Promoting rail as an integral part of Washington state's transportation solutions.

November 15

Re-Evaluating Our Priorities

With the passing of Initiative 976, it’s clear that Washington voters are dissatisfied with “transportation as usual.” Focusing the vast majority of transportation spending on automotive infrastructure expansion is not sustainable. Our state has already made significant investments in more efficient, environmentally friendlier, and less expensive ways of moving people and goods. The voters are telling us to do things differently and make the most of these existing investments.

The voters are telling us to do things differently and make the most of these existing investments.

Cars and trucks are not going away. They serve neighborhoods and rural communities that cannot be served easily by other modes of transportation. But automotive infrastructure alone is inadequate, not to mention very expensive to build and maintain. WSDOT estimated that adding just one lane to I-5 in each direction from the Canadian border to the Columbia River would cost $110 billion. Any new capacity would be swamped by the demand induced by greater convenience, and we would be left with the same congestion as before.

The need for a more balanced transportation network is evident, yet our political and bureaucratic processes tend to view modes independently of one another. Each improvement and addition is forced to compete against others for space, attention, and funding. Instead of highlighting how an HOV lane would allow more people to move on existing roadways, political and planning organizations face pushback from current motorists who don’t want to lose lanes. New rail lines often fail to incorporate good local bus connections because the political processes that create them are more strongly influenced by factors such as top speed and station-to-station time, rather than the ease of making a connection. Moving across county and city lines can be difficult since local transit agencies may not have the jurisdiction or incentive to create regional service.

Integrated interstate network planning can help us overcome all of these current barriers. Several studies currently underway are evaluating different projects for different reasons, yet none of them are working together to plan optimal strategies that encourage intermodal collaboration. What if all these studies started considering how existing and planned modal improvements might complement one another? What if we could evaluate each project based on its contribution to our mix of options for getting around? What if we started planning for how our sidewalks, bike lanes, roads, ferry terminals, train stations, and airports could all work together to get Washingtonians anywhere they wanted?

As we evaluate where to spend our limited transportation dollars, it is vital for us to start thinking differently about our priorities.

As we evaluate where to spend our limited transportation dollars, it is vital for us to start thinking differently about our priorities. We must ensure that Washington can plan transportation as a network of many modes that can move people and goods efficiently, and then fund projects according to merit and need. We must change the antiquated funding mechanisms that define which transportation are politically and financially feasible. And we must make it known that maintenance deferral on our existing system is not an option.

AAWA believes investing in passenger rail is a key way for Washington to make better use of its existing infrastructure resources. Underserved communities statewide would benefit from reinstated passenger rail service on existing tracks, bridges, tunnels, and former stations. This service could be started at a fraction of the cost of building brand new rights-of-way. But under the current transportation funding system, passenger rail projects are difficult to get off the ground.

Therefore, AAWA calls on our elected leaders in Washington to re-evaluate ALL of our state’s transportation spending — on highways, transit, ferries, air, and rail — with these central principles in mind:

  1. Make the best use of the infrastructure and operational funding that we already have. Let’s stop deferring maintenance, and let’s make sure our transportation investment meets the needs of our growing economy.

  2. Plan our transportation system as an integrated, multimodal, sustainable, and environmentally-responsive network that can move people and goods everywhere in the state, now and for decades to come. Let’s stop looking at projects individually, and start planning for the 21st century transportation SYSTEM that we want.

  3. Examine the provisions that limit certain types of public funding to only a specific transportation mode. Let’s stop reserving funding just for roads, and start building projects that give all Washingtonians better access to opportunity.

AAWA believes investing in passenger rail is a key way for Washington to make better use of its existing infrastructure resources.

The public needs its elected officials to make the hard choices necessary to turn our hard-earned, limited dollars into a functional transportation system. It should help us maintain our economic growth without sacrificing our state’s quality of life in the future. Initiative 976 is forcing us to change how we think about transportation planning and funding. We should put ALL options on the table, and make 2020 the year that we finally set our priorities straight.