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.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pierce County pours cold water on Regional Governance

Leaders face battle over highway plans
Published: January 6th, 2008 01:00 AM
Let’s face it: The term “regional transportation governance” is a real snoozer. Couldn’t be wonkier.

But RTG, as I call it, involves big bucks, big power and the very future of the Puget Sound metro region. If you take the bus, ride a Sounder commuter train, drive I-5 or Highway 512 to work, RTG is about your life.

When Proposition 1, the massive roads-and-transportation tax package, cratered at the polls in November, a 2006 blue-ribbon panel’s RTG proposal sprang back to life.

Headed by former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice and Seattle telecom billionaire John Stanton, the panel recommended creating a single regional transportation board to rule all planning for transit and highway construction.

In its current incarnation, the board would consist of nine directly elected members and six appointed members, and it would have the authority to impose tolls and taxes.

RTG is a tough sell in Pierce County. But Stanton and another panel member, former state transportation secretary Doug MacDonald, are giving it a shot at Wednesday’s meeting of RAMP. The Regional Access Mobility Partnership is a coalition of Pierce County business, port and government officials that tries to form a countywide consensus on transportation issues.

Although it was hyperbolic, rude and, to my mind, embarrassing, a letter Pierce County Councilman (and county executive candidate) Shawn Bunney sent the governor in late November expressed widespread county sentiment about regional governance.

“The scene is set for another contrived feeding frenzy in the Legislature, which will leave Pierce County with crumbs,” Bunney cried.

He all but demanded a meeting with the governor to dispute “a Seattle-centric” view of the world. He accused Seattle legislators of “siphoning $700 million in gas taxes out of Pierce County” in the past 15 years.

Bunney unloaded both barrels on the Highway 520 bridge replacement project, which the governor has declared her top transportation priority.

“To say that the 520 Bridge is a ‘safety’ project does not accurately portray the planned gold-plated entrances to the Emerald City and Clyde Hill-Medina. Current plans include $100 million for bike and pedestrian lanes, $250 million for five new parks created to muffle bridge noise, $700-$800 million for parks and lids on the east side of the lake, and a 50 percent capacity increase.

“The only thing missing is a giant archway from which trumpets can blare as Ron Sims enters and exits Seattle.”

Immoderate, to be sure, but the letter was meant to be a warning shot to RTG advocates.

Bunney was chairman of the Regional Transportation Investment District, the panel of local elected officials who devised the roads portion of Proposition 1.

On Wednesday, the RAMP group is also supposed to consider three possible scenarios for addressing Pierce County highway needs. All are “go it alone,” rather than regional, approaches.

One would be a Regional Transportation Investment District with just Pierce County or with another county (perhaps Thurston). Another would be a countywide transportation benefit district. The third would be imposing a countywide local-option gas tax.

The RAMP group is supposed to discuss its legislative priorities Wednesday. The Legislature convenes Jan. 14.

We might see a split in RAMP’s ranks. Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, who has just stepped down as Sound Transit but still sits on the board, co-chairs RAMP. He has said he doesn’t favor a go-it-alone approach for Pierce County, but it’s not clear where he’ll come down on the governance issue.

Some transit advocates want to see the transit portion of Proposition 1 return to the ballot – separately – in November.

Another key RAMP player is Tacoma Port Director Tim Farrell. His overriding interest, presumably, is completion of Highway 167 from Puyallup to Interstate 5, a huge necessity for moving freight to and from the port. The county’s business community also strongly backs the project.

But the Highway 167 project, which is only a skimpy two-lane connector, is a $1 billion-plus job that would suck up most of the county’s local funding capacity. Completing it actually might be more likely under a regional funding scenario.

But who can tell? If the regional governance proponents have the upper hand in Olympia this year – and I think they may – it may not matter much what stand RAMP takes.

E-mail editorial page editor David Seago at

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