: The public can take an online project survey.
Auburn Reporter Editor Mark Klaas can be reached at editor@auburn-reporter.com.

King County Metro audit shows huge savings possible

By Jacinda Howard
Federal Way Mirror
A Sept. 15 audit report reveals King County Metro transit could spend less and save more through better planning and data analysis.
The audit, which was performed by the King County Auditor’s Office, comes at a time when Metro is finding itself short on funding and looking for ways to achieve cost savings. The agency is projecting a $213 million budget gap over the next two years.
The audit proposes an adjustment to the agency’s contributions to its fleet replacement fund, changes to Metro’s fare structure, and a closer look at the free services provided in downtown Seattle, among other things. It identifies ways to save money and mostly avoid service cuts.
“People need to know that we have transmitted to King County Metro the importance of maintaining transit service in South King County,” said Jeanne Burbidge, Federal Way City Council member.

Cost savings:
King County Metro transit serves more than 100 million customers annually. It operates roughly 1,300 vehicles. A variety of buses, electric trolleys and street cars are used in the agency’s operations.
Each year, Metro channels funding into its Revenue Fleet Replacement Fund. The amount generally exceeds what is needed for yearly replacements and expansions of the fleet, according to the audit. A one-time savings of $105 million could be captured, and the fleet still maintained, by removing that amount from the replacement fund, the audit found.

Increased revenue:
The audit proposes adjusting the fare structure. Up to $51 million a year in revenue could be made if Metro reworked its fare schedule. Decreasing discounts offered to seniors, youths and riders needing a transfer is proposed. This would increase revenue, according to the audit.
Currently, these discounted fares are significantly greater than those offered by peer agencies and those required by the Federal Transit Administration, according to the audit.
Federal Way City Council member Jeanne Burbidge, who also serves on the King County Regional Transportation Committee, said she has not witnessed support of this recommendation.
“I have not seen much interest directly in changing those fares,” she said.
More clearly identifying the ratio between operational costs, and the amount of costs recovered through fares, would also benefit Metro, according to the audit.

Equal service:
Currently, Metro provides free services within downtown Seattle. The city provides some compensation for the program, but the audit found Metro was unable to support, fully explain or provide backup documentation for the formula it uses to claim reimbursement from the City of Seattle for this service. What Seattle pays to Metro does not come close to covering the agency’s costs to provide the free rides, Burbidge said.
“There’s a significant amount of money that isn’t changing hands there that could help to balance the deficit,” Burbidge said.

Next steps:
The Metropolitan King County Council and King County Regional Transportation Committee have yet to publicly weigh in on the auditor’s suggestions. The process of addressing the concerns surfaced in the audit could take several years, Burbidge said. The sooner Metro can adjust its way of doing business so as to best serve all its customers, the better it will be for those relying on the agency’s services, she said.
“So far, they are saying this is going to take a while,” Burbidge said. “I don’t believe it should take perhaps as long as they say it will take.”

To read the full audit report, visit www.kingcounty.gov/operations/auditor/Reports/Year/2009.aspx.

The audit covers six general areas: Financial and capital planning, bus service development, bus operator and transit police staffing, Americans with Disabilities Act paratransit, vehicle maintenance and ridership data. It was requested last year by the Metropolitan King County Council after a significant drop in sales tax revenues, which partially support King County Metro.
Jacinda Howard is a writer at the Federal Way Mirror. She can be reached at jhoward@federalwaymirror.com.

Olympia holds the keys to Puget Sound’s future mobility

Lake Washington bridge, aka I-90 floating bridge, toll takers ca. 1940. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Dept. of Transportation.

Lake Washington bridge, aka I-90 floating bridge, toll takers ca. 1940. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Dept. of Transportation.

By Mary L. Grady
Reporter Newspapers
There are literally thousands of people who shape the transportation system in our state and region. They are engineers working out of trucks in the field, computer analysts and policy wonks who conduct surveys and open meetings. It is a complex system born of classic top-down government directive, but has become leavened with local control and public involvement.
Yet any such system brings with it an assortment of conflicting priorities and overlapping jurisdictions. Weaving our way toward understanding what is happening with roads and rails means taking a look at who runs the show.
Just who is in charge of transportation planning in Washington state and the Puget Sound region?
Maybe surprisingly, it is the law and lawmakers who are the primary drivers of the look and feel of the patchwork of transportation networks and priorities. Through the passage of bills and mandates, lawmakers enable and fund agencies to set the parameters for planning and construction in motion.
The Washington State Legislature, through the Joint Transportation Committee, drives the budget choices for the state transportation budget submitted to the governor. Representative Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) leads a group of 29 legislators from both the House and the Senate as the head of the Joint Transportation Committee.
The role of the Transportation Committee is to work with the initial budget proposed by the governor to come up with a final number and list of projects. From there, funds are dispersed to projects, counties and other special transportation districts.
Along the way, the state has added new regulations to respond to growing concerns about the environment and to accommodate both the movement of goods as well as people.
The other primary players in transportation include:

  • The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is an agency of the state and is primarily in charge of roads.
  • The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is one of the Metropolitan Planning Organizations enabled by the state that is required “to carry out a continuing, coordinated and comprehensive planning process,” for King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap Counties.
  • King County Metro (METRO) is a public transportation system “organized as a locally controlled special purpose government to provide public transit (primarily bus) services” within the greater King County area.
  • Sound Transit is in a category of its own, again set up by legislation, to provide high-capacity transit services in various forms for King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.

At the state level, the Legislature and the Joint Transportation Committee, while reworking budgets and priorities, must always keep their eye on what is coming next. Yet, as key highways and bridges are now being repaired and high capacity transit has been set in motion after years of uncertainty and indecision, the direction of any future transportation investments could be slowed significantly by the lack of funds.

Money, Clibborn and others say, is the single most critical factor in planning for future transportation needs.
The primary source of funding for transportation projects comes from the gas tax. With people driving less and more efficient cars replacing the stock of older, less efficient cars, gas tax revenues have fallen precipitously.
Because of these trends, the overall transportation revenue picture has dimmed by $3 billion over the 16-year, long-term plan of the last transportation budget. As such, the Legislature must and has been looking for new ways to pay for bridges, roads and rail transit.
“We have to come up with some new ideas in the next session of the Legislature to fund transportation in the future. The gas tax,” Clibborn said, “is a failing resource.”
It has served as a proxy for (highway) user fees, she explained. But now, with more efficient vehicles and even vehicles that do not use any gas, the gas tax no longer makes much sense.
Tolls and some types of user fees have moved to the top of the list.
“The move to tolls is an opportunity to expand not only revenues, but to manage traffic during peak times, and send price signals to encourage changes in behavior,” she said. They may not be popular, she notes, but are increasingly necessary.
Yet the Legislature forges ahead.
Last April, the Legislature presented the final version of a $7.5 billion 2009-11 state transportation budget, which will finance more than 400 projects across the state, generating 46,000 jobs.
The final budget represents the compromise between the budgets passed by the House and Senate earlier this legislative session. Clibborn said the transportation budget is one area of strength in an otherwise tough budget year amidst the economic downturn.
“The transportation budget is the good news in a bad-news economy,” Clibborn said. “We’re actually on the verge of the busiest transportation construction season ever for Washington state.
“When you take into account this budget and the federal stimulus dollars we appropriated earlier this session, we’re looking at an unprecedented transportation investment.”
Mary Grady is editor of the Mercer Island Reporter. She can be reached at 206-232-1215 or mgrady@mi-reporter.com.

Sound Transit, WSDOT handle different ways to travel

Multifamily neighborhoods in East King County illustrate the rapid residential growth in the region over the past twenty years. Photo by Chad Coleman.

Multifamily neighborhoods in East King County illustrate the rapid residential growth in the region over the past twenty years. Photo by Chad Coleman.

By Mary L. Grady
Reporter Newspapers
On Saturday, July 18, 2009, it was a new day for the Puget Sound region. Forty-five thousand people came out to ride Seattle’s new light rail system on opening day. But it took years and years of planning and agonizing in fits and starts to come to that day last summer.
Decades earlier, after recognizing that the region’s existing transportation system would someday be inadequate, the state Legislature passed a law that allowed counties to create a single agency, Sound Transit — the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority — to develop alternatives for meeting regional travel needs.
In particular, the Legislature charged the agency with planning, building and operating a high-capacity transit system (within a three-county regional transit district) for the region’s most heavily used travel corridors.

Sound Transit means high-capacity buses and trains
Voters in 1996 approved a plan that provides the foundation of that system — regional express buses, commuter rail and light rail. Today, Sound Transit carries nearly 14 million riders a year.
As such, Sound Transit is the agency responsible for providing a regional transportation network that goes beyond roads, bridges and county boundaries.
The Sound Transit district map includes the most congested urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, and generally follows the urban growth boundaries created by each county in accordance with the state Growth Management Act.
There are three major parts to Sound Transit:

  • Express bus: These buses connect Seattle, Bellevue, Everett and Tacoma with the region’s largest urban centers. New transit centers, park-and-ride lots and HOV access projects are part of the system to improve transit speed and service.
  • Sounder commuter trains: These trains run 74 miles every weekday between Everett and Tacoma.
  • Light rail: Sound Transit’s light rail system consists of a 1.6-mile line in Tacoma known as the Tacoma Link. The Central Link is a 15.7-mile light rail line running between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport.

It consists of a currently operating 14-mile initial segment, plus a 1.7-mile extension to the airport called Airport Link, scheduled to open in December 2009. The line runs through the SoDo district, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley and portions of Tukwila. Central Link officially opened on July 18 for the initial segment.
A light rail extension north to the University of Washington via Capitol Hill began late last year, with service starting in 2016. The three-mile extension, to be completely underground, is expected to cost $1.5 billion. Half of the funding is expected to come from a grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

WSDOT means roads and ferries
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is responsible for planning, building and fixing more than 7,000 miles of highway in our state used by some 4.5 million drivers each year.
In addition to the roadways, the state is responsible for state-owned airports, ferries and the Washington State Patrol, licensing, and other services related to monitoring these networks and their use.
WSDOT is funded and directed by the governor and the state Legislature.
The agency prepares a Washington Transportation Plan, a 20-year vision for the state-owned and certain ‘state-interest’ modes of transportation.
This is a combination of the long-range statewide transportation plan (which analyzes facilities that the state operates) and the statewide transportation policy plan. The plan is reviewed and revised every four years.
The plan has two major purposes: first, to coordinate both metropolitan and regional planning for moving people and goods; and second, to keep the state eligible for federal funding. State, local, and federal transportation projects are not eligible for federal funding unless Washington has a long-range statewide transportation plan.
The plan is to also consider and implement projects, strategies and services that support the economic vitality of more rural, non-metropolitan areas.
Over the years, the Legislature designated and enabled three major types of transportation planning organizations to plan, construct and operate transportation networks.
As such, WSDOT is intertwined with the projects and planning efforts conducted by Sound Transit and King County Metro and various other transportation planning organizations scattered across the state.
The agency, working closely with private contractors, is presently in year five of a 25-year program to deliver the largest capital construction program in state history — more than $15 billion in projects, including 391 highway projects valued at $11 billion.
As WSDOT delivers transportation services, it must also work to preserve and fix environmental quality. Programs such as stormwater treatment, construction site erosion control, fish passage barrier removal, wetland replacement, air pollution control, and adaptation to climate change are important to the future health and safety of citizens. Each helps to protect priceless natural resources.
For more, go to www.wsdot.wa.gov and www.soundtransit.org.
Mary L. Grady is the editor of the Mercer Island Reporter. She can be reached at editor@mi-reporter.com.

PSRC, Washington legislature share credit (and blame) for transportation planning

The 1990 Growth Management Act stipulates that new development be clustered near transportation networks and amenities to lessen traffic. Photo by Chad Coleman.

The 1990 Growth Management Act stipulates that new development be clustered near transportation networks and amenities to lessen traffic. Photo by Chad Coleman.

By Mary L. Grady
Reporter Newspapers
In the Puget Sound region, the parameters for land use decisions and, by extension, transportation networks, are set by the Puget Sound Regional Council and the state of Washington’s Growth Management Act.
The dozens of cities, counties and other jurisdictions within the four-county Puget Sound region are well acquainted with the workings of these laws. Following these policies also determines if public projects which accompany that growth are eligible for grants or subsidies.

Puget Sound Regional Council
The Puget Sound Regional Council works across the counties, cities and other agencies in the Puget Sound region to manage, accommodate and even shape growth under the authority of both state and federal laws.
The 67-member agency conducts planning and forecasting to set the parameters for planning transportation networks, optimizing land use patterns and encouraging. Money for the agency comes from a variety of sources, including grants from state and federal entities and monies from the member agencies.
The PSRC is responsible for setting out a published comprehensive strategy for managing growth in the region through a public process. Counties, cities and other jurisdictions are to use this plan to form their own policies regarding transportation and new population growth while encouraging economic growth and quality of life. The PSRC has the authority given to it by state law to ensure that cities, counties and other jurisdictions follow the policies outlined in its plans.
The PSRC periodically revises its three sets of policy directives for the region. They are: VISION 2040, the most recent plan which represents the region’s growth strategy; Destination 2030, the region’s current comprehensive long-range transportation plan; and Prosperity Partnership, which develops and advances the region’s economic strategy.
VISION 2040 details a strategy to accommodate the additional 1.7 million people and 1.2 million new jobs expected to be in the region by the year 2040. The work, which looked at several different alternatives, was drafted with three main concepts in mind:

  • A plan or preferred alternative must deal with congestion and increase mobility for all kinds of freight and personal travel despite population and employment growth.
  • Improve the environment and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Sustainable funding for the plan.

Within the metropolitan and core cities, VISION 2040 supports concentrating population and employment growth in regionally designated growth centers. These centers are to serve as hubs for regional transportation, public services and amenities. The new “urban villages” such as Kent Station and Talus, in Issaquah, reflect these concepts.
VISION 2040 is ultimately to help leaders accomplish common objectives that transcend jurisdictional borders.
Along with the role that the report plays in directing decisions by local governments, the analysis contained within these efforts provides the basis for distributing about $160 million in federal transportation funds each year.

The Growth Management Act
During the boom years of the late 1970s and 1980s, Puget Sound residents found that the region, which they had once known as bucolic, had begun to change. Commuters in King County and around Puget Sound were stymied by traffic. Farmland continued to disappear, open space and wildlife habitat was lost, and surface water runoff and pollution threatened salmon streams. Residents began demanding that politicians take action to protect their environment and quality of life.

As a result, the Legislature passed the Washington State Growth Management Act, the key piece of legislation that determines where and how local agencies will manage growth and land use. The bill says in part:
“The Legislature finds that uncoordinated and unplanned growth, together with a lack of common goals … pose a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development, and the health, safety and high quality of life enjoyed by residents of this state. It is in the public interest that citizens, communities, local governments and the private sector cooperate and coordinate with one another in comprehensive land use planning.”
The GMA requires that counties above a stated population level or rate of increase (and cities within those counties) adopt growth-management comprehensive plans and implement them through “development regulations.”
It established 13 “planning goals” to guide the preparation of local plans and regulations. Local governments were to direct most growth into urban areas, require adequate transportation facilities for new development, protect natural resource lands and environmentally critical areas, encourage economic development and protect property rights.
It was a long time coming.
As Walt Crowley of HistoryLink.org describes the urgency to control development: “With environmentalism a significant political force in the early 1970s, Republican Governor Dan Evans won passage of landmark laws like the State Environmental Policy Act — modeled on the National Environmental Policy Act, sponsored by Washington Senator Henry Jackson — and the Shoreline Management Act. After a mid-1970s economic spurt quickened transformation of open space and farms into subdivisions and shopping centers, county voters passed a 1979 bond issue to buy development rights and preserve farmland.”
In 1985, King County planners completed a Comprehensive Plan to guide land use decisions, foreshadowing several aspects of the GMA. It reasoned that certain areas be protected.
The GMA has been amended or revised by almost every legislative session since its adoption. Like our region and the land it protects, it is a “living” document.
Mary Grady is editor of the Mercer Island Reporter. She can be reached at editor@mi-reporter.com.

Western Washington transportation: A brief history

Skyscrapers in downtown Bellevue signal the city's emergence as a regional economic powerhouse. Photo by Chad Coleman.

Skyscrapers in downtown Bellevue signal the city's emergence as a regional economic powerhouse. Photo by Chad Coleman.

NOTE: You can view an interactive timeline of the history of transportation in the Puget Sound area.

By Mary L. Grady
Reporter Newspapers
To understand where we are now, we need to look back on where we have been. How has our transportation network come about, who are the players, and what role have voters had in shaping how we co-exist in a growing and ever-changing metropolitan environment?
The floating bridges, interstate highways and emergence of rail all came about through planning exercises that began more than 70 years ago.
In Washington, the Legislature first authorized counties and cities to engage in land-use planning and adopt zoning controls as early as 1937. But the choice remained optional.
Historylink.org and the essays by Walt Crowley offer a compelling timeline of the players and events of transporation planning in the Puget Sound region.
In October 1957, Seattle Mayor Gordon S. Clinton brought together state and local officials to discuss a comprehensive transportation study for the Seattle region. The outcome, several years later, was the Puget Sound Regional Transportation Study (PSRTS).
The PSRTS was developed not just for the Seattle metropolitan area but for the urbanized area of all four central Puget Sound counties: King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish. The four counties and their major cities, Seattle, Bremerton, Tacoma and Everett, participated through the Puget Sound Governmental Conference, which sponsored the study along with the state Highway Commission and federal Bureau of Public Roads.
The project was among the nation’s first large-scale attempts at comprehensive regional planning for transportation and land use.
On Sept. 30, 1967, the $1.6 million Puget Sound Regional Transportation Study (PSRTS) released its final summary report. However, the document disappointed many planners and mass transit advocates by concluding that rail rapid transit was not feasible in the region and, instead, proposed many new highways and bridges.

Recommending Roads
In place of a transit system, the PSRTS proposed to serve the growing suburban population with new highways. Along with the already planned R. H. Thomson Freeway in Seattle, east of I-5 (which voters would later cancel), the PSRTS recommended an Eastside freeway between I-405 and Lake Sammamish, various connecting freeways in Seattle between Aurora Avenue, I-5 and the proposed Thomson Freeway, and many more new freeways in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The study also called for a new Lake Washington bridge between Sand Point and Kirkland, and perhaps most controversially, strongly recommended a bridge across Puget Sound, from Fauntleroy (West Seattle) to Southworth in Kitsap County via Vashon Island.
Residents in the path of these proposed highways, not least on Vashon Island, reacted with alarm. Few of the proposals ever made it off the drawing board.
In 1968, transit advocates brought a plan to voters, but it would be three decades before Puget Sound voters approved funding.
On Feb. 13, 1968, King County voted on 12 Forward Thrust bond propositions (and one transit administration referendum), totaling $815.2 million. Voters approved seven propositions worth $333.9 million, including a $40 million multipurpose stadium (the Kingdome) and $118 million for new parks. Yet, local bonds for $385 million to help fund a $1.15 million rapid transit system failed with only 50.8 percent of the vote.
On May 19, 1970, King County voters rejected four Forward Thrust bond issues for a regional rail transit system, storm water control, community centers, and new County public health and safety facilities. The total local cost of $615.5 million (not counting $900 million in pending federal aid for mass transit) was too much for voters amid the deepening Boeing Bust.

Bill Dues, a WSDOT engineer, stands on an I-90 overpass during construction on Mercer Island in 1988. Photo by Bob DeLasmutt.

Bill Dues, a WSDOT engineer, stands on an I-90 overpass during construction on Mercer Island in 1988. Photo by Bob DeLasmutt.

Yet, a transit measure finally passed and work began in Seattle to address increasing congestion.
On Nov. 8, 1988, a King County advisory ballot issue asked citizens, “Should public funding and development of a rail transit system to serve the residents of King County be accelerated so that service in King County can begin before the year 2000?” Voters answered “yes” by more than a two-to-one margin.
By the early 1990s, the movement to expand mass transit finally got into gear.
Bus service began in the newly completed downtown Seattle transit tunnel on Sept. 15, 1990.
In 1993, the Washington State Department of Transportation was reorganized to branch away from its highway focus and assume a greater role in freight and passenger rail, aviation, ferries, bicycle trails and mass transit.
On Jan. 28, 1995, the Regional Transit Authority commenced a public demonstration of commuter rail service between Everett, Seattle, Kent and Tacoma, which was part of a proposed “Sound Move” plan on the March 14 ballot.
Yet there were setbacks. Voters in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties rejected the regional transit plan on March 14, 1995. The Regional Transit Authority proposal for rail and bus transit improvements won majorities in Seattle, Mercer Island and Shoreline, but was soundly defeated on the Eastside and in King and Snohomish counties. A scaled-down “Sound Transit” plan was adopted the following year.
Sound Transit inaugurated Sounder commuter rail service between Tacoma and Seattle on Sept. 18, 2000.
On Nov. 5, 2002, Seattle voters narrowly approved a new Seattle Popular Monorail Authority and Washington voters rejected the state Referendum 51 transportation plan and gas tax increase while approving Initiative 776, which cut motor vehicle taxes.
Yet transit inched ahead.
On Aug. 22, 2003, Sound Transit’s Tacoma Link, the state’s first modern light rail system, celebrated its inaugural run in downtown Tacoma.
Sound Transit installed the first rails for Central Link light rail in SoDo (south downtown Seattle) on Aug. 17, 2005.
On Saturday, July 18, 2009, thousands of people rode Seattle’s new light rail system on opening day.
For more information, go to historylink.org or the Museum of History and Industry at www.seattlehistory.org.

Mary L. Grady is the editor of the Mercer Island Reporter. She can be reached at editor@mi-reporter.com.