by Lary Coppola, Mayor, Febuary 2010
Response To The PSRC Vision 2040 Transportation Plan
The City of Port Orchard has reviewed the Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) Vision 2040 Transportation Plan, and offers the following comments:
While we agree that the amount of new residents the state will experience between now and 2040 will increase significantly, and plans to move these people between venues will require significant planning and investment, we disagree with many of the basic assumptions outlined in the plan. Many of the ideas being advanced in the Vision 2040 plan may be acceptable, and actually pragmatic, for parts of King County and its highly-populated environs, but we strongly question the validity of what amounts to little more than a “King County Solution” being forced upon other parts of the state. Due to geography, topography, and existing population distribution, what works for Seattle, King County and other portions of the I-5 Corridor, clearly doesn’t even begin to work elsewhere — especially here on the Kitsap and Key Peninsulas.
We also see many of the proposed “solutions” as highly punitive, punishing people for “doing the right thing” where the environment is concerned. One example would be switching from gas-guzzling SUV’s to hybrid vehicles — and in many cases paying a premium price for those vehicles — and then being punished with the proposed Vehicle Miles Driven (VMD) Tax, because they now consume less fossil fuel, generating less gas tax revenue.
We view this as a fundamentally unjust financial outcome, especially for people whose original goal was to try and protect our environment, consume fewer natural resources, and who were originally willing to step up and “walk their talk,” by paying the increased purchase price of a hybrid vehicle to do so. We believe a VMD Tax will discourage these people from making that same mistake in the future.
On Page 53, the report states, “…decision makers have been deliberately examining an approach to fund transportation through fees and tolls that apply to users of transportation systems and services.” We are not at all convinced this is a good idea, and believe it will actually be a severe detriment to long-term economic development.
States experiencing the greatest amount of economic development before the nationwide recession — places like Texas, Nevada, Idaho, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and more — are all states with excellent and ample roads — and no tolls. The states with the greatest amount of toll roads — New Jersey, Florida, and Ohio for example, are all states in spiraling economic decline with deteriorating infrastructure. They are also all states with environmental issues related to air pollution, much of which can be directly attributed to the sheer number of cars spewing toxic gases into the environment while waiting at toll booths — in spite of the advances made in electronic collection of tolls
With these issues in mind, we dispute the statement on Page 53, that, “…the broader goals and outcomes represent a shared vision.” We obviously do not share this so-called “vision.”
On Page 54, there is a notation concerning the increased transportation infrastructure costs over the past few decades, and the “…costs of mitigating environmental impacts and increased urban land values.
We believe this is an unintended consequence of the Growth Management Act (GMA), which as it’s been interpreted and implemented completely ignores the basic law of supply and demand, and is a major contributor this problem. The City of Port Orchard recommends that the PSRC explore advocating for a complete overhaul of the GMA, with the express purpose of lessening its unintended consequences, and restoring private property rights as the primary outcomes.
On Page 55, there is a section concerning the movement of freight during peak travel times, and how that will be “…compromised by growth if we fail to address the underlying demand for business-related movement of people and goods.”
It goes on to state that managing peak demand will require a broad range of approaches, including “…strategic investments in new infrastructure, high-occupancy services, time of day tolling, land use and development coordination and other innovative strategies.” It later goes on about how changes in technology will erode the purchasing power of fuel tax proceeds.
What we read into that, as well as this entire document, is a series of “one-size-fits-all” strategies that basically can be reduced to tolling every available thoroughfare on which cars travel, as outlined on Page 60, and investing the majority of revenue generated from those tolls on mass-transit boondoggles, rather than improving and upgrading the roads themselves so cars, people and freight can move unimpeded by congestion.
This approach fails to take into account the reaction of the taxpayers who already fund local transportation maintenance through their ever-rising property taxes. The political fallout of the approach as proposed can’t be calculated, but will reach a point of citizen pushback, as we are already beginning to experience as the legislature heaps more taxes upon our citizens.
Should such a level of tolling as outlined here eventually be implemented, business will also reach a point of rethinking the benefits of continuing to be located in this region and explore other options, such as relocating to more business-friendly locales, and taking the jobs they create with them. The majority of jobs in not only this state, but in our entire nation are created by small business. Small businesses usually locate in the area where the entrepreneur lives, often, but not always filling a local niche. However, it is the technologically innovative jobs of the future that will be the highest paying, and an overly taxed transportation infrastructure will eventually chase those jobs away, and/or eliminate our region from consideration for expansion by local companies already here, as well as severely handicap our recruitment of high-tech companies from other states.
While this may disagree with the thinking that users of the infrastructure should pay for it, the economic reality is that entrepreneurs — who we need to retain to create and provide the jobs for the future population we anticipate — are highly mobile. They won’t stay married economically to an area where the cost of doing business reduces their profitability. Entrepreneurs also pay the most in property taxes, which at the local level fund transportation infrastructure.
The same holds true for big business. For example, Boeing warned the state for years that its failure to address transportation issues was a major detriment to its continued presence in this area, and as we witnessed, helped drive the decision to locate the second 787 production line in South Carolina — a state with good transportation infrastructure and no toll roads.
The condition of our state’s current transportation infrastructure makes it difficult to conduct business regionally. Time is money, and it’s very costly to move people and equipment between plants located from Everett to Renton. Meanwhile the Vision 2040 plan suggests increasing the cost of doing business through tolling as the answer. How many more ways can we find to shoot ourselves in the foot, and help states like South Carolina steal our major employers?
It has been a long, slow process, but if you look closely, you’ll find Boeing is reducing its corporate footprint in Washington, albeit slowly but steadily, and has been for years. The large new shopping center sitting just South of Boeing Renton is physically located on top of what once was a major Boeing facility.
Moving its headquarters to Chicago, should have been a 2×4 to the side of the head of the legislature and Governor. Our state’s response? A loss of 900 jobs will not matter that much. That kind of arrogance, and the long-held philosophy that business is an adversary instead of an asset, is clearly reflected in this plan.
The document arrogantly summarizes that “…congestion provides a misleading signal as to which facilities or routes need more capacity. We believe this is not a misleading signal. Congestion demonstrates exactly which roads demand increased capacity. Additionally, there is absolutely nothing “innovative” about tolling. It is a regressive, restrictive, and proven economically defeating strategy.
We also question how the tolls collected will be allocated. Will tolls collected in Port Orchard be spent directly in Port Orchard and Kitsap County, or will they be aggregated into prioritized projects covering the entire region? If so, those areas with the densest population will benefit most, and first, and be unfairly subsidized by the lower prioritized areas such as ours, which are already getting the short end of the stick as far as addressing our existing transportation needs.
Washington is not Europe where light rail solutions work because the geography is much more compact, with things much closer together than they are here. In fact, the distances between a number of European countries are shorter than those between several of our major population centers. The bottom line is, European topography lends itself to mass-transit much more cost effectively than ours does.
We strongly support telecommuting, and telework, and we believe as a region, we need to make substantial regional infrastructure investments that support that as part of a coordinated solution for reducing traffic congestion, and the need to travel great distances for work.
We also strongly support economically stabilizing the ferry system for the long term. Port Orchard considers the ferries as the “original toll road,” but the ever-increasing costs of ridership is a detriment to its continued viability, and a threat that will prove to increase highway use because even if we toll the highways as suggested here, they will be cheaper tolls than riding the ferries.
We believe a complete economic overhaul of the Washington State Ferry System is in order, but question whether or not the state has the political will necessary to take this task on, and challenge the ferry system unions, which we see as a major impediment to any progress being made on this front.
Also, passenger only ferries are a requirement for our region’s economic viability, and politically acceptable solutions for funding their construction and operation must be explored and found.
In our view, this entire document is a little more than an arrogant, exceptionally poorly crafted, “politically correct” interpretation that obviously began with a pre-determined expectation of the eventual outcome, rather than an innovative, realistic approach of how to deal with the onslaught of population we will experience between now and 2040.
The so-called “solutions” offered in the plan will have their own set of unintended consequences, including severe, long-term economic decline, because job-creators are not going to make substantial investments in Washington if all we have to offer them are mass-transit and congested toll roads as the primary means of moving people and freight. If there aren’t enough jobs to support the increased population, because job creators choose to invest in more business-friendly places where they can move their goods to market efficiently and cost-effectively, the workforce will follow the economic opportunity those job creators offer in other, more forward-thinking locales. If that happens, the projected population increases won’t materialize, and this entire document will become moot.
We have given some examples of what we believe is the problematic thinking that governs the projected outcomes contained in the Vision 2040 Transportation Plan. However, rather than invest the time to refute each and every point contained in this document, which would make these comments nearly as long as the document itself, it is the considered opinion of the City of Port Orchard that the Vision 2040 Transportation Plan is basically an ill-advised, fatally flawed, blueprint for economic failure.
And while we strongly detest what we consider a colossal waste of a monumental amount of taxpayer dollars, our recommendation would be to scrap the entire plan, start anew with a realistic set of assumptions, and an open mind that includes the full spectrum of possible coordinated solutions that address the unique and individual transportation needs of each sub-area of the Puget Sound region, as opposed to the closed-minded, politically correct, one-size fits-all, socially engineered King County solution this plan arrogantly brings forward as the “answer” to the serious challenges our region faces.