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Sierra Club Calls for Transportation Plan With Less Global Warming

The only way to seriously reduce our vehicles' contribution to climate change is to reduce vehicle miles traveled

Letter to Shawn Bunney, Chair of Executive Board of the Regional Transportation Investment District and John Ladenburg, Sound Transit Board Chair:

The Sierra Club urges you to consider addressing the public's concerns over global warming, land-use and fiscal responsibility in the draft "Blueprint for Progress" roads package you are developing. As we've communicated in our prior comment letter*, we support a fully-funded Sound Transit 2 plan and a regional transportation road package that prioritizes "fix-it-first" highway spending and projects that improve roads for transit and HOV use.

Washingtonians spent over $9 billion, almost $25 million each day, on imported fuel last year - and the price continues to rise. Through her Climate Change Challenge, Governor Gregoire has set priorities to invest in renewable energy and increase efficiency.

To help us move toward energy independence, Governor Gregoire's goal is to reduce the amount we spend on imported fuel by 20 percent by 2020. In addition, scientists are united globally in their call to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 80% by 2050. Finally, 16 cities within the three RTID counties are "Cool Cities" - most have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. They have all committed to reducing GHG emission levels by 7% from 1990 levels by 2012. Those cities are Auburn, Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Burien, Edmonds, Everett, Issaquah, Kirkland, Lake Forest Park, Lynnwood, Redmond, Renton, Sammamish, Seattle, Shoreline, and Tacoma.

While alternative fuels and more efficient vehicles will help move us towards the Climate Protection Agreement goal, the Center for Clean Air Policy has demonstrated that these measures will only get us part of the way there. The only way to seriously reduce our vehicles' contribution to climate change is to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

We know you're considering congestion pricing, which we encourage. It can help solve our traffic problems, reduce VMT and the resultant GHG emissions, and provide a funding source. With adoption of tolls for the limited-access highway system as a demand management strategy, the public pressure to reduce general taxation for support of roads is likely to mount. We encourage reliance on revenue sources that relate as closely as possible to highway use, while still maintaining administrative efficiency, for funding the maintenance and major reconstruction of our roads.

Ideally, we would have a rigorous scientific analysis of the effect of the RTID package on climate change and our communities. Our March 30 letter called for separating the RTID package from the Sound Transit Phase 2 package to allow time for that assessment, and we'd still support that route. However, in the absence of such an analysis, if these proposals remain linked, we propose a shorter list of road improvement projects, (see below) that are more effective at reducing regional GHG emissions through greater support for public transit and other personal transportation options. Furthermore, these projects also improve the mobility of goods and people, the environmental health of regional air and water, and the development of compact and less car-oriented communities on our limited land supply.

We also call for greater integrated regional transportation planning that is consistent with regional climate change, environmental health and land use goals. By proposing a shorter, less expensive list of projects, we leave capacity for future, more effective transportation projects.

Here are examples of projects that could make up a package that would meet our objectives:

KING County projects, some of which benefit Snohomish and Pierce commuters:

  • Four-lane SR 520 Bridge replacement with safety shoulders, a bike/ped lane, and potential for expansion to include future high-capacity transit
  • I-5 Transit Direct Access Ramps at Industrial Way S.
  • SR 99 North Bus Rapid Transit improvements in Shoreline
  • South Park bridge replacement
  • I-5/ Spokane St. Viaduct and Lander St. improvements
  • I-405 from SR-520 to Downtown Bellevue only (braided ramp to eliminate weave)
  • I-5 Approach Mercer Street Widening
  • I-90 all-day 2-way transit in center roadway on floating bridge (R-8A third phase)
  • SR 167 / I-405 Interchange HOV to HOV Direct Connection
  • SR 167 Green River Valley Corridor Congestion Relief, Complete HOV System Auxiliary Lane

SNOHOMISH County projects:

  • Transit Improvements like Edmonds multi-modal terminal and Community Transit buses and park & ride lots
  • Local Arterials with added sidewalks, bike lanes, and relief of choke points
  • I-5 corridor HOV and interchange reconstruction
  • East-West Arterial Widening with Bike and Pedestrian Amenities

PIERCE County projects:

  • I-5/ 38th Street Ramp by Tacoma Mall
  • I-5 near SR-512, center direct access HOV ramps to Lakewood Transit Center.
  • SR 167/ Port of Tacoma access highway,
  • tolled freight mobility corridor without intermediate interchanges
  • Arterial frontage road by Thorne Lane/Gravelley Lake interchange, with direct connection to Tillicum

According to RTID figures, your current Blueprint plan will cost Puget Sound taxpayers about $7.5 billion dollars. Some of those projects will be started, but not completed, with this allocation. Worse, the large expenditure projects would add general purpose lanes likely to encourage more VMT, more GHG emissions, and more sprawl development. By reprioritizing projects as we suggest, you can eliminate the sales tax for roads ($2.4 billion), a tax that hits the most economically-challenged families the hardest.

You can ask for a lower motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) of 0.5%, and still raise about $3.1 billion - a much more responsible burden on regional taxpayers that still allows key mobility projects to proceed.

We encourage you to consider the types of road investments described above. Our region can work within the smaller budget to reduce global warming pollution, and use our current highway infrastructure more effectively to move people and goods more easily throughout the region.

Thank you for your consideration.


Mike O'Brien, Cascade Chapter Chair

Tim Gould, Transportation Committee Chair

To view the Sierra Club RTID comment letter of March 30, 2007, go to node/1315