Clear Fog Blog

Political musings from Warren E. Peterson

Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Rethinking SR 520 Tolls

Posted by Warren Peterson on February 5, 2012

Last year my wife and I drove almost the entire length of the New Jersey Turnpike. The tollbooths gobbled up our quarters and dollar coins faster than an old style Vegas slot machine. Yes, you could actually pay with coin of the realm either by using “exact change” lanes or a toll lane where a living human being took our paper money and gave back change, politely I may add. There were numerous lanes for electronic tolling and most of the traffic passed through using them.

Back in the State of Washington, we had occasion to drive to a friend’s summer home on Hood Canal. The route took us over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge where a westbound toll is collected. Like New Jersey, tolls could be paid several ways, by cash, credit card or electronically.

Having a choice of payment method is good for the out of area drivers as well as the infrequent user. No need to purchase a transponder and money on deposit, no extra charge if the toll authority has to bill you by photographing your license plate, just pay cash. Unfortunately, such reasonable customer service is not available on the Albert D. Rosellini (Evergreen Point SR 520) Floating Bridge. One reason electronic (Good to Go) tolling is the only option is social engineering. In an effort to smooth out the traffic and discourage use of private cars, tolls vary depending on the time of day. From 7 to 9 AM and 3 to 6 PM, for instance, the toll is $3.50 each way. Make that $5.00 if the license plate photo is used. Not a problem if you are part of the 1% but fairly expensive for the rest of us. If you had to travel the peak hours for say 40 weeks, five days a week, prepare to find an additional $1,400 in your budget. You could cut this somewhat by adjusting your travel times, taking the bus or using I-90 which is what the social engineers want you to do except there is talk of closing one of those options by tolling I-90.

Since the primary purpose of the tolls is to pay for construction of a new bridge, why not charge a lower flat rate 24/7 and employ a couple dozen toll takers for those who don’t have a Good to Go pass. A flat rate is fair, it allows metering of traffic by funneling cars through toll plazas without the financial penalty and fewer enforcement and billing people could offset the addition of human toll collectors.

Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1125 would have instituted a flat rate toll but it failed to pass, probably because it contained too many other transportation issues such as light rail across I-90. Maybe an initiative on the single issue of a flat rate toll for the Rosellini Bridge would pass. How about it, Tim?

Cross posted on: Sound Politics


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The $60 Car-tab Fee Ballot Measure

Posted by Warren Peterson on September 4, 2011

Kudos to the Seattle Times for their September 2, 2011 front page article, “Seattle’s $60 car-tab fee: where it could go.” It raised a host of red flags starting with the word “could” in the title. That word means the ballot proposal is a “general plan” for where the $204,000,000 collected from car owners over ten years would be spent. The Seattle City Council actually gets the job of allocating the funds albeit under pressure from the bike lobby, transit supporters, neighborhood groups and any others with a favorite project. A clue to how that will work is a comment from Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the Transportation Committee, that the car-tab fee needs to get voted on this year before several new spending measures appear on the 2012 ballot.

If the Council did parcel out the money as supporters suggest, $18,000,000 goes to planning expansion of the streetcar system. No money is set aside for actually building it much less maintenance and operation. Shades of the voter approved library and parks capital improvements. The lion’s share of $99,500,000 transit money goes to Metro but for what “is preliminary at this point” and the “wishes from Metro and the city differ.” Bicycles scoop up $13,900,000 for “bike lanes, routes, signs, (and) parking” but again with no money to maintain those funny little stencils designating bike lanes. In short, it’s a pig in a poke that voters need to reject, but this is Seattle where detachment from reality is reality. Watch your wallets.

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Counting Bicycle Usage in Seattle

Posted by Warren Peterson on May 30, 2011

2010 count of bicycle usage in Seattle;

Bicycle Use Statistics

For more on the subject, see: Sound Politics – “Paying for Bicycle Traffic in Seattle”

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Car Tab Fees Rise in Seattle

Posted by Warren Peterson on May 18, 2011

The license renewal notice for our 1994 mini van arrived in the mail recently. Remember Tim Eyman’s initiative limiting car tabs to $30? It’s history. There has been a little fee creep. Would you believe the cost is now $99.75 ($94.75 if you opt out of the $5 parks fee)?

Click here to see the list of fees: Vehicle_license_renewal[1]

One example, starting May 2011, it costs $20 more to license a car in the City of Seattle. Last September, the Seattle City Council established the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD). The District’s web site explains the origins of the $20 fee and the planned use of the funds generated.

Per the Revised Code of Washington, a transportation district may impose a fee of up to $20 on cars licensed within a district. To no one’s surprise, the STBD imposed the maximum fee. Also not surprising, a portion of the funds raised by the fee will be for “investing in bicycle…mobility.” Not satisfied with the new tax on cars, a 14 member Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC) has been established. One of the Committee’s tasks will be “evaluating and examining the potential for a ballot measure asking Seattle voters to fund additional transportation projects.”

Citizens interested in monitoring or giving input to the CTAC should go to The SDOT Blog.

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Cars from the Past

Posted by Warren Peterson on May 15, 2009

With the pending demise of Chrysler and GM, a little nostalgia is in order. Enjoy these photos of American land yachts and dinghies from the heyday of chrome and fins.

Click on: CARS

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Airlines Deal with the Oil Crisis

Posted by Warren Peterson on June 14, 2008

Fuel costs really have the airlines in a bind. To cut costs, they have proposed numerous changes. Flying slower, reducing fuel loads, carrying less water and installing lighter seats are measures already implemented. None of these changes directly affect airline customers but there are others that do. Routes and number of flights have been cut. Use frequent flyer points, cancel or change an itinerary, check an overweight bag, order a Coke and expect to pay. For the most part, these are minor annoyances. People deal with rising gas prices every day and they know the airlines are affected too. But a recent fee imposed by United and American has pushed folks over the edge. These airlines, no doubt soon to be followed by others, are going to charge $15 for the first checked bag. On a round trip, that is equivalent to a $30 fair increase. Worse, to avoid the fee, people will carry on more suitcases, cramming the overhead bins with the excess going under seats. And you thought legroom was a problem now. Class envy will increase because business and first class passengers are exempt. Add this to the security hassles and people will not fly. Conduct business meetings, see the new grandchild, they can be done on the Internet. Vacations can be closer to home. Amtrak, the Grey Dog or even driving starts to look attractive. Why don’t the airlines simply impose a fuel surcharge? They can make a reasonable case for the need and people will see it as necessary. A surcharge is simple, transparent and less likely to tic off customers. Of course, if fuel costs go down so will the fuel surcharge. Those other fees, however, would probably remain. Clever little devils, those airlines, aren’t they.

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Is Light Rail Too Heavy?

Posted by Warren Peterson on April 19, 2008

Before taxpayers opt for more light rail, before we compromise the I-90 floating bridge by adding trains, before we abandon the bus option, we all need to take a pause and read the Washington Policy Center’s study of the six existing light rail systems on the West coast. This is the summary but the full report is also on line in pdf. With a $15 billion transportation infrastructure bill (and that’s just Dino Rossi’s plan) coming down the road, we all need to think very carefully before we commit to more light rail than we are already saddled with. And what if the Gregoire/Sims/Nichols Axis has their way? Fifteen billion would be chump change. Guess who would be the chumps?

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Prop 1 – Roads and Transit – A Loser. What to do next?

Posted by Warren Peterson on October 19, 2007

Do It Again in 2008

With the likely defeat of Proposition 1 –Roads and Transit (even the Sierra Club and King County Executive Ron “Better Late Than Never” Sims oppose it), it is time to immediately prepare a revised submittal for the 2008 ballot. This time, instead of trying to force voters to accept an all or nothing approach, break the proposal into several separate ballot propositions. In the ballot titles, include best estimates of cost and funding sources. For example, a ballot title for a new 520 bridge might be worded as follows:

Shall the 520 Evergreen Point Floating Bridge be replaced with a new six lane bridge with improved connection to I-5? The estimated cost is $5 billion. Funding will be $2 billion from existing Federal and State highway taxes, $1.2 billion from a .007 cent increase in the sales tax (up from 8.8% to 9.5%), $0.8 billion increase in car taxes and $1 billion in tolls.

Separate propositions for roads, major bridges, light rail to Northgate, light rail to the Eastside etc. will give voters clear choices. Supporters would be able to make their case for each project unencumbered by baggage from other projects.


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Prop 1 Roads & Transit

Posted by Warren Peterson on October 16, 2007

Prop 1 comes to us courtesy of the Washington State Legislature (RCW) which required both roads and transit proposals to be combined in one referendum, specified activities and funding sources allowed and required a report (Roads & Transit Pamphlet) to voters prior to the election. Therein lie the seeds of defeat, for in order to support transit, one has to swallow roads and vice versa. Additionally, since Prop 1 covers the major population centers from south of Tacoma to north of Everett, in order to garner support, every area covered by Sound Transit (ST) and the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) has to get something desired locally. The result is too many projects for the funds available. One example from the Roads & Transit Pamphlet is under the RTID Blueprint for Progress section, item number 11 on the SR 520 Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. It states, “Provide funds to replace earthquake- and windstorm-vulnerable bridge …” The truth is, however, Prop 1 only gets the project pregnant. More money would have to be found, such as tolls (Bridge Funding Sources) to actually complete the bridge replacement.

There is extensive reporting on Prop 1 in the Sunday, October 14th Seattle Times including an editorial opposing Prop 1.

If not Prop 1, then what? My thoughts on this later this week.


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