The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

RTID plan a disaster for Pierce County

Sen. Kastama March 15, 2007
Tacoma News Tribune op ed

Pierce County RTID plan risks becoming a road to nowhere

By Sen. Jim Kastama

“The Road to Abilene” is an old story that relates the dangers of groupthink. In this story, a family decides to embark on a road trip. Unfortunately, family members fear speaking up to avoid confrontations — even when they become aware of glaring, obvious problems. They wind up traveling a road littered with anger, frustration, blame and eventual failure.

Sadly, our own version of “The Road to Abilene” is taking place right here in Pierce County in the form of the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) road package that will go before the voters next November. Community members, business leaders and elected officials are so afraid of pointing out the obvious flaws with this package that they have created a false sense of agreement.

Let me give you an example. The current RTID proposal would extend State Route 167, the major highway that streams down from Auburn, passes through Sumner and dead-ends in an old strawberry field in Puyallup. Its extension from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma is vital because it will connect the Port to warehouses in the Auburn/Kent valley and provide up to 80,000 high-paying port-related jobs.

What is not mentioned when 167 is discussed is that RTID proposes to extend this highway to the port with only one lane in each direction for most of its length, with no interchanges at Interstate 5. In addition, the plan leaves the project more than $150 million short of funding, so it may never actually be built even if voters approve it.

An equally obvious deficiency in the RTID plan is the funding for the Cross Base Highway, which will connect I-5 near Lakewood to Frederickson, the largest industrialized zoned area in Western Washington. This is a good economic investment, as it will open this area to truck traffic that will allow for further business expansion in Pierce County. Yet, as with the plan for 167, the RTID proposal is more than $100 million short of the funds needed to build the Cross Base Highway. Again, it may never actually be built, even if voters approve it.

With such glaring problems, why are our Pierce County leaders so hesitant to point out these flaws? Partly because they fear any public disagreement will lead voters to reject RTID’s proposal next November. In other words, the plan may be flawed, but it’s better than nothing.

The other reason is that they believe the governing board for RTID is so inflexible, and so dead-set against prioritizing its project list, that it will do little good to argue with them or offer alternatives.

An example is RTID’s insistence on widening State Route 162, the old Sumner/Orting highway. The cost of this project is approximately $250 million — almost the exact amount by which the other two projects are underfunded. Unlike the other two projects, however, SR 162 does not rank in the “Top Tier” category for economic impact as determined by the South Sound Chambers of Commerce. Nor is SR 162 considered “a Highway of Statewide Significance” by the Legislature.

The question is why are we sacrificing State Route 167 and the Cross Base Highway — projects that will provide high paying jobs in a time of increasing global competition — for a project that brings little or no economic benefits to the region? It is argued, in fact, that expanding SR 162 will lead to more sprawl, more congestion and more crowded schools, leading ultimately to an increase in everyone’s taxes.

This question, and others, needs to be asked. If not, RTID’s package is certain to be voted down by the voters next November and there will be a lot of anger and finger pointing by the leaders and citizens of Pierce County.

Instead, we need to start debating alternatives now. In the Senate I have offered two different options. One would give RTID the taxing authority to completely build all three projects in their plan. The other would re-prioritize projects within RTID’s current funding formula to fully build State Route 167 — with four lanes and an intersection at Interstate 5 — and the Cross Base Highway. Thus far, RTID has shown little interest in either option.

I have been fiercely criticized by proponents of the current package who would prefer I ignore these problems, as others have. But I grew up in Pierce County in a time when neighbors looked each other in the eye, and I think voters deserve a healthy debate to discern the truth. And you deserve roads that work for you instead of another “Road to Abilene.”

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, chairs the Senate Economic Development, Trade & Management Committee and sits on the Senate Transportation Committee.

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