Archive for transportation

Puget Sound leaders call on lawmakers to fund light rail expansion

By | April 20, 2015 | 0 Comments

With a week left in Washington’s legislative session, transportation proposals in the House and Senate remain about $4 billion apart in taxing authority for Sound Transit.

uwstationGov. Jay Inslee joined King County Executive Dow Constantine and other leaders on Friday at University of Washington station, the region’s newest light rail stop, to make a plea for lawmakers to include the full $15 billion in funding authority.

That’s how much Sound Transit says it wants to send to voters in 2016 to fund light rail expansions through Puget Sound, building tracks to Everett, Tacoma and beyond.

But it’s a number some lawmakers are hung up on as the Legislature tries for a third year to pass a major transportation package. The Democrat-led House proposal includes the full $15 billion, but the GOP-controlled Senate proposal has $11 billion in funding authority.

Sound Transit chair Constantine says $11 billion is not enough. Washington needs light rail to ease congestion on state roads – like the backup caused by an overturned truck full of bees early Friday morning.

“Most of us have to plan for a whole bunch of extra wasted time just in case the bridge is backed up, just in case there’s an accident,” he said. “That is very bad for people’s productivity, less time with you family, less time earning money.”

Both the House and Senate have agreed on a 16-year, $15 billion transportation plan to pay for highway, road and bridge projects funded through an 11.7-cent gas tax increase over the next three years. Lawmakers have until Sunday, the last day in the regular session, to pass the plan unless there’s a special session.

Good-to-Go problems? Bill aims to address complaints

By | April 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

A bill aiming to address drivers’ complaints about the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Good-to-Go tolling system is moving forward, as it passed unanimously in the House Tuesday afternoon, with amendments.

The State Route 520 bridge uses electronic tolling. Photo by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The State Route 520 bridge uses electronic tolling. Photo by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Senate Bill 5481 adds customer service enhancements to the state’s electronic tolling system, including requiring a letter of apology to customers for errors made by WSDOT or the tolling system.

The state tolling system has been subject to much criticism over the past few years from drivers who say that they have been levied unreasonable penalties without warning, or mistakenly billed.

Drivers also have said that WSDOT’s toll appeals system is difficult to navigate.

The bill requires the WSDOT to contact prepaid electronic toll account holders to inform such holders of unpaid tolls.

It also gives additional discretion to administrative law judges to dismiss civil penalties due to mitigating circumstances, and authorizes the WSDOT to dismiss civil penalties in certain circumstances.

Vehicle dealerships would be able to sell Good-to-Go transponders under the measure. The bill also calls for a redesign of the website to be more user-friendly.

It heads back to the Senate for further consideration.

House lawmakers on the floor praised the intent of the bill.

“We should be talking about good customer service. We should talk about being civil, not civil penalties,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island.

“I think this bill will do something to improve the public’s trust of the Department of Transportation,” said Rep. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington.

House passes oil transport bill, 58 to 40

By | April 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

The House passed an oil transportation bill on Tuesday that supporters say will better prepare the state in case of catastrophic oil spill.

The bill collects an 8 cent per barrel fee from rail lines, vessels and pipelines that will help pay for oil spill prevention and clean up. It also requires railroads to create oil spill contingency plans and demonstrate that the company can pay for a “reasonable worst case oil spill.”

Republican Rep. Vincent Buys introduced an amendment that would have removed the fee from pipelines, and halved the fee for rail and vessels. “We’ve never had this fee on pipelines and it is not appropriate to put it on the pipelines,” he said. “Pipelines aren’t where we have to worry about the major spills in our state.”

But Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, said that pipeline should pay their share. “There are oil spills that can result from having oil coming into the state from pipeline,” he said. “It’s appropriate that they bear some portion of the cost for the prevention and cleanup of these spills.”

The amendment failed, largely along party lines with Democrats opposed and Republicans in support. oil train

Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, said the final bill represents a “reasonable compromise” that takes into account what local first responders and communities need to protect against an oil spill, while also making sure the state can pay for the programs outlined in the measure.

Opponents argued that the bill should not tax pipelines and expressed concern that it will collect more money than needed.

“We already know that doing this is going to bring in far more revenue than is needed to implement the program,” said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley. “There’s a whole lot of tax, but I have to ask the question: Where is that going to go?”

The bill passed with a vote of 58 to 40, and heads back to the Senate.

Read the full striker amendment adopted by the House.

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House passes transportation budget, highlights on ‘Legislative Review’

By | April 10, 2015 | 0 Comments

The state House passed a $7.7 billion transportation budget off the floor Thursday which funds ongoing transportation projects. House Transportation Chair Rep. Judy Clibborn said the budget “may not have everything we want in it, but it continues our promises” made by the state.

Members first debated an amendment that would have removed $17 million in the transportation budget for transit mitigation tied to the Alaskan Way Viaduct project in Seattle being dug by the troubled Bertha tunnel boring machine. Supporters of the amendment say the city of Seattle should bear the cost, but opponents argued it would hurt low-income residents who rely on transit to get to work. The amendment failed.

Watch highlights from the floor debate on this 15-minute edition of “Legislative Review.”

Compromise bill requiring insurance for Uber, Lyft drivers heard in committee

By | April 1, 2015 | 0 Comments

Uber and Lyft would have to insure Washington ride-share drivers, under a bill heard Tuesday in the state House, but only when a customer is in the car.

lyftIt’s the latest compromise in a months-long negotiation between state leaders, rideshare services and taxi companies. Washington lawmakers are working to regulate app-based transportation network companies, or TNCs, as they expand throughout the state. Uber and Lyft are already in Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane, with plans to expand to Olympia and beyond.

State Sen. Cyrus Habib first sponsored a bill to entire framework to regulate the companies – but that proved hard to move past other lawmakers. A compromise plan to allow large cities and counties to require additional regulations made it to the Senate floor, but last-minutes amendments meant Seattle’s ordinance would be repealed. Habib voted against his own bill.

For now, the Kirkland Democrat says the new version of his bill focuses on what’s most important right now – protecting passengers. “It is necessary to solve the insurance problem,” he told a House committee.  “There are hundreds of thousands of drivers on the streets, in Seattle, in King County, in Vancouver and Spokane, without coverage because there are periods where TNCs differ on whether they should be covering that trip during that time.”

Senate Bill 5550 now requires Uber, Lyft and other ride-share drivers to carry at least $1 million in a liability insurance – but only when the app is on.

But some say it’s not always easy to tell when a driver is actually on the clock.

Taxi driver Mike Judd told committee members app-based transportation services often accept flags off of the street or make personal arrangements with riders. “A considerable amount of trips done by TNCS are inevitably going to be and have been in the past off the app,” he said. “These things are going to continue to occur and in that case, the person is not insured because the personal insurance isn’t going to cover him because he’s got a customer in the car.” (more…)

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Dozens testify on Senate transportation plan

By | March 27, 2015 | 0 Comments

More than 90 people signed up to testify before a state House committee Thursday on a plan approved by the Senate to raise the state’s gas tax to fund transportation.

Aurora Ave N SB congestionUnder the 16-year, $15 billion plan, a nearly 12-cent gas tax hike would help fund megaprojects – including the North-South freeway in Spokane and State Route 520 Bridge – throughout the state. The package also puts money toward 58 regional projects, including transit, bike paths and pedestrian walkways.

If lawmakers approve the package, it would be the first major transportation funding measure passed in a decade. “We have bridges collapsing, roads are crowded,” Lake Stevens Sen. Steve Hobbs said. “This is the time to pass a transportation package because we need it.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who used to chair the House transportation committee, pointed to a recent traffic jam in his request for more funding for Highway 99. A semi-truck carrying salmon overturned Tuesday evening, blocking traffic on the highway for nearly nine hours. “If one accident happens, like with the salmon truck, the entire region clogs up,” he said.

The gas tax hike would happen in three phases. First, a 5-cent increase in July, then 4.2 cents in 2016 and 2.5 cents in 2017.  Washington has the seventh highest gas tax in the nation. People in the state already pay 55.9 cents per gallon in taxes – 37.5 cents to the state, plus 18.4 cents federal tax.

Washington Treasurer James McIntire told committee members the gas tax was overused and the plan borrows too much. He called for more tolling, especially on I-90, to fund transportation projects.

The transportation package comes with several conditions, including one that would take money away from transit and bike paths and instead put it toward roads if the state adopts a low carbon fuel standard.

Some House Democrats call the provision a “poison pill” and say it could keep the package from passing through the chamber. Gov. Jay Inslee has called for a study of low carbon fuel standards as part of a carbon reduction proposal.

Charles Knutson from the governor’s office asked members to drop those conditions attached to the transportation proposal. “The governor would like to see a clean bill come of this committee,” he said. “The cleaner the bill, the easier it will be to reach a final agreement.”

House Bill 5987 passed 27 to 22 in the Senate. The package has not been scheduled for a vote in the House Transportation committee.

‘New driver’ sign for teens required under bill

By | March 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

A big, bright red “new driver” sign could be part of every Clark County teen’s 16th birthday if state lawmakers pass a five-year pilot program aimed at decreasing youth fatalities on the road.

new driverRep. Liz Pike, Camas Republican and prime sponsor of the bill, says although ages 16 to 25 represent only 11 percent of Clark County drivers, they make up 35 percent of fatalities and 45 percent of serious injury accidents within its borders.

“When I’m driving down the road and see one of those student driver cars, I give those student drivers a wide berth,” she said at a hearing Monday. “We need to do everything we can to help them be better drivers.”

House Bill 1159 requires drivers younger than 18 to display a foot-long decal on any car they drive or face 20 hours of community service.

The state Department of Licensing would issue decals along with instruction permits, intermediate and driver’s licenses for $1.50. The department must study the program’s impact on public safety through Dec. 31, 2019 and report back to the Legislature.

New Jersey is the only state with a similar decal program, requiring drivers younger than 21 to display a decal on license plates. Washington’s decal would be placed on the passenger’s side of the back window.

No one testified in opposition of the bill during Monday’s hearing, but Sen. Annette Cleveland said she’s received concerned emails about what the bill could mean for young girls. “Displaying this sticker may also alert others that there is a young girl alone in a car,” the Vancouver Democrat said.

The bill passed the state House 53-44. No action was taken in Senate Transportation on Monday.

Distracted driving law update passes in state Senate

By | March 10, 2015 | 0 Comments

Washington’s distracted driving law would be updated for the first time since 2007 — before the iPhone was on the market — under a bill passed Tuesday in the state Senate.

Right now, state law bans only texting and holding a phone to you ear while driving. Sending emails, posting to social media and even playing videos behind the wheel is legal.

phone

Senate Bill 5656 would make it illegal to hold a phone altogether while driving. Drivers caught violating the law would face a $124 fine. Two violations in five years and the amount would double.

Senators amended the bill on the floor so the first violation will not be shared with insurance companies or employers, unless the driver holds a commercial license.

Supporters say the bill, requested by the state Traffic Safety Commission, would make it easier to enforce the state’s distracted driving law. Troopers gave tickets to fewer than half of the 2,500 drivers pulled over for texting and driving in 2013. That’s at least in part due to a loophole that lets drivers get out of tickets.

Critics say it takes away personal liberties. Prime sponsor Sen. Ann Rivers says it’s worth it to make Washington safer. “At what point do we let the personal liberties and freedoms of others be impacted because there’s a text that just can’t wait?” the La Center Republican said.

Sen. Jim Hargrove spoke in opposition, saying drivers can be just as distracted by eating a burger or putting on makeup. “We ought to focus on the activity of distracted driving and not all of the things we can do to it,” the Hoquiam Democrat said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety last year made more than $20 million available in federal grants as part of a distracted driving program. Washington did not qualify because of its outdated law.

The bill passed 35-14. It now heads to the state House.

Uber, Lyft are target of bills in the House, Senate

By | March 9, 2015 | 0 Comments

Update: A provision to allow large cities and counties to require additional TNC regulations was removed on the state Senate floor. The current version of the bill would undo Seattle’s ordinance and others like it.

As Uber, Lyft and other smartphone app-based transportation services expand services throughout Washington, competing measures in the state House and Senate are working to create a new regulatory system.

10103237286_becdefba86_zIn the Senate, a comprehensive plan has been proposed to establish a statewide permit process, increase insurance requirements and require background checks.

Over in the House, members passed a measure off the floor that only requires ride-share drivers to carry insurance.

Services are launching in cities throughout the state – already in Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane, with plans to expand to Olympia and beyond. As cities decide how to regulate Uber and Lyft, some lawmakers worry the industry could become dysfunctional.

That’s why Sen. Cyrus Habib says he’s sponsoring Senate Bill 5550, which would establish a uniform regulatory framework throughout Washington, with rules for permits, insurance and more. The bill, he says, will help so-called transportation network services avoid the myriad of contradictory regulations taxis face. “We have a chance to get this right on day one,” he said.

But, in its original form, Habib’s bill would have undone city regulations – a problem for those who fought hard for Seattle’s rules.

Taxi drivers last year told Seattle City Council so-called transportation network companies had an unfair advantage without regulations. When council members agreed and voted to cap the number of ride-share drivers, a citizen’s group suspended the ordinance after collecting enough signatures to send the measure to voters.

It took an intervention from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and months of negotiations between city leaders, taxi companies and ride-share services to come up with a compromise plan.

Habib has since changed his bill, allowing cities with more than 200,000 people or counties with more than 1 million people to require additional permits, impose fees and penalties. “The size limit essentially covers the cities that already have regulations,” Habib said.

After some involved in Seattle’s negotiations opposed Habib’s plan, Rep. Steve Kirby says he came up with one of his own. He says insurance is important and Habib’s bill gets away from that. “It’s just a Christmas tree of every kind of regulation,” he said of Habib’s bill.

So he sponsored a new bill as a “back-up plan,” focusing on the one things he says everyone agrees on – insurance. “My concern was, as that bill was running into rough sailing, it might die and the insurance provisions would die along with it,” Kirby said.

House Bill 2131 would require ride-share drivers to be covered with $1 million liability insurance when they have a customer. The rest of the time, they need only to have personal insurance, at least $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.

The state House passed Kirby’s bill last week with a vote of 77-17.

Habib says it’s good to have a back-up plan, but Kirby’s bill isn’t applicable to all ride-share models. “It’s certainly a noble goal to put in play a second vehicle to at least address insurance,” he said. “But it’s a one-size-fits-all bill and the reality of the industry is there are different models.”

Colorado was the first state to pass a law regulating transportation network services. Habib’s bill, which he expects to come to a floor vote early this week, is modeled after the law.

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Senate passes transportation package following decision on two-thirds rule

By | March 2, 2015 | 0 Comments

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen ruled Monday that the state Senate’s rule requiring a two-thirds supermajority vote to raise taxes is unconstitutional.

Owen made the ruling following a challenge from Democrats on Friday over a proposal to increase the state’s gas tax by 11.5 cents to pay for a transportation package that would fund projects around the state.

The ruling paved the way for the Senate to continue debating the transportation revenue package, which had been put on hold over the weekend while Owen made his decision.

The $15 billion dollar transportion package pays for six megaprojects, including the North Spokane Corridor in Spokane and the State Route 520 Bridge, as well as dozens of regional projects and traffic congestion relief.

Sen. Mark Mullet urged members to pass the bill as he described the “parking lot” he sees each day on the state’s freeways during his commute from Issaquah to Olympia. “The reality is this thing is not going to fix itself, and it’s up to the people in this room,” he said.

Other supporters say it is a fair to tax those who use the roads the most. “If you drive 10,000 miles a year, you pay a lot less in gas taxes than if you drive a lot of miles,” said Sen. Tim Sheldon.

But Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, said it will hurt drivers in rural districts. “It might not seem like a lot, but an extra 12 cents a gallon adds up quite a bit for folks who have to drive greater distances and fill up their rigs more often,” he said.

Several Democrats spoke in against the overall transportation package because it comes with conditions they oppose. “There are some factors in this underlying legislation which are uncomfortable. Rolling back environmental permitting. That’s tied to this legislation,” said Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson.

But Republicans say those conditions are necessary to gain public trust and expedite projects. Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Whatcom County, said the permitting change “is not just about expanding [Interstate] 405, it’s not just about [State Route] 167…it’s also about being able to have a permitting system in place that allows us to build light rail more efficiently and effectively.”

Sen. Annette Cleveland of Vancouver said she was voting against the bill because the transportation package does not include money for the Columbia River Crossing bridge between Portland, Oregon and Washington. “Vancouver was told repeatedly throughout the course of the last decade, ‘Wait your turn there are other megaprojects in the state that take priority.’ Vancouver waited our turn, and I submit to you that our turn has now come,” she said.

The chamber passed Senate Bill 5987 with a vote of 27 to 22. It now heads to the House for its consideration.

House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan released a statement saying the “bad greatly outweighs the good” in the transportation package. “We in the House will do our best to fix the transportation package sent over by Senate Republicans, but before that we will need to see substantial movement on their part to address our paramount duty of educating our children and fairly balancing our operating budget,” he said.

Watch the debate below:

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