Friday, March 27, 2009

Free Money or Freeways?

A similar letter similar to the one below to our other representative in the 48th district, Debra Eddy:

Rep. Eddy,

I'm sure you're well aware of the Tacoma News Tribune Article concerning the Senate transportation budget that came out on Wednesday:

The tone of this article makes it feel as though Senator Haugen is being 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." Can anyone seriously believe stimulus money will flow to Washington without funding at the State level? Rail is much more than passenger service. Washington needs to get its wheat to it's ports to put bread on the table. Senator Haugen seems to have a "let them eat cake" attitude.

The federal money is ostensibly for passenger rail improvements. However, our rail lines are shared right of way with the vast majority of traffic being freight. Therefore freight operations will be the biggest benefactor of the priority projects like the Point Defiance bypass. As the TNT 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. While increased passenger rail service may be a luxury we can't afford right now I fear 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.

Passenger service is the sexy visible part of the Presidents HSR initiative but the heavy lifting will continue to be done by our freight railroads. Amtrak Cascades service has a dismal 65% on time rating. Signaling improvements, new track and modernized train control systems can improve this to 95% in short order if we take advantage of the stimulus money. Integral to this upgrade are huge benefits to the freight trains which operate on this right of way. 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 where in that 5 day window it will arrive. It is this uncertainty, which is why so much freight moves by truck instead of rail. Improved transit time and reliability results in shifting more of our truck traffic to rail. This benefits not only the environment (lower GHG emisions) it saves on the excessive wear truck traffic causes to our roads and makes us more competitive in a global economy.

To put a familiar face on this; Boeing relies on rail to ship fuselages from it's Witchita plant to Renton. Think what a five day delay must cost Boeing in delivery penalties, unproductive workers waiting on parts and then overtime to try and recover their schedule.It would be fiscally irresponsible to not aggresively seek as much of the stimulus money for the Cascades cooridor as possible.

I applaud your efforts to toll both SR520 and I90 (which should be directed to fund R8A). I also believe the same idea must be applied to the deep bore tunnel proposal on SR99. Tolls should be equal to those on SR520 including pre-tolling of the viaduct. Use the money freed up to restore funding for the Rail and Marine division of WSDOT. If drivers are not willing to pay tolls to finance the deep bore tunnel then the only sensible solution in these economic times is a seismic retrofit of the existing structure.

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


Mikey said...

Front page of today's Times:

It is crystal clear that a replacement for the SR520 bridge is a looong ways off. They want to "fund" the bridge several billion dollars short? And this before the NIMBYs can tie it up in court for six or eight years?

Ugly with a capital "ugh."

Anonymous said...

The truth of the matter also is that all three major roads from Seattle, SR-520, I-90 and I-99 with tolls would create a tourniquet around Seattle. The hour-glass affect will now have a beautiful bow around it with toll-blood running out of it.

Keith Ljunghammar
I-99 NoTunnel Treasurer

Bernie Hayden said...

Although I live on the eastside and would be subject to tolls going across the Lake I am in favor because, 1) congestion effectively has already created a tourniquet. Variable rate tolling with transponders will improve traffic flow. 2) maintenance and frequent replacement on floating bridges (50 years vs 100+ for real bridges) is just a fact of life and those using the bridges should pay for them.

If SR99 viaduct users want a tunnel and are willing to pay the tolls to support it then more power to them. I get the feeling the people of Seattle DON'T want this and what we have are a mayor and governor looking to build a monument to their legacy.

Mikey said...

Tolls- user fees- are a simple and progressive form of taxation. They tend to REDUCE congestion. We need to be careful about funding the car-dependent nightmares of a few with billions in public money.