Public Interest Transportation Forum -

Analysis of the PSRC Draft 2001 MTP Update

By James W. MacIsaac, P.E.

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What is the MTP?

MTP is the Metropolitan Transportation Plan for the four-county Central Puget Sound Region. It is prepared by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), which is the duly constituted Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) required by the federal government for pass-through of any federal monies coming to this metropolitan area for transportation (and several other) uses. The currently discussed FFGA with Sound Transit for use in the Link Light Rail program would not be possible if that program were not part of the currently adopted MTP. Federal law requires that the MTP be reviewed every three years.

The currently adopted MTP was last reviewed and adjusted in 1998. The 2001 Update has been drafted by the PSRC and is currently out for public review and feedback until October 20, 2000 in a two-volume report. It includes a 1998 baseline of existing conditions and four alternative future transportation plan packages for consideration covering a 30-year period from 2001 to 2030. After completion of the review period, PSRC staff will revise the draft report, choose a Preferred Plan, and send it to the PSRC Board of Directors for approval.

Summary Description of Alternative Packages

Regional Growth – 1998 to 2030

Over this plan period, the four-county Central Puget Sound Region is estimated to increase in population from 3,149,700 to 4,705,300, an increase of 49%. Employment is estimated to increase from 1,848,900 to 2,601,400, an increase of 41%. This is interesting considering that jobs have been increasing at a greater rate than population over the past 30 years. This reversal is likely due to the aging of population, and is likely explained more fully in the draft plan reports. Daily motorized person-trips in this region are estimated to increase from 10,229,000 in 1998 to 16,387,200 by 2030 – an increase of 60% (slightly less under the Current Law package).

Package 1 – Current Law

This package of transportation improvements over the next 30 years is limited to what can be funded under revenues available under state and local current law provisions. It assumes that the highway and transit funding cutbacks of about 25% from current law prior to 2000 (resulting from I-695 and subsequent Legislative actions) will remain in effect over the 30-year plan period. Those cutbacks were more like 33%, but the 25% apparently acknowledges some efficiencies that are being found by the affected agencies.

Under this package local transit services in the four-county region would be reduced 25% from 1998 service levels. Phase 1 of Sound Transit plans are included (they were not affected by the I-695 outcome), which include the 81-mile Sounder Commuter Rail program, the Regional Express Bus route additions, and Phase 1 of the Link Light rail plans (S.200th to NE 47th for Central Link Light Rail and the Tacoma Dome to Tacoma CBD link).

State highway actions would be limited to currently committed projects plus operation and preservation needs only. The package claims that state operated ferry services would be reduced to Vashon Island auto/passenger services only.

Package 2 - MTP

This package represents the adopted 1998 MTP adjusted to extend its plan and policies from 2020 to 2030. It is heavily oriented in both policies and actions toward reducing use of the single-occupant private vehicle (SOV). Therefore, it focuses primarily on public transit system improvements and on facilities and actions to encourage ridesharing and travel reduction.

Transit system improvements include restoring local transit agency funding and services to the 1998 levels, but adjusted to provide feeder service to a regional rail transit system. The 25-mile Sound Transit Phase 1 light rail system would be expanded by an additional 100 route-miles (200 directional route miles). Sound Transit Commuter Rail and Regional Express routes would presumably be expanded to accommodate demand.

Lane-miles of regional general-purpose (GP) freeway capacity would be increased by 14% (290 lane-miles) over that existing in 1998; and lane-miles on the arterial system would be increased by 10%. Transit/HOV lane-miles would be increased from 171 in 1998 to 574 by 2030 – an increase of 236%. These capacity enhancements are evaluated in light of the 57% increase in auto person-trips estimated between 1998 and 2030.

All existing auto/passenger and passenger-only ferry routes would be maintained with service expanded to accommodate 2030 levels of demand at 2001 levels of service (presumably as would be supplied by 2001 without the I-695-related service cutbacks).

Package 3 – MTP+A

This package is intended to place a higher emphasis on reducing highway congestion in this region. However, it maintains all of the public transit investments contained in the MTP package as described above, which will be seen below as having little effect on reducing highway congestion. It increases Transit/HOV lane-miles by another 53 compared to MTP. Ferry service would be increased by nearly 50% over the restored MTP levels of cost to accommodate the WSF-projected 2018 levels of demand plus addition of passenger-only services between Southworth and downtown Seattle and between Kingston and downtown Seattle.

Freeway GP lane-miles would be increased by 392 compared to MTP and by 33% compared to what we had in 1998. This is still a loss to more congestion compared to the 43% increase projected in SOV travel between 1998 and 2030.

As an observation, it may be more appropriate under the intent of this alternative to defer any further expansions of HOV and passenger-only ferry services to MTP+B, and to eliminate the 100-mile expansion of rail transit in favor of inclusion of a bus-only transit enhancement plan.

Package 4 – MTP+B

This package primarily represents a further enhancement of the basic MTP philosophy and approach to regional transportation by further expanding public transit and HOV-lane enhancements rather than capacity enhancements that could benefit SOV travel and freight movement in this region.

Public transit enhancements would include another 25 miles of light rail development: Seattle-Bellevue/Kirkland via the SR-520 corridor plus a line between Kirkland and Redmond via the SR-908 corridor. It would increase local and ST bus transit services (85% focused on Seattle) by another 50% over that provided in 1998, all adjusted to feed the rail transit lines.

Transit/HOV lane miles would be increased by another 118 (25%) over that included in the MTP package. All other highway capacity enhancements would be held to about the same levels as included in the MTP package, or by about 11%, more than existed in 1998.

Comparison of the MTP Packages

Daily Person-Trips by Mode

The following chart shows the PSRC 1998 and 2030 estimates of total weekday person-trips in the four-county Central Puget Sound region by mode of travel.

Daily Person Trips by Mode

The first notable characteristic is a 60% increase in total weekday person trips over 1998 for all 2030 packages. The PSRC models cannot respond to TDM policies and actions to reduce the amount of motorized person travel. The most notable characteristic is that there is very little difference in modal shares amongst all 2030 packages. The gains in 2030 transit and carpool shares over 1998 shares are likely primarily the result of substantially increased SOV congestion associated with all four 2030 plan packages. As will be seen below, the three MTP packages add many $billions in transit and HOV facilities compared to Current Law, but produce very little difference in travel mode choice.

System Capital and Operating Cost Estimates

The next chart shows the estimated 30-year capital and operating costs for each of the 2030 system packages. If "balanced transportation" means spending as much on public transit as on highways, these plan packages come close to meeting that goal.

The Current Law package provides an indication of how existing state and local public transportation tax revenues are allocated amongst ferry, public transit and street/road/highway programs. It assumes that upward adjustments will occur in the fuel tax rates per past trends. Public transit funding is mostly derived through sales tax revenues. It is unclear from the MTP reports as to whether or not the Current Law estimates include any federal grants or subsidies. If so, they are likely dedicated mostly to transit and HOV facilities and operations.

Less than half (49%) of current law revenue is available for street/road/highway uses – the system that currently carries 100% of our transportation services (excluding ferries). 46% of all expenditures go to public transit, which today carries 2.8% of all person trips. Since the outcome of I-695, about 40% of all public transit revenue goes to Sound Transit. The balance goes to the five local transit systems serving the four counties. The remaining 5% of revenues under current law go to ferry services, which PSRC claims would only cover operation of ferry services for Vashon Island by 2030 (a claim that needs further explanation).

System Capital & Operating Costs by Mode

The MTP package would restore pre-I-695 transportation funding levels and more. The "and more" for public transit is nearly all dedicated to building and operating an additional 100 route-miles of light rail transit in the region. The majority of the "and more" for streets and highways would be dedicated to building more Transit/HOV lanes. There is no "and more" for ferries except to assure their ability to meet demands on all routes at 2001 levels of service.

The MTP+A would add $18.5 billion to the MTP package, mostly dedicated toward a partial catch-up in the rapidly declining capacity operations of the street and highway system under the MTP. It would still result in traffic congestion considerably worse than in 1998. It would also add two new passenger-only ferry routes.

MTP+B would cut back the added investment in freeway and arterial GP-lane additions to about the levels provided in the MTP package, and devote nearly all of its $19.4 billion increase over MTP to providing more transit/HOV lanes and transit services. The increase in transit services would be a 50% increase in bus services, mostly on Seattle-oriented routes, plus another 25 miles of light rail.

Public Transit Cost and Performance

The public transit investments proposed in the 2030 MTP packages are most perplexing, as shown in the next chart. Under the Current Law level of funding, public transit is estimated by the PSRC to increase transit use from 2.8% of all motorized person trips in 1998 to 4.7% of all motorized person trips by 2030. This would be a great achievement for this region compared to all regions nationwide, and good reason to support the current law funding for public transit.

Transit Performance vs Cost

The MTP package restores local public transit funding to pre-I-695 levels, which is likely necessary to accommodate the 2030 estimates of public transit use in this region, and which likely is the primary factor in achieving the slight increase to the 5.0% transit share of total motorized person-trips regionwide. However, the MTP proposes to fund an additional 100 miles of light rail transit as "Phase 2" of the Sound Transit regional transit plan. This would represent the vast majority of the $8.1 billion increase in capital investment over the Current Law transit program (assuming that something less than $8.1 billion could cover the capital cost of the 100 miles of additional light rail development). There is no cost/benefit analysis offered to support this rail overlay of bus transit services, and certainly no indication that such an overlay achieves any increase in transit ridership compared to an enhancement of the bus transit program.

The MTP+A package maintains this questionable investment in light rail despite its proposed emphasis on addressing the horrendous traffic congestion associated with all of the MTP packages. It is strongly recommended that this package substitute the added investment in light rail for further capacity enhancement of the region’s street and highway system. Such a substitution would more than fund the added highway investments represented in the "Supplementary Road Capacity" alternative set forth in Appendix 5 of Volume 2 of the Draft MTP Update reports. The MTP+A package should alternatively include an enhanced all-bus transit system alternative. Such a transit system package must be developed to enable comparison of transit ridership to the light rail enhanced alternatives.

The MTP+B package includes a 50% increase in mostly Seattle-oriented bus transit services as well as another 25 miles of light rail. The 0.8% further gain in transit ridership is likely mostly associated with the increase in bus transit services.

Cost per Ride and Cost per Added Ride

The chart above reflects an attempt to show what the cost of transit would be per added rider over that achieved under the Current Law package. The Current Law cost reflects the added cost of Phase 1 of the ST rail transit programs compared to 1998. The cost of additional transit riders under MTP and MTP+A skyrockets since few riders are gained compared to the large public transit cost increases of those packages. MTP+B costs diminish substantially due to the added emphasis on bus transit services.

Freeway Lane Miles

The next chart shows the number of freeway lane-miles included in each package, and the changes from the 1998 base. Each package except Current Law also includes an increase of about 1000 lane-miles along the major arterial street system to help resolve an inadequate arterial support system in suburban areas. However, freeway lane-miles are the more important consideration in this regional MTP.

The freeway lane-miles are subdivided by GP lanes and Transit/HOV lanes. It should be noted that all model testing of the highway networks used an HOV definition of two or more occupants. This resulted in many HOV-lane overloads, and minimized traffic loads on the GP lanes. In the past, the PSRC has always held to the policy that by 2020 HOV lanes would be limited to vehicles with three or more occupants. Because of the HOV lane overloads, it is believed that many of the lane additions in the MTP packages represent a second HOV lane in each direction in many locations. It is most important that the PSRC clarify its policies on HOV lane use and on where it may be assuming two HOV lanes in each direction. If HOV lanes are being overloaded, then it should return to model testing with a 3+occupant definition.

Freeway Lane Miles by Use

It is now important to refer back to Chart 1. Note that there is very little difference in the proportion of rideshare trips under Current Law with 219 HOV lane-miles than there is under MTP+B with 593 HOV lane-miles. This appears to reinforce the position of critics that HOV lanes do not cause increases in ridesharing; they merely provide advantage to those who
already find it convenient to rideshare. Note that in the chart above, all but MTP+A provide more increases in HOV lane-miles than in GP lane-miles. To justify its emphasis on HOV lanes, the PSRC must provide much more evidence that emphasis on HOV lanes does in reality provide a reduction in SOV travel.

As noted previously, SOV travel is predicted to increase by 57% between 1998 and 2030 under ALL 2030 package alternatives. Yet the MTP offers only a 14% increase in freeway GP lane-miles; MTP+B offers only a 17% increase. The package most concerned about attacking freeway congestion in this region (MTP+A) provides only a 33% increase in freeway GP lane-miles. So, despite minimal affects of transit and HOV in addressing this region’s highway congestion problems, none of the packages steps up to the full challenge of reducing highway congestion in this region.

It is essential that the MTP provide a cost-effective approach to reducing traffic congestion in this region. None of the MTP packages approaches this goal.

Roadway System Performance

The PSRC reported results on highway performance are highly contested. Each update since 1990 has resulted in adjustments of the "volume/delay" functions to minimize findings on reduction of highway speeds and the increases in highway delay. The chart below is offered merely to show the PSRC reported findings on highway speed and delay.

Road System Performance - P.M. Peak Period

The PSRC chooses to report only combined freeway and arterial average speeds. The combined average speeds shown on Chart 6 are meaningless. Congestion is primarily concentrated on the freeway system and its access. Highway speeds must be subdivided between freeway and arterial subgroups to provide useful data. Freeway congestion must also be subdivided between HOV and GP lanes.

Under Current Law, Chart 6 shows that the proportion of the freeway system experiencing congestion increases from 34% in 1998 to 62% by 2030. Remember that SOV travel is predicted to increase by 57% over this period. The MTP package increases freeway lane-miles by only 10% compared to current law, yet it shows the percent of freeways congested dropping down to near 1998 levels. This is totally unbelievable. The reported results for the MTP+A and MTP+B packages would lead us to believe that these packages would deliver 2030 congestion levels lower than in 1998 – also unbelievable.

Somehow these regional summaries are totally inconsistent with findings when the models are applied to corridor studies. When the 2020 models from the 1998 MTP Update were applied during the Trans-Lake and I-405 Corridor Program studies, PM period volume/capacity ratios of 1.67 and higher were common findings. The Port of Seattle/City of SeaTac Joint Transportation Study is finding 2020 PM peak hour v/c ratios of up to 2.0 along the I-5 corridor – and these are findings after application of capacity-constrained traffic assignment procedures.


Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations

Goals Commendable; Actions Seriously Flawed

The PSRC goals for increasing travel mode choices and for constraining use of the private SOV are shared by a vast majority of this region’s residents. However, these goals are little different from what this region has been pursuing over the past 30 years. Despite public transit spending rising to nearly one-half of all transportation spending, transit use has continued to decline. Despite the vast majority of state highway funding being dedicated to HOV lane additions, overall auto occupancy has declined. Traffic congestion on the freeway GP lanes has risen to an all-time high, bringing the Seattle metropolitan area to one of the worst in the nation for highway congestion.

Chart 1 shows quite conclusively that these travel mode choices will change little over the next 30 years, no matter how little (Current Law) or how much (MTP+B) is spent on public transit and HOV facilities. What change is reflected compared to 1998 is primarily a result of increasing highway congestion for the SOV mode, and continuing degradation of transportation service for freight and goods movements.

Public Transit: Huge Investment – Minimal Results

Chart 3 showed that virtually Do-Nothing (Current Law) for public transit would achieve 4.7% transit use by 2030. This change compared to 1998 is primarily due to significantly increased highway congestion. The MTP package would restore local transit funding to 1998 levels and add 100 more miles of light rail transit, with an added investment of $12.4 billion. Yet transit use would increase by only 0.3% over Current Law, and most of this small increase is likely due to restoring local transit funding.

Chart 4 shows the extremely high cost of each added transit trip expected as a result of this public transit spending with little result under MTP and MTP+A. MTP+B brings that cost per new rider down substantially because of its 50% increase in bus transit services.

Today public transit is highly Seattle-centric with over 85% of all transit trips having one or both ends of the trip inside of Seattle. Detailed analyses of the 1998 MTP data found little difference in those transit rider characteristics by 2020, and detailed analysis of the 2030 transit riders is expected to find the same. Over 80% of all person-trips in this region by 2020 (and likely by 2030) will have both trip ends outside of Seattle or are Seattle residents working outside of Seattle. Less than 1% of all these trips are accommodated by public transit.

Until such time as the PSRC, Sound Transit and the local transit providers can find a way to serve the huge suburb-to-suburb travel market, public transit use will continue to rate poorly – as found by the PSRC in Charts 1 and 3. Some new transit approach must be incorporated into the 2001 MTP Update, and it likely will require targeted bus operations – not rail transit.

All of the PSRC data leads to a conclusion that public transit performance is mostly related to bus services. The tremendous investment in rail appears to achieve little in additional transit ridership. However, the PSRC MTP packages provide no means to compare transit use without rail, or conversely to evaluate the effect of rail compared to a bus-only transit system. None of the MTP packages provide a transit system without the entire Phase 2 rail program or more. It is highly recommended that an all-bus transit package be developed for consideration.

Ridesharing: Poor Results – Investments Disguised

Chart 1 shows that ridesharing also appears to be little affected by the amount of investment given to HOV lanes. The cost of providing these lanes has been disguised by the PSRC in not separating those costs from total street and highway investments. However, Charts 2 and 5 can be used to estimate the split of proposed state highway investments between HOV versus GP lane additions. The split of State Highway investments ($millions) are estimated as follows:


HOV Lanes

GP Lanes

Total State Highways

Cost Per









2030 MTP
























Note how the cost of adding lanes appears to increase substantially after the number of lane-miles added by the MTP. It is important to complete the freeway HOV lane system, particularly if rail transit is de-emphasized and replaced by a substantial enhancement of the existing express bus system operating on HOV lanes. The 2030 MTP likely accomplishes that need by increasing HOV lane-miles from 167 lane-miles in 1998 to 475 lane-miles.

The PSRC findings show that HOV lanes will be overloaded if the existing HOV definition of 2+occupant vehicles is maintained. Rather than building more HOV lanes to recover from such projected overloads, it is highly recommended that a 3+occupant definition be employed wherever and whenever HOV lanes exceed 75% of GP-lane capacity or LOS C operations. This would likely result in substantial underloading of HOV lanes. Excess capacity should be made available to paid use by other vehicles (HOT lanes).

Freeway/State Highway GP-Lane Operations

The PSRC 2030 travel forecasts indicate an increase of 57% in SOV vehicle-miles of travel by 2030. The actual increase on GP lanes would in fact be much higher (more like 67%) if the PSRC had changed its definition of HOV to 3+occupants as discussed above (and which it has always previously maintained as necessary by 2010 and beyond).

The PSRC findings for travel speeds and delays on the freeway GP-lane system appears to highly underestimate actual speeds and delays that can more realistically be expected. This has been verified by use of the PSRC models for a number of corridor analyses.

It is highly recommended that the PSRC provide a map of PM period volume/capacity ratios for the freeway system for 1998 and for each MTP package. This is the only way we can obtain a true representation of just how bad freeway conditions will be in the future of this region. It should also segregate average highway speeds between the freeway and arterial systems. The combined freeway/arterial average is totally misleading since arterial streets represent about 80% of all route miles, maximum speeds are 35 mph, and a low proportion of the arterial system is overloaded.

Strong Final Recommendation

The findings of the PSRC MTP package evaluations make it absolutely essential that a public transit system without the added 100 to 125 miles of light rail must be devised and included in the alternative packages. Such a plan should focus upon express bus operations using the Transit/HOV lane system that we have been focusing upon over the past 20 years to enhance public transit services and operations in this region. It should also focus strongly upon the 80% of all trips made in this region that are not provided a reasonable transit alternative in any of the MTP packages currently available for consideration.

The express bus plan alternative should be honestly compared to the rail package alternatives in terms of ridership, cost effectiveness, and percent of total region served. It should be adopted in addition to any MTP plan that focuses upon expanded rail transit services. This would allow voters of the region to make a much more educated choice at such time that Sound Transit comes back to the electorate for further tax increases for "Phase 2" rail system extensions.

The PSRC would be totally remiss in not adopting an MTP that allows for this choice. It is quite possible that current events in the Phase 1 rail transit program could lead to the elimination of a rail transit future for this region. Passage of I-745 in November could even more quickly result in such an outcome. If either of these actions should happen, the MTP would be stripped of any alternative directive for federal funds available for public transit improvements in this region. The adopted 2001 MTP should not allow this to happen.

Given all of the concerns expressed above, the following amendment of MTP+A is strongly recommended. It should drop the 100 miles of added light rail transit, and incorporate a well-devised all-bus public transit system. It should cut back Transit/HOV-lane development to no more than that proposed in the MTP package. With the large savings in apparently unproductive Transit/HOV capital expenses, it should consider the additional freeway lane-mile enhancements set forth in Appendix 5 of Volume 2 of the Draft MTP reports.

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Last modified: February 07, 2011