Unifying the Push to Solve Gridlock

Published in Seattle Post-Intelligencer

With the monorail initiative’s passage, there are now seven separate transportation agencies in the Puget Sound region.

Some think that’s just nutty.

Two organizations, the pro-business Discovery Institute and the more pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition, have called for the creation of just one superagency that would create a unified strategy for fixing the gridlock.

The Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Project, which studies transportation and land use issues, yesterday called on Gov. Gary Locke and state lawmakers to put the idea of consolidation into motion during the next legislative session.

Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel appeared open to the idea, saying, “I think in the upcoming session, there’s going to a be a number of discussions about increasing efficiencies.

Elaine Kraft, a spokeswoman for King County Executive Ron Sims, said it was premature to comment on a proposal to unify transit agencies.

State Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said he is working on a bill that would require the transit agencies, including Metro, Sound Transit and the monorail authority, to coordinate their plans.

The transit agencies currently work together on things such as coordinating schedules and making it easier to transfer from one system to another.

King, Pierce and Snohomish counties also coordinate their transportation planning on a regional body called the Puget Sound Regional Council.

Cascadia Director Bruce Agnew and Transportation Choices Director Peter Hurley acknowledged that leaders of the agencies may be loath to give up power.

“I’m not sure government can reform itself,” Agnew said.

After an election campaign in which voters heard debates over roads versus transit, they shot down the Referendum 51 gas-tax plan statewide, while Seattle passed a monorail plan some see as competing with light rail.

Agnew and Hurley argued that there ought to be a single body responsible for coming up with a single vision.

“There’s a real yearning to get out of this mess,” Agnew said.

Given that there is only a limited amount of money available, they said, it makes no sense for the state Transportation Department to come up with one multibillion-dollar plan, the three Puget Sound-area counties to draft a regional transportation package, Sound Transit to create another multibillion-dollar proposal, and the monorail authority to go ahead with its own $1.75 billion project.

Agnew suggested that legislators create a commission to examine the merger of the agencies. Until Metro, Sound Transit and the new Seattle Popular Monorail Authority are folded into the one agency, Agnew said, the state should require that their plans complement one another.

At the same time, Agnew’s project called on for independent study — perhaps ordered by Locke — to examine the most efficient way to spend a limited amount of transit dollars between light rail and the monorail.

Agnew, whose group supported the creation of Sound Transit, said the monorail’s victory means two agencies are working on rail projects in Seattle.

Although light rail is envisioned as a regional system, and the monorail, at least initially, as a way to link neighborhoods, Agnew wondered whether one agency could run things more efficiently.