PSRC Metropolitan Transportation Plan Update:
Status of the Process

Prepared by Dick Nelson for sane transit, 11/10/00


The 2001 Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) for the Puget Sound Region is a crucial document for those concerned with transit to understand and critique. Unless there is successful intervention from Sane Transit or others, the 2001 MTP could serve to justify an irrevocable commitment to build Sound Transit’s Link light rail system as now conceived. The MTP will specify a preferred alternative “package” of investment projects and programs covering the period from 2000 to 2030. If the region as represented by Puget Sound Regional Council were to focus on more cost-effective transportation policies, the MTP could be rewritten to explain why Link light rail is no longer part of the preferred package. A focus on getting better transportation policy built into the 2001 MTP could be an important tool for getting Sound Transit to eliminate or at least significantly improve the light rail component of the Sound Move regional transit plan.

Under federal law, the MTP must be updated at least every three years. The MTP update now under consideration is built on a previous 25-year plan adopted by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) in 1995 and reaffirmed in 1998 following the vote authorizing Sound Transit. That plan, consisting mostly of roadway and transit projects, embraced a regional light rail system connecting major urban centers. As currently proposed, the 2001 MTP update would include at a minimum Link Phase I. At a maximum, it would include Sound Transit’s long-range plan, 125 miles of electric light rail in three major segments: Everett to Tacoma in the I-5 and SR-99 corridors; Seattle to Bellevue via I-90 with extensions to Issaquah and Redmond; and Lynnwood to Sea-Tac in the I-405 corridor.

Draft EIS, Alternatives Analysis, and Preferred Alternative

The PSRC issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Alternatives Analysis for the 2001 MTP on August 31, 2000. The comment period closed on October 20 and a draft final EIS is now being prepared. The final EIS will be in draft form to allow public comment on the preferred alternative. The Draft Final EIS will be issued in early January 2001. Under the current schedule, the PSRC Executive Board will adopt the MTP containing the preferred alternative in late March 2001.

Each of the four alternative “packages” analyzed in the Draft EIS (DEIS) contained Phase I of the Link system. Three of the alternatives contained the fully built-out 125-mile system. The DEIS suggests that the preferred alternative may be assembled from the “best” elements of the four packages.

Least-Cost Planning Requirement

Under a state law adopted in 1994 (SHB 1928; RCW 47.80.030; WAC 468-86-080), regional transportation planning organizations such as the PSRC must base their transportation plans on least-cost principles. The Regional Transportation Planning Organizations were given to 2000 to fully complete the transition to least-cost planning LCP. Although the law suggests that LCP should be introduced incrementally, the methodology was not used to design the 1995 MTP or its 1998 update.

LCP is defined as a methodology that “identifies the most cost-effective facilities, services, and programs.” The law states that “facilities, services, and programs include, “major roadways, transit and nonmotorized services and facilities, …and noncapital programs including demand management.” The law also requires the plan to “make the most efficient use of existing transportation facilities to relieve vehicle congestion and maximize the mobility of people and goods.”

The PSRC issued a Least-Cost Planning Analysis on October 26, 2000 as a Supplemental Technical Appendix 11 to the DEIS and MTP Alternatives Analysis. The comment period on the LCP analysis closes on November 27, 2000.

What We Have Established So Far

A careful reading of the various documents, combined with attendance and testimony/discussion/listening at several public and technical meetings, has established that:

1) The MTP process, combined with the LCP requirement, provides a level playing field for the analysis and comparison of a range of plan components, including components that were not considered in the 1995 MTP.

2) The PSRC planners know that a different mix (compared to those in the four alternative packages) of project and program components will yield a “better” preferred alternative. Better is defined as improved transportation system performance (less congestion delay and improved air quality) at a reduced public cost.

3) Planners and decision makers are under the gun to significantly reduce the public investment costs of the preferred alternative. Based on current revenue sources, shortfalls for the four alternatives range from $28 billion for extending the current plan to $47 billion for the enhanced plans, or 35% to 48% of total 30-year costs.

4) LCP has put the PSRC’s policy makers between a rock and a hard place. They understand that the state law requires the analysis of individual components of a regional plan, but they fear that if it is applied to Link and to other major alternatives such as an all-bus system, Link will prove to be less cost-effective. So they are trying to limit any component analysis, especially components that are not already in the pipeline.

Puget Sound Regional Council stresses consistently in their documents that the Metropolitan Transportation Plan needs to be the plan for all the people of the region. Working to make a better MTP emerge is an important pressure point in the struggle to make a better Sound Transit plan.

(Sane Transit Internal)

SANE TRANSIT Opportunities to Advance Alternatives to Link LIGHT Rail


Steps That Are Now Underway to Achieve an Analysis of a Wider Range of Options and a Preferred Alternative that Does Not Contain Link Light Rail

1) Challenge the PSRC’s stated concern that a least-cost analysis of an all-bus option would require considerable time, delay adoption of the MTP, and jeopardize federal funding. According to King Cushman, PSRC Director of Transportation & Growth Planning (Joint Meeting, Transportation and Growth Management Policy Boards, 11-9-00), a LCP analysis of an all-bus option would require 4-6 months of work. Councilmembers Fimia and McKenna should request immediately from the PSRC a detailed work plan and timeline to accomplish modeling of the transportation performance of the all-bus option, a necessary precursor to the least-cost analysis.

2) Comment on the LCP Analysis (Appendix 11), specifically that the analysis is incomplete because it does not address the costs and benefits (net social benefits) of MTP components, including those components that are not already in the regional pipeline. Also that the process outlined in Appendix 11 that would apply LCP to “candidate” components is unacceptable because it appears to limit the analysis to projects and programs that have an official (government agency) sponsor. These comments will be prepared by the LCP working group (Dick Nelson, John Niles, Dick Morrill, Jim MacIsaac, Emory Bundy, Rich Harkness, Michael Godfried, and Charles Prestrud). Comments would have more force if endorsed by Sane Transit.

3) Engage an attorney who is available on a stand-by basis to assist with any legal work that may be required to achieve compliance with the LCP requirement. Dick Nelson, supported by Tom Coad, will do this work. Legal action would be made stronger with full Sane Transit endorsement.

4) Identify one or more nationally recognized transportation economists who might be asked to review and comment on the component least-cost analyses. Dick Nelson, supported by Emory Bundy, will do this work. Bringing in these experts would be even more effective with full Sane Transit endorsement.

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