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.