March 30, 2007

Everett Herald: "Don't Bury Streamlined Transportation Planning"

Matt Rosenberg

In an editorial yesterday titled, "Don't Bury Streamlined Transportation Planning," the Everett Herald states it plainly:

If November's joint (roads and transit) vote in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties is to succeed, voters will have to be convinced that they'll get their money's worth. Merging the planning and funding of regional transit and highways - functions currently under the separate wings of Sound Transit, the Puget Sound Regional Council, the Regional Transportation Invesment District and the state Department of Transportion (whew!) - under a single, accountable commission would be a step toward winning voter trust.

One version of such a commission is contained in ESSB 5803, which passed the Senate earlier this month. The House Transportation Committee is considering its own bill, and an amendment to shelve the creation of a new regional body could be introduced as early as today.

Other media supporters of transportation governance reform for Central Puget Sound include the Seattle Times editorial board, Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connelly, and Seattle Times Sunday columnist (and editorial page editor) James Vesely.

ESSB 5803 stems from the final report of the Regional Transportation Commmission study group tasked last year by the legislature and Governor Chris Gregoire with investigating restructured transportation governance for the region. Headed by former Western Wireless CEO John Stanton and former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, the study group wrote in its final report, issued Dec. 31, 2006:

...the system has to be structurally re-knit at the regional level....Transportation represents an enormous financial challenge to the region....Three interrelated strategies need to be implemented:
  • Emply user fees (tolls, fares, parking charges) to manage demand for transportation - these should reduce demand and thus the amount of construction that must be funded.
  • Raise more money from a combination of tax increases and user fees.
  • Prioritize projects throughout the region and across modes so that the most important projects get built.

The challenge with prioritizing is establishing who is in charge. Today there are 128 agencies that manage aspects of transportation in the four-county region. If 128 parties are theoretically in charge of a problem, we concluded that in fact no one is really in charge.

It is reasonable to wonder whom such arrangements truly benefit. Certainly not taxpayers and commuters. Accountability must be more than just a buzzword.


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