Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The tolling road map for Washington?

This 6-part Crosscut series is a little bit dated, as it refers to the upcoming RTID vote, which failed in the Puget Sound in November. But, I wanted to post it here because it is a very well done piece of journalism that explains the big picture on the future of transportation funding -- not only in Washington State, but nationwide.

I have done some fairly extensive research on transportation funding over the past couple of years. I have looked at local funding all the way up to the national funding options and this story is the closest thing I have seen in the mainstream media that explains where our nation is headed.

In fact, it correctly points out that our federal government is offering grants to five major metropolitan areas to create pilot projects using "congestion pricing." Those cities are New York, San Fransico, Minneapolis, Seattle, and I think the other one was somewhere in the southwest or in Florida (I can't recall, but I will update this when I find it).

The congestion pricing theory is based on the premise, that in many cases, we do not have a capacity shortage when it comes to transportation infrastructure. The real issue is how we manage our existing capacity. The question that always gets posed here is: "How often are you snarreled in traffic at 1 a.m. in the morning?"

The answer, of course, is "never."

So, if you can incentivize the use of the infrastructure during the "non-peak hours" by significantly reducing the cost of tolls, more people will wait to travel during those times. Those people may be delivery trucks, and other non-time dependent travelers.

Of couse, this type of tolling would also require a more sophisticated public transit system that commuters could opt to use in order to avoid the higher tolls that will be imposed during peak working hours.

This will definitely be controversial in the coming years as Congress wrestles with how to re-authorize the Trasportation Equity Act, and what to recommend as a way to fund future transportation needs.

Which would you favor more than the other: A congestion pricing program based in tolling? or a more comsumption-based tax like the gas tax?

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About SRTC

SRTC is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Spokane County. Urbanized areas with populations exceeding 50,000 people are required to have an MPO. SRTC was formed to address the county's transportation planning needs. It provides coordination in planning between the public, cities, small towns, the county, the state, transit providers, and tribes.

SRTC offers services including transportation monitoring, transportation modeling, census information analysis, travel demand forecasting, historical traffic count analysis, geographic information systems, and trip generation rates.