Thursday, March 26, 2009

Budget Bingo

Below is a copy of a letter I sent to Ross Hunter, my legislative representative in the 48th.

Rep. Hunter,

I am writing in response to a Tacoma News Tribune Article concerning the Senate transportation budget that came out on Wednesday:

Senate plan pays for all I-5 carpool lanes through Tacoma

I feel as though Senator Haugen is almost boastful in declaring she "elminated almost all railroad projects from the 2009-11 budget." The article goes on to say, "Washington will have to apply for federal funds that have been made available as part of the federal transportation stimulus package... She said there is more than $8 billion set aside for rail nationwide."

While passenger rail service may be a luxury we can't afford right now I fear that a lack of matching funds will all but eliminate any chance of securing our States fair share of of that $8 billion from the federal government. This is like failing to fund an employer matching retirement account. The State funding of expensive discretionary roads today bankrupts our transportation infrastructure of the future.

The federal money is ostensibly for passenger rail improvements. However, since our rail line from Oregon to British Columbia is shared right of way with freight it is the freight operations which will be the biggest benefactor of the priority projects like the Point Defiance bypass. As the article points out these rail lines south of Lakewood provide a more direct route for freight trains into the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle.It will also directly benefit military operations at Fort Lewis providing a redundancy to the lines that are often closed due to slides along the route that follows the Puget Sound.

Currently Amtrak Cascades service has a 65% on time rating. Signaling improvements and modernized train control systems can improve this to 95% almost immediately if funding is available. The greatest cost which would be funded by the stimulus money is to upgrade the freight trains which share the tracks. Currently shipping by rail from Seattle to the midwest is anywhere from 7-12 days and you don't know when you load your goods onto the rail car when in that 5 day window it will arrive. Boeing relies on this rail system to ship fusalages from it's Witchita plant to Renton. Think what a five day delay must cost Boeing in contract penalties, unproductive workers waiting on parts and then overtime to try and recover their schedule.

I applaud your effort to toll both I90 and SR520. It seems there is also a need to see if people are willing to pay to drive through a $3 billion dollar tunnel under Seattle or if it's only viable when it's a "freebie". Tolls should be equal to those on SR520 and should start by tolling the viaduct. If they are willing to pay tolls then use the money freed up to restore funding for the Rail and Marine division of WSDOT. If not then the only sensible solution for these economic times is a seismic retrofit of the existing structure.

Washington needs to get its wheat to it's ports to put bread on the table. Senator Haugen's seems to have a "let them eat cake" attitude.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my concerns and for the fine work you are doing in Olympia.

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