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Transit/traffic changes ahead: Why you need to know about, and weigh in on, One Center City plan

At the very end of last week, you might have seen some headlines go by about “One Center City.”

It’s about downtown … but unless you literally never leave the peninsula, it’ll affect you. So listen up.

It’s specifically about transportation through downtown Seattle, and some big changes ahead. (This slide deck lays it all out.) The Highway 99 tunnel, and the Viaduct demolition and waterfront redevelopment that will follow, is only part of it. The biggest component, we’re told, is that buses will be kicked out of the Downtown Transit Tunnel next year; it’s going to be light-rail-only. The bus moves aren’t expected to happen before September 2018 – but decisions about downtown traffic/transit flow/routing will have to be made way before then, so you’re being asked for your opinion now, regarding a variety of options for how to accommodate the buses on the surface, and how to get through the area with other projects and changes factoring in. Without making some changes, the project team says, downtown traffic and transit will slow to near-gridlock.

First step in finding out what’s ahead and offering your opinion is this: An “online open house,” now up and running at Go there and start clicking through. Don’t drop out too soon – the two “surface streets” pages are where things really get interesting. And after that comes the page about potentially restructuring bus service downtown. That section includes this packet of maps, with one specifically focused on possible changes involving routes to/from here:


So once you’ve gone all the way through the “online open house,” they’re asking for feedback via the pages or via e-mail at The “open house” will be up and running for about three weeks. Then the partner agencies will have a list of potential changes that they’ll float for more input. Transit service changes, for example, would have to be approved by the services’ governing agencies – the King County Council for Metro, the Sound Transit Board of Directors for ST services. The peak time for all this potential congestion – “maximum constraint” – is expected to be late 2018 through 2022.

At this stage of the “engagement” process, they’re not planning standalone meetings, but if you are interested in a briefing at a meeting you’re already having – community council, etc. – contact the One Center City group – same address as above –

TOMORROW: Help shape the future of Delridge/Barton ‘Triangle Bus Park’

(Image from community grant application)

One more reminder if this isn’t already in your Saturday-morning plan: You are invited to a community workshop 10 am-noon tomorrow to talk about the future of the “Triangle Bus Park” in South Delridge (as first previewed here two weeks ago). Here’s what the workshop at the Highland Park Improvement Club is all about:

Centrally located in the Westwood-Highland Park Urban Village, the “Triangle Bus Park” was aptly named for lack of any true identity. For years it has been noted as a badly conceived space attracting illegal dumping and suspicious activity while repelling community members from proper use. We aim to change the trajectory of this space.

Through the City of Seattle’s Find It Fix It Walk for the Westwood/Roxhill neighborhood, the community has been awarded a small grant of $1500 to kick-start the process of reclaiming and redeveloping the Triangle Bus Park.

With SDOT, the workshop will explore and document community-led findings centered on the space’s history, safety needs, envisioned improvements, and community identity of the area. Community members will be shown examples of best practices in urban design to spark and inspire innovative ideas.

This is just a first step toward figuring out what could and should be done, but there’s no second step without a first step, so all are invited to come get things started. Doors at HPIC (12th SW/SW Holden) open at 9:45; the schedule for the 10 am-noon workshop, and more backstory, can be seen here.

TRANSIT ALERT: Trouble on 3rd Avenue downtown

A collision on 3rd Avenue downtown has blocked that major bus route, and we’re hearing about it from West Seattle-bound riders. Metro’s official advisory is: “Buses are rerouted off NB 3 Av between Spring/Union Sts. Use stops on 3 Av south of Spring St/north of Union St.”

FERRY ALERT: Vashon terminal back in service

Mechanical trouble has put Washington State Ferries’ Vashon terminal out of service:

A mechanical problem with the operating slip has caused us to be out of service at Vashon. Repair crews are en route and will make repairs as soon as they arrive. Service between Fauntleroy and Southworth is still available.

At this time of night, only a few remaining runs were scheduled to/from Vashon anyway, but the South Vashon (Tahlequah-Point Defiance) run is already done for the night, so there’s no alternative. Check here for updates.

2:05 AM: As of a few minutes ago, WSF says, repairs are done and the terminal is in service again.

FIXING FERRIES: Triangle Improvement Task Force’s first meeting next Monday in Fauntleroy

2:56 PM: Just announced by Washington State Ferries: Its new Triangle Improvement Task Force will have its first meeting in Fauntleroy, 7 pm next Monday (January 30th). The public’s welcome, according to the WSF announcement about the debut of this nine-member citizen advisory committee, the next step in a process of trying to fix problems on the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route. Monday’s meeting is at the Fauntleroy Church Fellowship Hall (9140 California SW).

5:22 PM: We asked WSF who’s on the task force. While the list isn’t online yet, spokesperson Brian Mannion provided the roster:


Kathleen Stephanick
Margaret Clements
Gary Dawson, FAC


Kym Shepherd
Richard Wheeler
Tim O’Mahony, FAC (Alternate FAC representative: Andrew Hamilton)


Steven Merkel
Hugh Turner
Greg Beardsley, FAC (Alternate FAC representative: Jan Stephens)

Washington State Ferries ridership on the rise

January 19, 2017 2:17 pm
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 |   Transportation | West Seattle news

Washington State Ferries is out with its ridership numbers for last year, and says it hit the “highest level in a decade.” Here’s the breakdown, route by route:

(If you can’t see the document via Scribd, here’s the PDF, on the WSF site.) The busiest route is Seattle-Bainbridge, with 4.5 million people last year, while Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth came in fifth, with 3 million people and 1.7 million vehicles. The South Vashon to Tacoma route (officially Tahlequah-Point Defiance) had the biggest growth rate, WSF says.

INAUGURATION WEEK: Metro plans extra buses for Womxn’s March on Saturday

We’ve received numerous inquiries about transit plans for Saturday, when tens of thousands of people are expected to participate in the Womxn’s March on Seattle. First: No, the Water Taxi will NOT be running – it doesn’t run on Saturdays this time of year and does not add extra service for special events. But Metro will be running extra buses – here’s the announcement they’re making this afternoon:

Plan ahead and leave early if you’re riding King County Metro Transit Saturday to join the Womxn’s March on Seattle. Tens of thousands of participants are expected to attend the event, which will start at 10 a.m. with a rally at Judkins Park. Transit riders should prepare for significant delays.

Metro will operate on a normal Saturday schedule and will have additional buses assigned to provide extra service on key routes. However, those buses will not have regular schedules, will not appear in the Metro’s online Trip Planner or One Bus Away, and will be dispatched based on demand. Riders should prepare for overcrowding and buses that are too full to accommodate more passengers. Sound Transit plans to operate all three-car Link light rail trains and extra trains to help with expected crowds.

Transit riders should use regularly published timetables, plan ahead, allow plenty of time and prepare for traffic delays. Metro will have extra supervisors to monitor crowds in downtown, the International District, and Pioneer Square, and will adjust to accommodate transit needs when possible.

The march is expected to leave Judkins Park at 11 a.m. and proceed through downtown to Seattle Center. Those planning to ride transit to the march can use Metro’s online Trip Planner to find service to the vicinity of Judkins Park. Service that travels to or near the area includes routes 4, 7, 14, 48, and Sound Transit Express routes 550 and 554. When planning your trip, check Metro’s Service Advisories page to find out about any known revisions to your routes.

Transit users also can follow these tips:

· Plan to arrive early to avoid traffic congestion and full buses.
· Prepare for overcrowding on buses.
· If possible, ride transit to locations near Judkins Park and walk into the park. Judkins Park is about 1.3 miles east of the International District along South Jackson Street.
· Prepare for significant delays – as tens of thousands march through downtown, buses may be stopped up to an hour at some locations.
· Have your transit fare or an ORCA card ready
· Sign up for Transit Alerts on Metro’s website.

Metro spokesperson Scott Gutierrez adds these specifics for our area:

For West Seattle residents planning to take transit – depending where their trip starts — they can take the C Line, 21, 120 or 125 to Third Avenue and catch routes 4 or 14 SB on 3rd Avenue. Route 7 also is a possibility but it will get them a few blocks farther from the park.

New leader announced for Washington State Ferries: Amy Scarton

Still a few things to catch up on from yesterday’s very busy news day – and here’s one. With Lynne Griffith retiring at the end of the month as the head of Washington State Ferries, her successor has been announced. Amy Scarton is WSDOT’s assistant secretary for Community and Economic Development and will become assistant secretary for WSF next month. The news release quotes state Transportation Secretary Roger Millar as saying, “Amy’s national experience managing programs and projects across all transportation modes, combined with the top-notch crews, will help ensure the ferry division remains on course.” That experience includes, WSDOT says:

… senior roles in both the Obama and Bush administrations at U.S. Department of Transportation; legal counsel to former Chairman James Oberstar of the U.S. House of Representatives Highway and Transit Subcommittee; and managing the WSDOT offices that support the agencies’ rail, freight, aviation, local programs, planning, and public transportation activities.

Scarton takes over at a time when major initiatives include figuring out how to solve recurring problems with the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route; formation of a task force is one of the next announced steps.

Dropping bike-share program ‘the right call,’ says Councilmember Herbold

(WSB photo from March 2016, outside Seattle City Hall downtown)

West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold says the mayor made “the right call” in announcing late today that the city will scrap its bicycle-sharing program for now, rather than replacing the failed Pronto system with something different.

Last March, she was one of two council votes against the bike-share buyout. So last month, we asked her about the bike-share situation during our wide-ranging interview looking back at her first year in office and ahead at her second year; she replied that she didn’t hold much hope the program would be scrapped, and restated concerns that a new version still wouldn’t serve our area.

Tonight, she published this statement after the mayor’s announcement:

This was absolutely the right call. With limited public dollars, these resources are better used to develop safe routes to schools for our students. Now is not the time for public investment in a bike share system.

I’m glad to see these funds are proposed toward implementing the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans, and School Safety projects, in line with my proposal last year to re-direct $4 million in funding away from expansion of the Pronto system toward these existing needs. I regularly hear from constituents about school crossing safety, most recently regarding Genesee Hill Elementary.

During last year’s budget cycle, I sponsored a budget action the Council adopted to remove $900,000 in funding for operation of the Pronto system in 2017 and 2018, to preserve funding for these existing needs.

Here’s how the mayor announced the bike-share change, redirecting $3 million to other pedestrian/bicycle programs.

More battery-powered buses for Metro

(King County photo)

40 feet long, with a range of 25 miles, and a 10-minute charging time. Those are the baseline stats for the additional battery-powered Metro buses announced today, following up on the testing announced back in 2015. King County Executive Dow Constantine says Metro is buying “up to 73 all-electric battery buses from Proterra at a cost of up to $55 million, starting with 20 buses totaling $15.12 million. Charging stations to support the initial orders of those buses will range from $5.5 million to $6.6 million.” The first eight will go into service this year, likely in Bellevue. But that’s just part of the plan, according to the news release:

As part of today’s announcement, Metro will acquire up to nine long-range electric buses from different manufacturers to test the battery technology with a range of about 140 miles. With this approximately $7 million acquisition, Metro is challenging the industry to produce buses that can travel farther. Metro also is calling on the industry to develop 60-foot long buses, better able to replace the articulated buses that make up 55 percent of its fleet.

That’s the length of many buses you see in West Seattle – RapidRide, Route 120, Route 21, among others. Read today’s announcement in its entirety here.

2016 LOOKBACK: West Seattle’s transportation Top Ten

The challenges of getting to, from, and around our peninsula make transportation a hot topic just about any time. So here’s our view of the top 10 transportation stories, for another 2016 lookback:


(May 2016 photo contributed by Chris, showing one traffic-choked morning at south section of the project zone)

In October, West Seattle Bike Connections found out that its proposal for the Harbor/Avalon/Manning/Spokane intersection, basically under the west end of the West Seattle Bridge, would be funded. This will help with safety and flow at an increasingly busy confluence of paths, roads, and bridge on-/off-ramps.



(WSB photo, June 2016)

674 quake-safety cushions under the deck of the Fauntleroy Expressway (southwest end of the West Seattle Bridge) had to be re-replaced because of a design flaw. The work started in May and, despite requiring more than a few bridge closures, proceeded fairly painlessly, traffic-wise, over the ensuing two months.



(WSB photo, October 2016, The Hall at Fauntleroy)

After a summer of problems that made things miserable for many trying to get to and from Vashon – and for Morgan Junction/Fauntleroy drivers/riders trying to get around the traffic – WSF launched a process to gather comments and make an action plan, including an October open house. Next step, launching a task force – including ferry users.




A year and a half after announcing a controversial plan to rechannelize Admiral Way between The Admiral District and Alki, SDOT finalized it, announced it in summer, and restriped the road in fall.



What began with an Argosy Cruises vessel in the ’90s finally got its own brand-new vessel in 2016, as M/V Doc Maynard officially took over King County’s West Seattle to Downtown Seattle run in January (four months after its dedication).

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FERRY UPDATE: Repairs done, South Vashon route confirmed for Saturday resumption

Just in from Washington State Ferries – final confirmation that Vashon Island will be back to two ferry routes as of first thing tomorrow:

Point Defiance dock repairs have been successfully completed and service on the Point Defiance/Tahlequah route will resume on Saturday morning 12/31, beginning with the 5:55 am departure from Point Defiance. Thank you for your patience throughout the unexpected terminal closure and please accept our apologies for the inconvenience this caused.

The dock was damaged while the ferry Chetzemoka‘s crew dealt with a Christmas Eve medical emergency involving its captain, who WSF says is expected to fully recover.

FERRY UPDATE: South Vashon route expected to resume Saturday

December 29, 2016 6:52 pm
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 |   Transportation | West Seattle news

Washington State Ferries says it’s now expecting the South Vashon-Tacoma (Tahlequah-Point Defiance) route to resume service on Saturday, after a weeklong shutdown:

Due to ongoing dock repairs at the Point Defiance terminal, the Point Defiance/Tahlequah route is now expected to remain out of service through Friday, December 30, and reopen Saturday, December 31. Our crews are working as quickly as possible to restore service, and we will provide updates as more information becomes available. In the meantime, please use alternate routes, Southworth and Fauntleroy, for travel to and from Vashon Island.

The Point Defiance dock was damaged while the crew was dealing with a medical emergency involving the captain of M/V Chetzemoka. Yesterday’s WSF update said the captain is expected to fully recover.

WEST SEATTLE NEW YEAR’S EVE: Free overnight parking in The Junction

This year’s West Seattle Junction Hometown Holidays (with sponsors including WSB) wrap up Saturday night with New Year’s Eve celebrations. If you are planning to celebrate in The Junction, and getting there via your own vehicle, the West Seattle Junction Association is covering overnight parking in its lots:

The West Seattle Junction merchants feel it’s important to stay safe while celebrating incoming 2017. On Saturday, December 31st, from 7 pm through Sunday, January 1st, 10 am, we invite you to leave your car overnight in one of our FREE Junction parking lots. Please pick up your car by 10 am, though, so we have plenty of parking for the January 1st brunch crowds. Happy New Year from the merchants!

Those are the lots marked “free 3-hour” on this page of The Junction’s website – at 44th/Oregon (southeast side of intersection), 44th/Alaska (southeast side of intersection), midblock on the east side of 44th between Alaska and Edmunds, and 42nd/Oregon (southwest side of intersection). WSJA also is spotlighting some of the Junction venues with special NYE events, here.

SDOT replaces vandalized no-parking signs on Alki Avenue SW

Earlier this month, someone called to say they had seen a driver going down Alki Avenue SW, stopping and spray-painting multiple no-parking signs. We advised calling 911 if they hadn’t already, and we mentioned it on Twitter, but we neglected to follow up until Ken sent the photo at right this week, asking if the painting had been done by SDOT to signal a change in parking policy. Short answer: No. After the holiday, we asked SDOT spokesperson Sue Romero if and when the city planned to clean or replace the vandalized signs (we counted 10), and today she tells us a crew was out this morning to replace them.

FOLLOWUP: SW Thistle stairway’s future, and past

Last week, we reported on SDOT’s online survey looking ahead to 2017 work on the much-used SW Thistle stairway east of Lincoln Park, and nine other stairways around the city. That led to a variety of questions, and today we have answers, thanks to a comment from, and followup e-mail exchanges with, project manager Greg Funk. First:



Funk sent those photos in response to our question about when it was built. While he hasn’t found the exact date, he says records show that it “was approved in May 1945” and that the photos show “the stairway was close to being done in February 1948.”

He also notes that the Thistle stairway includes historical materials: “The stairway is constructed of concrete slabs that used to be the base for the old streetcar, and the R/R tracks were cut up into sections for the rail posts and painted white. The slabs are stacked on top of each other with a brick spacer to give a roughly 6-7 inch rise.”

Since Funk’s comment mentions what sounds like extensive work – “The stairs will be updated so there will be more consistent run rise and upgraded rail on both sides” – we asked what will happen to those historical materials: “If we can, we will build over the existing stairway – it saves on disposal cost, and that’s the plan for this location. Old rail will be cut and scrapped.” (No lighting changes, he says, in case you were wondering.)

As for the project timeline and duration: “It will be closed for about 2-3 months; we have not set a date, but we want to try and be done before summer kicks in, as this is a heavily used stairway.” (Among those who use it – the project manager himself.)

P.S. He says that next year, they’ll get word out earlier about the stairway-work list for 2018 – you should see that list by next March. And if you haven’t responded to the stairway survey for 2017, it remains open through Friday.

FOLLOWUP: South Vashon ferry route not expected back in service until Friday

The Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route will remain the only way to get to and from Vashon Island until Friday, according to the newest update from Washington State Ferries on the aftermath of the Christmas Eve incident that took the other Vashon route out of service:

The Point Defiance/Tahlequah route remains out of service through the morning of Friday, December 30 due to ongoing dock repair at the Point Defiance terminal. The damage to the dock occurred when the captain of the M/V Chetzemoka suffered a major medical emergency as the vessel was preparing to depart the Point Defiance ferry dock. The captain collapsed and hit the control panel as he fell, causing the vessel to break away from the dock and damage the dock apron (the articulated ramp at the end of the dock). No passengers on the Chetzemoka were injured, and the captain of the Chetzemoka is expected to make a full recovery. However, the damage to the dock is significant, and as a result, the Point Defiance/Tahlequah route is expected to remain out of service until December 30 while crews work around the clock to repair the apron.

FERRY UPDATE: South Vashon route still out of service

December 26, 2016 4:32 pm
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 |   Transportation | West Seattle news

Traffic is likely to be heavier than usual again tomorrow on the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route of Washington State Ferries, which expects the Tahlequah (South Vashon)/Point Defiance (Tacoma) route to still be out of service tomorrow morning: “… due to ongoing dock repair at the Point Defiance terminal. … We apologize for the inconvenience and advise alternate routes, Southworth and Fauntleroy, for travel to and from Vashon Island.” The dock was damaged by a ferry after its captain suffered a health problem on Christmas Eve.

FERRY ALERT: Trouble on both Vashon Island routes

(Photo taken just before 11 pm – line stretched past The Kenney at that point)

7:45 PM: Christmas Eve trouble for Washington State Ferries on both Vashon routes – the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route had to cancel some sailings because of a crew shortage, but WSF says things will be back to normal after the canceled 8 pm departure from Fauntleroy. Then, the South Vashon (Tahlequah)-Tacoma (Point Defiance) route went out of service until further notice “due to damage to the Pt. Defiance dock apron following a medical emergency.” No estimate yet how long it will take for repairs; keep an eye on the WSF website’s “bulletins” page for updates.

8:32 PM: The Fauntleroy terminal currently has a one-hour wait, according to WSF.

8:52 PM: Now that’s up to two hours, also because, “The Issaquah continues to operate one-boat service on the route making multi-destination sailings in place of the regular fall weekend schedule. Due to limited vessel capacity and holiday traffic demands, there will be upcoming single destination service based on demand.”

6:34 AM SUNDAY: WSF says Tahlequah-Point Defiance is still out of service TFN. Vessel Watch shows two boats running now on Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth.

5:27 PM SUNDAY: The Point Defiance dock still isn’t fixed, so the South Vashon run is still out of service.

Delridge Way speed limit to be lowered starting tomorrow

4:47 PM: This has long been in the works, and the official announcement is just in from SDOT:

On Tuesday, December 20, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will lower the speed limit on Delridge Way SW as part of the city’s Vision Zero initiative to enhance transportation safety and save lives. Reducing the posted speed limit improves safety for everyone; especially people walking and biking.

The speed limit will be changed to 30 mph for a 3.5-mile stretch of Delridge Way SW between SW Henderson Street and the West Seattle Bridge. The speed limit is currently 35 mph on this segment of Delridge despite mainly single family homes and the presence of parks and schools adjacent to the corridor. This change will create a consistent 30 mph speed limit for the entire Delridge corridor.

Data collected on this section of Delridge shows most drivers are currently driving slower than the existing 35 mph speed limit. In fact, the 85th percentile speed at SW Trenton Street has been measured at exactly 30 mph so this should not be a significant change for people that drive this roadway often. The speed limit change will help reduce the likelihood and severity of collisions. This is especially true for vulnerable users like pedestrians since lower speeds significantly increase the survivability of crashes.

“The Delridge speed limit adjustment will help enhance safety on this corridor where more than 300 crashes have occurred in the last three years resulting in 148 injuries, six serious injuries and one death,” said SDOT Director Scott Kubly. “These changes will significantly help people walking and biking to schools, parks, transit and other destinations.”

Travelers on Delridge Way SW can expect to see new speed limit signs installed this week. SDOT will also deploy the Speed Watch Trailer to the corridor to provide feedback to drivers about their speed and highlight the new speed limit.

ADDED 5:49 PM: Some background links – the original announcement (now linked in the introductory line at the start of this story) was in February 2015, and even in November 2015, SDOT was saying it still hoped to implement the reduction by the end of that year. Last time we checked was this past September, when SDOT’s Jim Curtin said it would happen by year’s end, and mentioned some other features: “… edge lines, flexible posts for the existing bike lanes in the vicinity of SW Orchard St, and enhancing the existing crosswalk at SW Juneau Street with rapid flashing beacons (the work at Juneau may not occur until early 2017 due to equipment supply issues).” We’ve seen the posts by Orchard, but will be checking in on the other two (and if you see crews installing signs later this week, please let us know – we’ll be looking, too).

FOLLOWUP: Metro going ahead with plan to remove two bus shelters in Junction

Metro has just announced its final decision on two bus shelters in The Junction: They’re going, not staying.
(WSB photo from October; shelters set for removal are the two on the right)

The original announcement of a removal plan for the two shelters on the west end of the south side of SW Alaska between California and 44th was made via signage that appeared on those shelters – and two NOT proposed for removal – on October 22nd; then concerns arose that the announcement, part of a Junction problem-solving plan, had been made without a chance for comment. So a comment period was opened up, until November 18th, and Metro told us at the time its decision would be made within “weeks.” Now, it’s here:

As part of an effort to address customer comfort and access to Metro bus service as well as to address non-transit use including illegal and uncivil behavior at the Alaska Junction, Metro is moving forward with the retention of two of the four oversized “double” shelters at one of the six transit bays in the area of California Avenue Southwest and Southwest Alaska Street as soon as December 20.

The decision to remove two of the shelters was finalized after several weeks of public feedback and further analysis of rider usage. With this change, the remaining two double shelters at Bay 2 will continue to provide a weather-protected area sufficient for the riders who use these facilities. Metro also provides two RapidRide shelters at Bay 1 for transit riders. The removed shelters will be reused at other bus stops that are in need of shelters, and the artwork will be relocated to bus shelters within the Junction.

Bay 2 is served by routes 50 (Alki to Othello Station) and 128 (Admiral to White Center and Southcenter). Route 50 generally operates every 20-30 minutes and Route 128 every 30 minutes. Metro staff were sent to the location to observe how riders were using the stops at different times and days. Staff observed between zero and five customers waiting for buses at any one time under normal conditions, based on recent observations during peak and off-peak hours.

Metro solicited comments between October 28 and November (18th) and received feedback from both riders and non-riders, some opposed and some supporting the change. The majority of comments opposed to the removal were based on the misconception that Metro intended to remove all shelters at this location.

The change is expected to reduce non-transportation use of Metro facilities, and to better match transit facility supply and demand.

Pay by the mile, instead of by the gallon? Testers sought for state experiment

Should road-usage charges replace gas taxes? The state is looking at the idea, and looking for volunteers to help figure it out. Here’s the announcement, just out of the WSB inbox:

Drivers will have a chance to “test drive” a proposed system that would charge them by the mile, rather than by the gallon of gas for their road usage. The Washington State Transportation Commission today approved a plan to conduct a Road Usage Charge pilot project in fall 2017 that will simulate how this system might work.

“As the fuel efficiency of vehicles increases, gas consumption decreases and this equates to a reduction in gas tax revenues over time. The gas tax serves as the major source of funding for building and maintaining our state highways and ferries,” said Commission Chairman Jerry Litt. “Under the direction of the state Legislature, the commission has been assessing a road usage charge as a possible replacement for the gas tax in the future.”

The commission’s Executive Director Reema Griffith added, “During the commission’s evaluation over the past four-plus years, we’ve determined a road usage charge is feasible and that it could produce the revenue needed for Washington’s roads well into the future.”

The commission’s next step is to test the concept with the public and see what people think of it based upon actual experience using it. Recruitment will begin in spring 2017, with up to 2,000 volunteers needed from across the state to participate in the year-long test. Individuals who want to learn more about the project and have an interest in participating can visit the Road Use Charge website at

Pilot project participants will choose different ways to participate and report their vehicle’s mileage. Some options do not involve any technology, such as manually reporting odometer readings; others do involve technology utilizing smartphones or in-vehicle technology. Because this is a simulation, participants will not be charged for any miles driven.

A 25-member steering committee has guided this work since 2012. The steering committee includes representatives from: auto and truck manufacturers, ports, environmental groups, trucking industry, cities, public transportation, business community and state agencies. The committee also includes three transportation commissioners and eight legislators.

A key finding from the work of the steering committee is that the gas tax is becoming more and more inequitable. Under Washington state’s current gas tax system, drivers pay widely different amounts for roadway use, depending on their vehicle’s fuel efficiency; those driving older, less efficient vehicles fill up more often and therefore, pay more in taxes. This inequity is expected to grow each year as vehicle fuel efficiency continues to rise, and as more alternative fuel vehicles that don’t use gas at all come onto the market.

Currently, 14 other states are evaluating a shift from the gas-tax revenue model to a road use charge. Funding for this work stems from a $3.8 million Federal Highway Administration competitive grant received earlier this year.

Here’s the slide deck that accompanied this agenda item, on the first day of a two-day meeting for the WSTC. Tomorrow morning its topics include tolling updates, one of which will focus on the future Highway 99 tunnel (see the agenda here).

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