June 8, 2013 – Keeping the Metro buses running

Transportation Planning for King County in Austere Times

To keep our region’s economy moving, functioning roads and effective public transit are vital. However transportation funding in Washington State and King County continues to be in crisis.  Our ever-increasing demands for transit service and the growing backlog of deteriorating infrastructure are thwarted thanks to the on-going assault by anti-tax forces, our Constitutional and legislated funding restrictions, a hesitant economic recovery and a growing population.  And put simply, roads and transit are expensive.  Very expensive.  King County has indicated that there is overall a $1.2B transportation funding shortfall through 2015.  Seattle itself famously has nearly $2B in deferred roads, bridges and sidewalk work.  Other municipalities are also struggling.

In addition to running Metro Transit, which delivers well over 300,000 passenger bus trips per day, the County itself maintains 1,500 miles of roads and 180 bridges carrying 1 million trips daily.  But funding from property tax, gas tax and grants has declined by one-third since 2009 and continues to fall placing the County transportation into this crisis.  The County has moved away from funding increases to road capacity and instead uses roads money mostly for safety, preservation and repair. Road Services staff has been cut by one third, and an austerity program for roads maintenance has been put into effect.

And while the County has tried to make Metro Transit operate more efficiently, declining budgets have been subsidized with reserve funds and other temporary measures But temporary funding for Metro is running out in 2014, and projected revenues are $75M short of what is needed to just to maintain current levels of service (which are already inadequate for many areas and users). In order to close this budget gap, Metro is proposing to further cut service by up to 17 percent (600,000 hours of service) which will eliminate, reduce or otherwise change close to two-thirds of its bus routes.

Clearly new transportation financing tools are needed to maintain transit service and meet these critical roadway needs.  A statewide transportation funding package, spurred perhaps by the recent Skagit River I-5 collapse, may imminently emerge in Olympia that would allow local transportation funding tools sought by King County, the Sound Cities Association and the City of Seattle.

To help us understand how King County is planning to deal with these issues is Ron Posthuma, Assistant Director for the Office of Regional Transportation Planning.  ORTP supports King County’s role as a regional government by coordinating transportation decisions among state, regional and local agencies, staffing and participating in subregional forums, administering grant programs, and investigating new and innovative responses to transportation problems.

by Bill Bradburd, June 1, 2013

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