Category Archives: Media

WSDOT: “Congestion is a problem we can’t solve”

Is it time for a new state transportation agency? WSDOT says they can’t solve traffic congestion.

KVI‘s John Carlson reveals a great deal about Seattle’s traffic congestion and why it has the 10th worst traffic congestion in the nation. They say they can’t (or won’t try) to fix the problem.

John Carlson explains how WSDOT got the legislature to approve TOLLS on I-405, including eliminating 2-person car pools from being able to drive in the HOV lanes. This ADDED to the traffic congestion in the other, general purpose lanes of I-405.

WSDOT was supposed to build a new general purpose lane on I-405 to relieve traffic congestion. Instead, Carlson says WSDOT found a way to make money — it’s “larceny” says Carlson.

WSDOT says our gas tax is too low. John Carlson points out that Washington has the 2nd HIGHEST gas tax in the nation.

He reveals that bicycling in Seattle is DOWN for the past 3 years, and more.

Start listening at the 3:35 minute mark, and go thru 15:58.

Seattle’s KOMO news reports the following.

More and bigger highways won’t cure Washington state’s growing traffic woes and preventing congestion is an impossible goal from a financial standpoint.

That gloomy assessment comes from Roger Millar, the head of the state Department of Transportation, according to a report in the AASHTO Journalpublished by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

At a meeting of the association last week, Millar said building more highways “isn’t the answer,” and congestion “is a problem we simply cannot solve.”

Incredibly, WSDOT Secretary Millar attempts to blame affordable housing. How incredibly sad.

He says burgeoning traffic on the state’s roads is actually a symptom of a much bigger problem – that people can’t afford to live where they work, so they spend hours on the road in vehicles that many times are not in very good condition.

“Washington state family after Washington family keeps finding out that the only house they can afford is miles away from where they work,” he said. 

His job isn’t HUD Secretary. “Affordable housing” is much more often caused by government over regulation, development rules and costs that are too high, and our state’s Growth Management Act and improper imposition of Urban Growth Boundaries. But in the Seattle area, it’s also due to the unprecedented success of Amazon that has added roughly 50,000 jobs in the Seattle area.

Citizens need a Transportation Secretary who will work to ADD new vehicle capacity, working to reduce traffic congestion and improve safety on our roads.

Where’s the Value?

SW WA citizens will find no “value” in TOLLING proposal

My letter to the editor published in the July 2nd issue of The Reflector.

A review of the past eight months of Oregon’s “Value Pricing” Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) should begin and end with the question — “where’s the value?”

Oregon’s house bill HB 2017 created the possibility of tolling, beginning with I-5 and I-205, but expanding to other state roads as well. It was introduced in the spring of 2017 and passed into law in July. Our own Regional Transportation Council (RTC) refused to engage on behalf of Southwest  Washington taxpayers. The Clark County Council was the only government body expressing strong concerns about the tolling.

Portland has the 12th worst traffic congestion in the nation. It has 35 bottlenecks. I-5 is congested over 15 ½ hours a day; I-205 congested over 12 hours a day according to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). The Rose Quarter has the highest accident rate in Oregon, besides being the major bottleneck for regional transportation. ODOT still hasn’t told us how their proposal will fix all these problems.

Why do we have so much traffic congestion? It’s simple. Oregon refused to build new vehicle capacity and transportation corridors for the past four decades. Yet regional population has doubled.

Oregon’s HB 2017 said the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) will submit a tolling proposal to the Federal Highway Administration. It was required to focus on I-5 and I-205. There was no requirement to add vehicle capacity or build anything. It was simply a mechanism to raise money. None of the $5.3 billion package of transportation projects relied on tolls.

The “Value Pricing” PAC was created by ODOT to evaluate the various issues and make a recommendation to the OTC. Two members of the OTC co-chaired the PAC. Very quickly, it became apparent the ODOT staff and their paid consultants were in charge, rather than the PAC members.

Eight “options” were introduced with surface level evaluations of impacts (positively or negatively) on traffic congestion, tolling revenue, and traffic diversion. One, Option 4, clearly had the most favorable impact on traffic congestion, with the least amount of diversion. ODOT staff rejected this option due to its “astronomical cost” which was not disclosed.

Two big questions remain. Will the OTC choose a project that actually builds new vehicle capacity, with tolling revenues, or will they simply create a new “transportation” slush fund to be divvied up later by bike and mass transit interests?

While not optimistic, I hope the five members of the OTC act on the fact that we have the 12th worse traffic congestion in the nation because they have refused to add vehicle capacity. I would hope they choose to spend the tolling dollars to add vehicle capacity.

The second question is will the federal government approve any request that does not add vehicle capacity? Oregon could be the first and only place in the nation, to request tolling on an existing, paid for, interstate highway, and add no new lanes and vehicle capacity.

Let’s hope the federal highway administration, under President Trump, says “no” to any project that does not add legitimate new vehicle capacity.

Ley to OTC – “It’s about vehicle capacity”

Fighting ODOT’s outrageous TOLLING proposal

Oregon’s HB 2017 set in motion a process to TOLL both I-5 and I-205 “at the border” with Washington, down to the merge of the two near Wilsonville. A 25-member “Value Pricing” Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) was created to evaluate option and make recommendations to the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC). It will be the OTC that makes the final choices.

At the May OTC meeting, I was permitted 3 minutes of citizen comments.

ODOT staff controlling the process

Having attended all but one of the five “Value Pricing” PAC meetings, I have witnessed the ODOT staff, rather than the 25-member committee controlling the process. Sadly, this committee appears to be nothing but eye-wash for what’s really happening. At the April PAC meeting, my planned 3 minutes of comments were reduced by staff to just 90 seconds.

What ODOT isn’t telling citizens

There is a great deal that should be part of a legitimate discussion regarding traffic congestion, TOLLING, and what other cities and states have done. Sadly, ODOT staff aren’t telling citizens the whole story.

In almost all other examples of TOLLING, the cities or states have ADDED new lanes and vehicle capacity. It’s the added capacity that helps relieve the traffic congestion. In most cases, they only TOLL the “new lanes”, allowing drivers to pay the cost of the new capacity. Everyone benefits.

Here’s a great piece laying out the details in Clark County Today. Click here.

The camel’s nose into the tent

At the May “Value Pricing” PAC meeting, the ODOT staff reduced the various options and recommendations down to one. Option B, if approved by the OTC, will only TOLL I-5 from Going St. on the north end, through the Rose Quarter, down to Multnomah Blvd. on the south end.

Some citizens may be breathing a sigh of relief. They can divert to avoid the tolls. What you need to understand is that this recommendation is “just a test”. The ODOT staff hope to expand the TOLLS after an undetermined time frame, to the rest of “the system”. It’s just getting “the camel’s nose into the tent”, so they can get the rest of the camel (tolls) imposed later. In fact ODOT Regional Manager Ryan Windsheimer asked the PAC to expand the TOLLING consideration beyond just I-5 and I-205 to all other highways in the Portland area.

Incredibly, at the May PAC meeting, the ODOT staff proposed eliminating two options from further consideration, including one that would have added capacity on I-205 between the Abernethy Bridge and Stafford Rd. They had earlier told the PAC members they would NOT be allowed to vote on proposals (in response to my comments are the previous meeting).

From a Clark County Today news report: “The Advisory Committee clearly has no consensus about which direction they should go, but were reminded multiple times during the meeting that they are not a voting panel, and consensus wasn’t needed in order to move forward,’’ Brown wrote.”

BUT, in an incredible turn of events, the staffer later asked the PAC members for a “thumbs up” to approve the removal of the two options. From the audience, I could only see about three PAC members raise their thumbs. A clear minority of the 25 PAC members; but I couldn’t seen the full table.

I later asked a PAC member if they had seen “how many” thumbs went up. The response confirmed my observation. Only about “three to six” thumbs went up. An overwhelming MINORITY of the 25 member PAC. And yet, the staff went ahead and eliminated the two options from further consideration.

Without adding any new vehicle capacity, any TOLLING is simply a money grab. Sadly, the ODOT bureaucracy is in charge.

Tolling to Pay for Oregon’s “Band Aid”

Tolls to Pay for Oregon’s Band-Aid

What ODOT isn’t telling you

(Clark County Today published my piece, here.)

In Oregon’s outrageous TOLLING scheme, ODOT shares examples from around the country (and the world) of tolling and “congestion pricing”. Sadly, they’re only telling part of the story. Here’s more of what you should know.

A five-member unelected board will make the final decision on which plan is submitted to the federal government for approval. The Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) will also decide the amounts of the tolls. They’ll also decide where in Oregon, the money will be spent. It doesn’t have to be spent on either I-5 or I-205.

Two OTC members chair the tolling Policy Advisory Committee (PAC). OTC member Alando Simpson stated at the end of the February PAC meeting: “tolling and congestion pricing is just a band aid to the wound. It really doesn’t solve the bigger issue.”

How much should SW Washington citizens be paying for Oregon’s “band aid”?

 

The Portland Mercury reports: “In fact, according to a firm hired by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), none of the dozen highway-widening projects that are currently being planned in and around Portland by state officials would be enough in coming years to stem the increasing congestion choking Portland highways.” (here).

Citizens understand that to be true because it’s been over 35 years since new freeway capacity was added to the region. I-205 opened in December 1982. Regional population has since doubled. The Portland metro region now has the 12th worst traffic congestion in the nation, with 35 bottlenecks.

One source reported that Portland would be the ONLY city in the U.S. to toll ALL LANES of their interstate freeways, if they adopt one option. Option C: “Toll all I-5 and I-205 lanes. All lanes in both directions of I-5 and I-205 would be tolled from the Oregon side of the Columbia River to the junction of the two highways north of Wilsonville.”

In Seattle, WSDOT tolls both I-405 and state highway 520. What doesn’t ODOT tell you about these two tolling projects?

On I-405, they built new lanes in each direction, adding much needed capacity! (The ODOT proposals won’t add new through lanes to either I-5 or I-205). Citizens were originally promised a new “general purpose lane”. Later the new lane switched to a second HOV lane with TOLLS on both HOV lanes.

Camas resident Margaret Tweedt at the March 27 County Council presentation shared that on Seattle’s 520 bridge, the toll is $4.30 for citizens who buy a transponder for payment. But for those who pay cash, there is a 46 percent premium – $6.30 for “pay by mail”. Presumably those without transponders are non-local residents, tourists, and most likely, the poor. Charging the poor 46 percent more is one more very negative “equity” issue, demonstrating what another Clark County citizen, Steven Wallace called, “a war on the poor”.

Tweedt also asked: “what percentage of tolling revenues will be paid to the tolling companies?” The Washington Policy Center estimated that collection consumed 40% of the I-405 revenue. That’s what I told the audience. That’s outrageously expensive in my mind.

Washington State Transportation Commissioner Roy Jennings confronted me after the March County Council presentation. He alleged that my “40 percent” response was cherry picking; using the minimum “fee” paid for collection versus the minimum75 cent toll. His own agency, the WSTC confirmed the overall “cost of collection” on I-405 was 35 percent. Apparently the WSTC Vice Chairman isn’t up to speed on the details of his own business.

This level of the “cost of collection” was indirectly confirmed by ODOT’s Mandy Putney in an April presentation to our Regional Transportation Council. “Some of these scenarios might not raise much more than the cost to cover the operations of the tolling system.”

Both federal and state law requires cars in the toll lanes maintain an average speed of 45 mph or faster, 90 percent of the time during peak periods. I-405 fails this requirement. (here). Furthermore, WSDOT apparently expanded the times labeled “peak periods” so that overall, the freeway met, or came closer to meeting federal standards. (here).

ODOT and WSDOT fail to provide any information about “traffic diversion” due to the Seattle I-405 or 520 tolls. But we know it is real. At the Feb. 28 ODOT tolling meeting, Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas reported that 50,000 vehicles are presently diverting due to traffic congestion in the Portland metro region.

On 520, the Seattle Times reports:

“found examples of how enormous 520 bridge toll bills, some topping $10,000 with all the fines, had, no joke, caused some low-income drivers to file for personal bankruptcy or even flee the state.”

“At one point three years ago, before the state finally agreed to ease up on its rigid fine collection, an astonishing 90,000 local drivers owed $53 million in back tolls and fines. Unable to pay, some of them simply abandoned their cars when the state placed holds on their license tabs.

 

In London, cited by ODOT as an international example of pricing all roads in a congested city, there’s more you need to know. They charge $16 to drive anywhere in an 8 square mile area of London. According to the Seattle Times, London’s tolls only reduced traffic by 15%. Furthermore, “it took 1,360 cameras to set up London’s cordon, and last year just the cost of running the system was an insane $120 million. That’s all dollars hoovered out of the public to benefit some private photo-tolling corporation.”

 

ODOT cites a congestion pricing program in Virginia. On I-66, the tolls began late last year. What ODOT isn’t telling people is that “so far”, the maximum one-way toll hit $47. (here). Furthermore, at 5:30 in the morning, when there was no congestion, drivers have been charged up to $8.50 to drive on a nearly empty road. (2 side-by-side graphics – one showing $47 toll; the other showing $8.50 at 5:30 a.m.)

The Oregon transportation plan and tolling were created by HB 2017. You’ll see references to Oregon spending $450 million on the Rose Quarter. We know this is the real bottleneck on I-5. What ODOT and the press aren’t telling you is that HALF of the $450 million will be spent on “community redevelopment”, not adding lanes or fixing traffic safety issues.

Why is Oregon spending transportation dollars for “community redevelopment”? It’s pork barrel spending, for sure. Two concrete “lids” approximately two blocks wide, will be built over the top on I-5 at the Rose Quarter. Additionally, a bicycle & pedestrian bridge will cross over I-5. It could cost “$30 – $50 million” according to an ODOT staffer. (graphic)

According to ODOT, this stretch of I-5 at the Rose Quarter boasts the highest crash rate of any highway in the state. It has three times the accident rate of the Terwiliger Curves. Part of the $450 million plan will add “auxiliary lanes” and shoulders to I-5. They will also move an on-ramp. While all this will hopefully reduce accidents by 30-50 percent according to ODOT, it will continue to have the “highest accident rate” in Oregon. This confirms the current proposal is “a band aid” and not truly solving either the safety or the congestion problems.

 

But the greatest outrage of all, is how this “Value Pricing” Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) is or more appropriately isn’t working. The staff originally proposed eight options for consideration and discussion. It was a reasonable start. (graphic).

At the Feb 28th PAC meeting, the ODOT staff and hired outside consultants, recommended narrowing the options down to four major choices, and one minor (unlikely) choice.

NONE of the 25 PAC members got to vote or rank their preferences for the original eight options before they were reduced.

One of the original options immediately jumped out as having the “best” impact on congestion, and likely reduced traffic diversion. Option 4 proposed adding a new lane in each direction on both I-5 and I-205. (graphic)

The staff eliminated this from consideration due to the alleged “astronomical” cost. When asked by PAC members what the cost was, the staff didn’t have an answer. No costing models were done on any of the options.

PAC members asked for numbers on traffic diversion for each option. No numbers were provided, as they didn’t exist. As mentioned above, 50,000 vehicles current divert in the Portland metro area to side streets. It clearly becomes a safety issue for neighborhoods with that many vehicles using side roads and our cell phone GPS technology recommending alternate routes. Yet ODOT didn’t provide any data before eliminating several options.

Besides not allowing the PAC members to rank order their preferences on the original eight options, the staff failed to have the PAC vote whether or not to accept or reject the five recommended options they proposed move forward for further study.

At the very end of the Feb. 28th meeting, PAC members are getting up from the table and leaving the room. The staffer running the meeting says: “we didn’t reach a consensus”. She then asks another staffer: “did we get enough input to move forward?” You don’t see or hear the answer, but the person asking says “okay”. The meeting ends. (video).

 

(possible Ley 90-second comment video at April PAC meeting). (Is it possible to merge the Ley “citizen” comments, and then either one or both Paul Savas comments into one video?)

 

This is an incredible study in government bureaucracy, where elected leaders have little to no say in final outcomes. This is how Oregon will impose tolls.

Their stated goal is to get people to change their driving or transportation habits. Why doesn’t government change their office hours and transportation habits? Instead, they seek to impose financial hardship on citizens, forcing us to change ours. As Ann Donnelly said in a recent column: Laboratory rats in a behavior-modification experiment.”

Citizens should use this knowledge to make input to the next ODOT “Town Hall” here in Clark County. It will be Monday, April 30, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Marshall Community Center / Leupke Center, 1009 E McLoughlin Blvd Vancouver. They should also communicate to PAC members Vancouver Mayor Ann Ogle, County Council member Eileen Quiring, and Chris Strickler of WSDOT.

 

 

Staff controls TOLLING process rather than 25 PAC committee members

Why isn’t the 25 member Policy Advisory Committee being listened to on ODOT’s TOLLING policy committee?

 

The 4th of six ODOT “Value Pricing” Policy Advisory Committee meetings occurred April 11th. I had prepared 3 minutes of “citizen comments”. Speakers were restricted to 90 seconds. Below is the video of my comments. Below that is the text of the full 3 minutes I had hoped to share.

Why is the STAFF, rather than the 25 PAC members, controlling this process?

At the end of the Feb. 28th meeting, PAC members are getting up from the table and leaving. An ODOT staffer says: “we didn’t reach a consensus”. She then asks: “did we get enough input to move forward?” You don’t see or hear the answer, but the person asking says “okay”. The meeting ends. Who’s in charge? It’s not the PAC members.

 

At the Feb 28th PAC meeting, the ODOT staff and hired outside consultants, recommended narrowing the options down to four major choices, and one minor (unlikely) choice.

NONE of the 25 PAC members got to vote or rank their preferences for the original eight options before they were reduced. Why not?

It would have been very easy to give each PAC member a one-page copy of the original 8 “options” and have the PAC rank them 1 to 8, in order of priority. Their “voice” and their priorities would have been formally considered. They would have formally known their fellow PAC members priorities. But no. Instead, the STAFF told the PAC members which options were most or least important.

During the meeting, several PAC members asked that other options be included. Their request was not heeded.

At the beginning, a PAC member stated that one of the options NOT moving forward appeared to have the best possible outcome in reducing traffic congestion.  This was Option 4 – build a new lane in each direction on both I-5 & I-205, and only TOLL those new lanes. But STAFF didn’t include Option 4 in those recommended for further study and evaluation.

We were told this wasn’t advancing due to the “astronomical cost”. Yet when PAC members asked what the cost was, so THEY could use their judgement and also report to their constituents, there was none. No cost estimates were created. Who’s in charge? Not the PAC members.

Several PAC members asked for traffic diversion information. One told us 50,000 vehicles are presently diverting to side roads. It’s a safety issue for neighborhoods. We know TOLLS will INCREASE traffic diversion. Yet no diversion analysis was done on the eight options before they were reduced.

Who’s in charge? Not the 25 people around this table. How sad for the citizens and taxpayers.

With HALF your meetings behind you, we now know that you want to change people’s behavior and alter how or when they travel our two interstates. Why doesn’t GOVERNMENT show the working citizens how easy it is to “change our behavior or travel patterns?” Why don’t government workers shift their work hours for example, from noon to 9 pm? Let’s see how that impacts traffic congestion. You expect taxpayers to change their behavior and travel, why don’t you change yours?

*********

PAC member Paul Savas (Clackamas County Commissioner) addresses the issue later in the meeting.

 

 

PAC member Paul Savas says Ley comments regarding the Feb. 28th PAC meeting were “spot on”.