Aerial view over Solar cells energy farm in countryside landscape

With a projected growth of approximately 1.5 million people in the next 30 years, the Puget Sound area in Washington State faces increased demand on the region’s transportation system.

Background

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), which is the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the four-county Seattle-Tacoma-Everett region, has crafted an ambitious long-range strategy to plan for and shape the area’s transportation needs. The Transportation 2040 plan, adopted in 2010, lays out a 30-year vision for funding and building sustainable transportation programs and projects in the coming decades.

The plan – which received an award in 2010 from the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations – translates the PSRC’s broad commitment to transportation sustainability into tangible actions. The Plan is built around three equal and interrelated strategies that together define what “sustainable transportation” means for the region and are designed to influence overall transportation investment decisions. These three strategies address the following:

  • Congestion Relief and Better Mobility – To improve system efficiency, the plan recommends creating “smart corridors” with advanced technology, better information, advanced tolling approaches, and strategic capacity improvements. As an example, one project underway in the Puget Sound region is the deployment by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) of an Active Traffic Management System, including the use of high-tech overhead signs displaying variable speed limits, lane status, and real-time traffic information so drivers know what is happening on the road ahead.  The first signs were installed on northbound Interstate 5, a major highway traversing Seattle. Since then, WSDOT has implemented similar systems on SR 520, completed in November 2010, and I-90, completed in June 2011.  Active traffic management aims to improve safety, reduce congestion, and benefit the environment.  Although more collision data will be needed for a statistical analysis of collision frequency, WSDOT officials expect to see a measurable and statistically significant reduction in collisions. Congestion relief also has economic benefits, with reduced fuel consumption as vehicles spend less time stuck in traffic jams.
  • Environmental Protection – A key focus of the PSRC’s long-range plan is to protect and improve the region’s environmental health. This includes ensuring that the region has healthy air, planning transportation projects that are better equipped to handle stormwater runoff, and addressing transportation’s role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change.
  • New Approach to Funding – The Transportation 2040 financial strategy relies on traditional funding sources in the early years but later transitions to add funding from new user fees. Such fees could come from high occupancy toll lanes, facility and bridge tolling, vehicle miles traveled charges, and other pricing approaches that replace the gas tax and help manage the transportation system usage.

Recommendations

Detailed recommendations for program changes and major new projects in three major focus areas help transform Transportation 2040’s vision for sustainable transportation into reality. These include the following:

  • Maintain, Preserve and Operate – The plan’s highest priority is to maintain, preserve, and operate the region’s existing transportation system, and represents the largest program cost;
  • Increase System Efficiency – Use transportation system management strategies like Active Traffic Management and variable tolling to improve efficiency of the existing transportation system; and
  • Strategically Expand Capacity – Implement strategic capacity investments in all modes of transportation including a 100 percent increase in peak hour local transit service, bicycle and pedestrian improvements in regional growth centers, and completion of a network of roadway projects.  These investments would rely on users of the new highway capacity to pay for improvements through highway tolling.

In addition, Transportation 2040 supports the goals of Vision 2040, PSRC’s umbrella strategic plan, by focusing transportation investments in designated urban growth areas, increasing the availability and efficiency of transit and rail services, and focusing development in major travel corridors and regional growth centers.

As required under federal law, PSRC is in the process of updating the plan, anticipating completing the revision in 2014. The update will incorporate a method for the better prioritization of projects, include revised revenue estimates based on existing law, and address the level of investment for maintenance and preservation of the existing system.

New Framework

PSRC has been developing the new prioritizing process over the past two years.  The framework will assess projects using nine evaluation measures:

  • air quality,
  • freight,
  • jobs,
  • multi-modal,
  • Puget Sound land and water,
  • safety and system security,
  • social equity and access to opportunity,
  • support for growth centers, and
  • travel.

The prioritization framework will be used to evaluate over 800 projects, with the results being used to support decisions on transportation investments.  When finalized, the framework will be integrated into the Transportation 2040 plan.

Addressing Demand

The update also addresses refinements to the transit-oriented development plans and the active traffic management plans to further address the level of demand on the transportation system. Under consideration are ways to encourage alternative, environmentally sensitive transportation choices; the development of land use policies that support bicycles, transit, and ridesharing; and the incorporation of complete streets principles.

In addition, the update will include a new rural transportation strategy and address other statutory requirements and issues identified by the PSRC boards.

PSRC is working to interpret new mandates from Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), and will incorporate new requirements into the plan update as appropriate, according to Robin Mayhew, a transportation program manager with PSRC. This may include collaboration at the state and national levels to shape the implementation of MAP-21 in advancing regional goals as identified in the plan.

PSRC will have opportunities in the coming year for public involvement in the plan update process.

A wide range of information is available on the PSRC’s Transportation 2040 website, http://www.psrc.org/transportation/t2040. Additional information is available by contacting Charlie Howard by e-mail at [email protected] or Robin Mayhew at [email protected].