August 30, 2007

The much-anticipated I-5 non event

Linnea Noreen

Did anyone miss the headlines? The much anticipated I-5 closures produced no traffic catastrophe. Instead, usage dropped 50% during the 2 week period. And apparently no one knows why. Was it the bikes? The transit? Flexible work hours? Signals? Here’s another theory: it was also a coordinated effort by all levels of government in Puget Sound. It proved that when a major project is orchestrated at a regional level, the payoffs are substantial.

Some of the planning I read or heard about: an additional Sounder Commuter Rail train, additional Water Taxis, extra parking at Park and Ride stations all the way to Tacoma and Kent. Extra shuttle services between communities and drop-off points for transit. Increased vanpools and more bike transit options in all parts of the county.

The drop in traffic wasn’t about Seattle telling Seattleites to find alternatives; it was about mobilizing the resources in the region to coordinate with each other and find alternatives. It wasn’t just about relieving pressure on Seattle’s surface streets, but relied on roadways from Bremerton to Carnation.

If there is one thing that we have learned from this experience, it should be that we are a regional metropolis and planning should be viewed through that lens. More importantly, that if reasonable, cross-county, user-friendly alternatives are provided, people will gladly use them.


June 11, 2007

Regions And Feds Must Jointly Combat Congestion

Ken Orski

A new report by the Congressional Research Service notes that traffic congestion has reached crisis proportions in some places. But, the report notes, not everyone agrees that congestion is a major national problem warranting a federal government response. Because congestion tends to be geographically concentrated in major metropolitan areas, past Congressional action has tended to favor a predominantly state and local response.

The report speculates that Congress may well decide to continue with this approach in the next reauthorization of the guiding federal transportation policy legislation, known as SAFETEA-LU, which expires October 1, 2009. States and localities that suffer major congestion would be free to focus their resources on congestion mitigation, while those who are relatively congestion-free could devote their resources to other priorities. However, should Congress conclude that congestion has become a problem of national significance, a congestion mitigation program would become a major focus of the next reauthorization, the report states.

The question may already have been settled. The U.S. DOT, through its "National Strategy to Reduce Congestion," has made congestion mitigation a central element of the federal surface transportation program. Equally important, the need to eliminate truck bottlenecks and reduce congestion in heavily traveled interstate truck corridors has been recognized by the transportation community as a national priority. Indeed, if the second half of the 20th century was characterized by a national effort to create a continental highway system, the first half of the 21st century may become known as an era of a concerted national effort to prevent that highway system from becoming hopelessly gridlocked.

Congestion Initiative Update

Nine cities have been selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation as semi-finalists in the "Urban Partnerships" program. Thereby, the U.S. DOT is seeking proposals from metro areas to implement a comprehensive policy response to urban congestion, including demonstrations of variable tolling or congestion pricing, enhanced transit services such as bus rapid transit, increased use of telecommuting, and deployment of advanced Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technology. From the nine semi-finalists the Department plans to select up to five "Urban Partners," which it will support with financial resources, regulatory flexibility, and technical assistance. The nine semi-finalists are Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis-St, Paul, Miami, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. Winners will be announced in mid-August. The program commands significant discretionary resources. These include up to $100 million from the ITS Congestion Mitigation Operational Testing program; up to $30 million from the Value Pricing Program; up to $260 million in other Federal Highway Administration discretionary funds; up to $715 million in Federal Transit Administration discretionary funds; and $150 million in President’s FY08 energy budget proposal — for a total of over $1.2 billion.

Of all the proposed urban partnership projects, New York’s proposal to implement congestion pricing in Mid- and Lower Manhattan is attracting the most attention as the boldest and most challenging of the initiatives. Combining as it does "cordon pricing" (i.e. a charge for entering a cordon area, as in the case of Stockholm) and "area pricing" (i.e. a charge for moving inside an area, as in the case of London) it is more sweeping in its breadth than anything that has been implemented to date.

The Mayor’s proposal has been greeted with applause by some and deep skepticism by others. To many skeptics, the mayor’s proposal seems more like a giant revenue raising scheme than a targeted congestion reduction initiative. The project would generate $380 million a year, to increase to $900 million/year by 2030, but it would reduce traffic within the charge zone by a mere 6.3 percent, according to Mayor Bloomberg’s staff.

Most polls show a majority of New Yorkers (but not residents of Manhattan) opposed. State lawmakers, who must approve the proposal before it becomes law, are reported to be undecided. Opposition to congestion pricing runs deepest in the Assembly, many of whose members from the boroughs outside of Manhattan and from the city’s suburbs view congestion charges as just a commuter tax by another name.

At a public hearing in Manhattan on June 8, state legislators gave a cool reception to Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal. Assemblymen Herman Farrell, Jr. (D) and a dozen of his colleagues raised the familiar concerns such as the fairness of the congestion charge and its regressive effect on low income drivers, the ripple effect the program would have on neighborhoods just outside the charging zone and the threat to privacy inherent in having hundreds of cameras photographing license plates for billing purposes.

Although the project has been represented as a three-year demonstration, lawmakers at the hearing pointed out that the Mayor would retain entire discretion whether or not to continue the project. Also controversial are the huge start-up costs which could eat up most of the anticipated $500 million federal Urban Partnership grant.

Whether the legislature can act upon the congestion pricing proposal by the June 21 end of the regular legislative session is not certain. The city runs the risk of losing the federal grant if the mayor’s plan does not obtain legislative approval by mid-August when the U.S. DOT plans to announce the winners of its Urban Partnership competition.


March 28, 2007

About Cascadia

Matt Rosenberg


The mission of the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center For Regional Development is to support the development of a balanced, integrated, and expanded transportation system for people and goods in central Puget Sound and the greater Cascadia region of Washington, British Columbia, and Oregon. Such a system will ensure the region's ability to facilitate trade and tourism across a secure border and expand technology and infrastructure for global competitiveness in a manner that promotes livable communities. Since 1993, the work of the Cascadia Center has focused on the United States-Canadian border, the Interstate 5 (Highway 99 in Canada) corridor, and the adjacent Northwest Rail corridor, in addition to inland corridors comprised of Highways 97 and 395 from British Columbia to Oregon.


  • Organize locally in neighborhoods and towns.
  • Think long term: 50 years versus the traditional 20-year planning horizon.
  • Plan regionally along transportation corridors that unite the Cascadia region, West Coast States, the United States, and Canada.
  • Finance nationally and internationally for high-speed passenger rail, freight mobility, and technology projects that require innovative financing.
  • Finance innovatively for urban redesign, reduced congestion and increased transportation options.


  • Sponsorship and facilitation of regional and cross-border forums that address common challenges.
  • Partnerships with federal, state, and regional transportation agencies to improve planning and promote innovative finance, governance, and design options.
  • National advocacy for Amtrak reform and high speed passenger rail as well as TEA-21 reauthorization.
  • International advocacy for U.S./Canadian border improvements; "Two-Nation Vacation" tourism initiatives and strategic security investments through the International Mobility and Trade Corridors Project (IMTC), CAN/AM Border Trade Alliance; and the development of a West Coast Corridor Coalition.


  • The Cascadia Center receives funding from corporations, foundations and a variety of federal and state grants. In 2003, the Center received a major ten-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its work on regional transportation.
Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:00 AM |
(The views therein do not necessarily reflect those of Cascadia Center)
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