Public Interest Transportation Forum -

Major issues in Destination 2030, the Puget Sound Regional Council's Draft Metropolitan Transportation Plan

by Dick Nelson

The Metropolitan Transportation Plan for the central Puget Sound region is now undergoing review.  The following characteristics of the Plan are noteworthy:

1) Analysis of limited number of alternatives. Only three alternative investment and strategy "packages" (and a "no action"/current revenue alternative) are analyzed. All three include ST’s plan for full build-out of a 125-mile light rail system. The no-action alternative includes the Phase I "starter" system. Obvious alternatives such as one based on an all bus regional transit system are omitted.

2) Major funding shortfall. The costs of the alternatives are only partially covered by available revenues. The shortfalls range from $28 billion to $47 billion (35% to 48%) of total 30-year costs based on current revenue sources. Such large deficits suggest highly unrealistic assumptions about feasible alternatives and new funding sources in the current and foreseeable political environment. Question: Would it be more realistic to make some assumptions about likely short-term revenue increases (say a 5 cent gas tax increase and the indexing of that tax to inflation) and then design the most effective alternative to met that budget constraint? Isn’t this what federal law requires when it says that the financial plan should be based on resources that "are reasonably expected to be made available" to carry out the MTP? Question: Have the costs of salmon recovery been incorporated in the revenue needs?

3) No cost-effectiveness analysis of components; least-cost analysis will come later. Since individual investments and strategies are bundled into complex alternative "packages", the cost-effectiveness of individual pieces cannot be ascertained. For example, there is no way to compare express buses linking major urban centers with light rail. Least/full cost analysis, which the PSRC is required to do under state law, will be the subject of a separate report that will be "forthcoming during the Autumn of 2000." But even then the analysis will be applied to the alternatives and not their components. Question (raised in letter sent to PSRC): Will you unbundle the analysis, and apply it to an all-bus system and a monorail as alternatives to light rail?

4) No indication that the new economy is reflected in strategies and analyses. Each alternative assumes (to varying degrees) that the encouragement of dense, mixed-use centers served by rail (transit-oriented development -- TOD) will cause a significant shift from driving to transit and walking trips. Although employment location trends fostered by the new economy are acknowledged, there is no mention of abundant evidence that the new economy and growing prosperity have combined to create an enormous variety of nonwork ("retail") opportunities -- eating out, shopping, engaging in recreation and cultural activities. These destinations, accounting for 4 of 5 personal trips and many commercial trips, are scattered across the urban landscape. This makes for extremely difficult transit access. Even work trips are difficult for government to manage since people change jobs at a frequent rate, and time pressures induce people to link work and nonwork trips so that auto travel is more time-efficient. Yet the PSRC model predicts that the transit share of nonwork trips will more than double under all alternatives. Question: Given the evidence of ever greater variety and dispersion of nonwork venues, what accounts for the increase in nonwork trip transit mode share?

5) No built-in flexibility to change direction should investments and strategies not deliver results. By including the Sound Transit plan and TOD in every alternative, the draft MTP does not provide the flexibility needed to change direction should rail costs escalate and/or predicted performance be much less than expected. There is no fallback plan, other than the obvious necessity of balancing costs and revenues. Question: Given increasing concerns that Sound Transit’s Phase I light rail plan’s costs will increase beyond acceptable limits (revenue constraints), shouldn’t there be an alternative that does not include Phase I?

6) Transit/walk access dependency is not supported by data or inventory of targeted services. The MTP claims that the elderly, disabled and economically disadvantaged "face significant mobility barriers." And it suggests that many more will experience the mobility/access barrier as the 65+ population grows in number and relative size. It uses these "facts" to bolster the argument for TOD and more transportation choices (read rail). Yet, no mention is made of federal mandates (ADA) and existing services (ACCESS mini-buses and taxi script) that provide door-to-door service. There is no assessment of the efficacy of these programs and others such as reduced fares and welfare-to-work vanpools that address poverty and lack of automobility. Question: Shouldn’t the MTP contain an assessment of the current and future "mobility deficit" and provide a budget to address by targeted and cost-effective programs?

7) No mention is made of the probable impacts of dense and mixed-use development in station areas. The MTP throughout assumes a synergy between high capacity transit and the increased density and mix of land uses around stations (TOD) that produces transit and walk trips but not auto trips. There apparently (and surprisingly) has not been a travel survey for a rail-TOD in the US, so we have to rely on other data. One useful data set is provided by the travel surveys that Scott Rutherford and his U of W students did of residents in zones around three neighborhood commercial areas now served by bus transit: Queen Anne, Wallingford, Kirkland. All show a greater number of walking trips compared to all of North Seattle, but auto trip frequencies remain high. For example, residents of Queen Anne’s bus-TOD make about of all trips by car. And Rutherford’s numbers do not include trips originating outside the TOD. An increased intensity and mix of commercial activity can be expected to generate a high level of trips by people living outside the station-area. Wallingford is a prime example. Question: Where is the evidence that a significant number of trips within and to/from station areas will be walk/transit trips?

8) Modeling suggests that all three alternatives exceed air pollutant (CO, VOCs, NOX) budgets in the year 2030. The MTP appears to depend principally on mode shift to transit (and presumably walk trips, although no data is provided) to reduce pollutant emissions. It says that some characteristics of Alternatives 1 (updated MTP) and 3 (MTP plus) would lower emissions, but it does not specify them. No mention is made of assumptions regarding future vehicle propulsion and fuel technology that might reduce emissions. Question: To avoid nonconformity, wouldn’t it be prudent to include some programs that directly target the most polluting vehicles? Question: What vehicle propulsion/fuel assumptions were made to predict pollutant budgets?

9) A number of financial incentives are proposed to attract development to station areas and induce mode shifts through TDM but without a mention of associated costs. These include several that require tax expenditures or tax shifts: multi-family tax abatement, transit tax incentives, revenue sharing, commute trip reduction tax credits, public match for parking cash-out, vanpool subsidies. Question: Have these financial incentives been costed and assigned to governmental budgets? Question: How can TDM ever become a significant stand-alone alternative if there is not a complete and sufficient budget that assigns real costs to the various governments and the private sector?

10) The TDM strategy (Smart Travel, Vol. 2, Appendix 8) recommends as a target a 10 percent reduction in nonwork trips without saying how this would be accomplished. It does not give the base from which the reduction would be calculated. A 10 percent reduction would mean an 8 percent reduction in all trips. All of the alternatives show a large increase in trips per capita over 30 years. Question: Which TDM strategies would reduce nonwork travel by such a large amount?

11) The efficiency of use of the existing system is not documented, and there are no targeted strategies for improving efficiency. The plan states that "given financial, environmental, and social constraints, getting the greatest benefit out of existing facilities before making additional investments" is a critical component. Yet there are no data for bus system efficiency or HOV lane network efficiency, to give two examples. And the plan in other places seems to suggest that more transit capacity and alternatives are needed before efficiency is improved. Question: Shouldn’t the efficiency of the existing system be quantified and delineated, and specific TDM and other strategies, perhaps in a separate package, be designed to improve it?

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Last modified: February 07, 2011