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Funding choices emerging

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It’s hard to believe these days, but the local economy will recover, and growth will resume in the central Puget Sound area. As will all the accompanying pains.
Regional planners understand that, and have been developing comprehensive strategies to address the anticipated growth over the next 30 years in population (1.5 million) and jobs (1.2 million), and identify the transportation investments needed to keep the region and its economy moving.
The Puget Sound Regional Council, the body of elected officials from Snohomish, King, Pierce and Kitsap counties that’s responsible for overseeing such planning, last week approved a 30-year draft transportation plan that builds on its overall growth strategy, “Vision 2040.”
The latter action plan attempts to match job and housing locations more closely than in the past, resulting in shorter commutes, fewer harmful emissions and less pollution flowing into streams, rivers and Puget Sound. It means, in part, denser development in existing urban areas, along existing highway and transit corridors. And less sprawl.
The “Transportation 2040” plan is based on the recognition that an adequate transportation system is key to sustaining the region’s economic edge. If focuses on the strategic expansion of roads, highways, transit, bike lanes and walkways. It doesn’t call for major new highways, keying instead on filling in gaps in the current system, and making enhancements to existing facilities.
That doesn’t mean this 30-year vision will come cheap. The estimated bill is $191 billion, and current revenues — mainly gasoline taxes — figure to come up about $66 billion short. As gas prices rise in the coming years, and vehicles become much more fuel efficient, existing revenue streams will diminish. Alternatives will be needed.
The PSRC’s plan puts the onus on users to pay for transportation improvements, just as the gas tax has. It calls for phasing in tolls on major highways and to pay for major new construction (like a new six-lane U.S. 2 trestle between I-5 and Highway 204). Congestion pricing could be used to raise revenues and help manage traffic flow.
Another possible pricing approach, charging for vehicle miles traveled, may be the most controversial. Civil libertarians and anyone else wary of letting “Big Brother” track how much you’re driving may want to slam the brakes on this idea. It’s a fair and sustainable funding source, though, on a very limited list of options.
This is a debate the region needs to start now, before the next wave of growth catches us unprepared.

Read summaries of Vision 2040 and Transportation 2040, or the reports in their entirety, at

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