A roadmap for better transit

Sitting in traffic must have some persuasive effect.

Even in an election year when Tim Eyman’s latest tax-limiting initiative garnered nearly 56 percent approval in Snohomish County, about 51 percent of voters served by Community Transit approved a .3 percent sales tax increase that the transit agency will use to expand routes and service in the county.

Voters don’t tax themselves without reason, so there’s an understanding of the need for investment in our public transportation system. And more investment and planning are ahead of us in the county and the state.

As part of that planning, the state Department of Transportation has released its draft of its statewide Public Transportation Plan to guide decisions and better integrate the state’s various modes of transit — bus, trains, ferries, carpools, bicycles, walking, just about everything other than cars with a lone driver — over the next 20 years.

As part of the process, the state is inviting the public to review and comment on the plan between now and Jan. 5.

The plan’s report says the state faces four challenges over the next 20 years in fostering an efficient, reliable and environmentally friendlier system of transportation:

  • Demand for getting to and from jobs, school and other destinations is growing, but transportation providers’ ability to provide service is constrained.
  • Congestion is adversely effecting the economy and our way of life.
  • Current funding methods aren’t sustainable.
  • New technologies are business models and changing how people communicate, work and conduct trade.

The plan has recommendations for integrating a multitude of transit options and making plans for better delivery of service, but issues of funding may be the most difficult to resolve in the short and long term.

Currently, the report notes, local transit agencies and local governments provide about 81 percent of transit agency funding, almost all of that from sales tax revenues. The federal government provides about 17 percent of transit funding, with the state kicking in the last 2 percent.

Most transit agencies, Community Transit included, have reached the .9 percent sales tax limit imposed by the Legislature. And sales tax revenue has never been a reliable source of funding because it’s susceptible to downturns in the economy. Community Transit, for example, had to cut service and routes during the most recent recession at a time when demand was increasing. As the economy has rebounded, so has the agency’s routes and service. But nothing is guaranteed when the next downturn hits.

The Puget Sound Regional Council estimates that transit ridership is expected to double by 2040 to accommodate the growth in population and jobs in the region. There is no funding in place that would meet that demand, the report notes.

Remedies will have to come at the local and state level.

And we’ll make our own changes during the next 20 years as we look for ways to significantly reduce vehicle trips that are just car and driver. But the end result can be traffic that moves more easily, safer streets for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians and better, healthier air.

Which way would you like to go?

Comment on plan

A pdf document of the state’s Public Transportation Plan can be downloaded at tinyurl.com/WSDOTptp. More information is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov/Transit/TransportationPlan.

Comments can be emailed to ShannSa@consultant.wsdot.wa.gov, or called in to 206-462-6357.

A brief online survey also is available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/WSPTPSurvey

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