EVERETT — Traffic will get worse. The question is by how much.
An additional $40 billion could help soften the blow, according to a new plan.
The Puget Sound Regional Council has issued a draft of its updated “Vision 2040” regional transportation plan, which maps the ways local leaders aim to reduce congestion and improve mobility for the nearly 5 million folks who will call this region home by 2040.
Already, the central Puget Sound has added 330,000 new jobs since 2010. By 2040, the number of workers is expected to jump 40 percent, fueled by a tsunami of newcomers.
Taxpayers already have put a bunch of money into the pot to address lingering traffic woes.
In Snohomish County, funded projects include light rail to Lynnwood and Boeing, a new Mukilteo ferry terminal, a two-gate commercial terminal at Paine Field, and better freight access to the Port of Everett.
It won’t be enough.
The current “Vision 2040” plan aims to lay the groundwork for more, while protecting the environment and addressing a rapidly changing landscape that includes self-driving vehicles.
“The region has been behind on transportation,” said Rick Olson, spokesman for the regional council. “The plan shows what we’re doing to catch up.”
The original “Vision 2040” plan was adopted in 2010. The plan is updated every four years, a requirement of the federal government for the region to qualify for millions of dollars in grants.
The plan covers King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties. But it echoes much of what’s laid out in the Washington Transportation Plan — and others like it.
Snohomish County role
Several Snohomish County leaders helped craft the plan as part of the regional council’s Transportation Policy Board.
The group dealt with massive numbers and daunting challenges.
“It took me my first two years on the board to just even wrap my head around all of it,” said Debora Nelson, mayor pro tem of Arlington, who represents Snohomish County cities.
It takes Nelson more than two hours to drive from Arlington to Seattle. She’s mindful that the trip time will only get longer as thousands more people move into her small city over the next decade or so.
“I don’t enjoy driving to Seattle, but I do it because I want to be part of that regional voice and say — knock, knock — ‘Hello, it’s not just Seattle,’ ” said Nelson, who grew up in Lake Stevens and has lived in Arlington for 15 years.
It’s a mindset change for longtime residents of Snohomish County’s outlying communities, who are feeling the effects of a ballooning population.
“We’re not out in the country anymore,” Nelson said. “The reality is that the face of our county is changing. And we need to embrace that, because otherwise you’re angry and frustrated all the time.”
Nelson aims to put the new housing that will be needed in her city near transit lines. Meanwhile, industrial development is on the horizon near Arlington Airport, which could keep many residents working, living and shopping in their hometown — and off I-5.
The I-5 problem
I-5 is the major artery tying the region together. And fixing it is a big piece of the transportation planning puzzle.
It could cost $2.5 billion just to preserve I-5 through 2040 — 18 percent of all statewide preservation needs.
Meanwhile, traffic is stop-and-go.
Most of I-5 was constructed in the 1960s, and that’s pretty much the last time there was a comprehensive look at the state’s most traveled corridor. While there’s no firm game plan, “Vision 2040” highlights a new, concerted effort.
Light rail is expected to give a big boost to congestion relief. By 2040, a person going from Everett to Seattle could save 30 minutes by choosing light rail over driving.
More near-term fixes could include increased carpool lane enforcement, ramp meters and shoulder driving, according to a state list. Other changes could tweak the rules for the crowded carpool lanes, including express toll lanes in select locations.
Rethinking the status quo extends to new projects outside Seattle, too.
Adding a long-awaited lane to I-5 from Everett to Marysville, for example, leaves open the possibility of an express toll lane rather than a traditional carpool lane.
Focus on transit
The primary goal has shifted to moving people, not cars.
A major focus of the long-range plan is “high-capacity transit.”
That includes bus rapid transit, which Snohomish County has gotten a taste of with Community Transit’s Swift lines. And more Swift routes are planned.
It also includes light rail — with stops slated for Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, and Paine Field — as well as commuter rail and ferries.
As envisioned, most high-growth spots in the region will be connected to high-capacity transit by 2040, as well as most manufacturing industrial centers. That includes aerospace hotbeds in Everett and Arlington, and the tech center in Bothell’s Canyon Park.
By 2040, the plan forecasts 19 million boardings on Community Transit routes, double today’s count. Everett Transit could see its boardings nearly double as well, to 3.8 million per year.
The Everett area could increase its access to biking, walking or public transit from 40 percent to a reach of 52 percent by 2040; Lynnwood, from 28 percent to 37 percent.
The goal is to see transit help reduce roadway delays on major corridors. Though the population will increase, Snohomish County’s drive-alone rate could fall from 39 percent today to 36 percent by 2040, according to the forecasts.
By 2040, planners hope to see the Everett-to-Seattle trip take 95 minutes by car. That’s six minutes longer than today, but six minutes faster than what it would be without improvements, according to the forecasts. Hopping on light rail from Everett to Seattle would take 65 minutes.
The Lynnwood-to-Bellevue trip by road could end up two minutes faster than today, at 59 minutes.
Paying for it all
Transportation revenue for agencies across the region — from counties to Sound Transit — totaled nearly $8 billion in 2014, up from less than $3 billion in 1995, and continues to rise. Much of those dollars are restricted for specific uses. Within the next decade, three-quarters of the state gas tax will go to debt service.
Either way, leaders say, the money coming in is not enough to keep up with a backlog of needs compounded by rising costs, especially in the pricey Puget Sound region. The plan estimates people will need to come up with $39.9 billion more.
There are projects slowly moving through the pipeline, pending dollars. They include rebuilding the westbound U.S. 2 trestle between Lake Stevens and Everett. Further down on the wish list are projects that are “unprogrammed” for lack of funds:
- Construct a four-lane U.S. 2 bypass north of Monroe
- Expand U.S. 2 to four lanes all the way to Baring
- Widen Highway 524 in south county
- Add more bus-only lanes on Highway 99 in Everett
- Widen 44th Avenue W in Lynnwood
- Add lanes on Fourth Street at the I-5 underpass in Marysville
- As is the case elsewhere in the nation, user fees form “the backbone” of the state’s financial strategy.
- The top new money-making strategies for reaching that $39.9 billion through 2040:
- Pay-per-mile taxes ($27.6 billion)
- Carbon tax on fuel ($5.1 billion)
- Motor vehicle excise tax ($5 billion)
- Paid-parking surcharge ($2.7 billion)
- Transportation impact fees ($2.4 billion)
Increased transit fares and increased license and registration fees also are part of the picture.
Tolls become more widespread in the plan, which predicts public acceptance over time. That includes express toll lanes, and other tolls. By 2040, tolls could bring in $400 million.
Many ideas will require lawmaker action.
“Transportation needs never end. There’s not enough money to satisfy the need,” Sen. Steve Hobbs said.
For projects, the process will start with city and county leaders bringing their requests to the gate-keepers in Olympia — and pointing to plans like “Vision 2040” for the reasons.
“It gives them kind of a little ammunition and support behind their request. Because we have a limited amount of money,” Hobbs said.
Meanwhile, the regional council is already at work on its next plan: “Vision 2050.”
Online: Read about regional plans for transportation, and comment by Jan. 31, at https://transportationplan.participate.online.
Other ways to comment:
Mail: Kelly McGourty, PSRC, 1011 Western Ave., Suite 500, Seattle, WA 98104-1035.