Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: mass transit

April
17th

Could SR 167 sink in the Columbia River?

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Out of the blue comes a distant political squabble that somehow threatens the most important transportation effort in the state – the Puget Sound Gateway Project.

Gov. Jay Inslee supports the Gateway, which would knit together state Route 167, Interstate 5 and state Route 509, eliminating bottlenecks and creating a bonanza of jobs in the process. The state House of Representatives is prepared to invest more than $1.25 billion in it.

But suddenly everything might hinge on a spat over light rail in Clark County. Read more »

June
9th

Pierce Transit’s tax gamble hangs on union’s play

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The Pierce Transit board is poised to roll the dice again on the sales tax increase voters defeated in 2011. The odds look better this time, but the agency will have to first produce a union contract that won’t anger the taxpayers.

The measure on the ballot a year ago February failed for several reasons, economic distress being the chief of them. Tens of thousands of households were – and still are – suffering from loss of income and outright unemployment.

The agency failed to convince voters that it had done enough to squeeze its own expenses. That perception was fueled by the 4 percent salary increase Pierce Transit had previously bestowed upon its drivers, mechanics and other unionized employees, many of whom were already well-compensated by any standard.

Another problem was the fact that many people in the outlying parts of the transit district, especially in East Pierce County and on the Peninsula, were getting too little bus service for their tax money.

That issue that been addressed – by amputation. Effective last month, Pierce Transit dramatically pulled in its boundaries, lopping off 30 percent of its territory.

Gone now are large swaths of the eastern and western county, including Orting, Bonney Lake, Buckley and DuPont. The surgery removed the areas most opposed to the three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax that last year’s measure would have imposed.

That boosts the new measure’s chances. Advocates can also point to the fundamental importance of transit service.
Read more »

Jan.
19th

Come back, Pierce Transit, with a tighter Plan B

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

As they’re eyeing the sales tax increase Pierce Transit wants them to approve on Feb. 8, voters should understand that this is not a last-chance proposition.

The measure’s supporters say its failure would result in a devastating 35 percent cut in bus and van service. Maybe, maybe not.

The fact is, Pierce Transit has enough cash in reserve to buy the time it needs to return to the ballot with a more realistic proposal. We think the voters ought to wait for a less expensive Plan B – and Pierce Transit ought to give them one.

Let’s acknowledge up front that mass transit is an essential public service. It gets people with disabilities or low income to jobs, doctors’ offices and stores. When people of higher income take buses instead of driving their own cars, transit takes traffic off the road and keeps pollution out of the air.

Those who believe that transit has a paramount claim on the available sales tax – in a dire economic climate – ought to vote for Proposition 1.

In our view, Pierce Transit has not yet fully grasped the fact that this downsized economy demands doing more with less.

Its board and administrators are asking for a 0.3 percent addition to the 0.6 percent sales tax it already collects in Pierce County, which would translate into a $30 million-a-year, 50 percent increase in revenue. That would max out its potential taxing authority; the idea is to offset the decline in sales tax revenue it has suffered since the recession began in late 2007.

Pierce Transit in effect is asking taxpayers to largely insulate it against the harsh economic realities that are forcing other organizations to ruthlessly cut expenses and reinvent themselves in order to survive.

The agency has imposed some economies on itself, including a substantial squeezing of its administrative costs. But its employee compensation packages – by far the largest part of its budget – bear no relationship to reality. Its standard health plan falls into the “Cadillac” category, and most of its workers have enjoyed generous pay increases right on through the worst economy in 60 years.
Read more »

Oct.
26th

Mass transit to Olympia: Let’s start planning

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord has traffic. Sound Transit has trains. Can we talk?

It’s time Sound Transit and the Thurston County Commission started thinking about bringing regional bus and train service to Olympia.

Anyone who travels between Olympia and communities to the north knows that traffic between Lakewood and the state capital has become routinely hellish. It can take an hour to an hour and a half to make what used to be a fast drive. The congestion has been aggravated by population growth, much of it at Lewis-McChord, where the troops seem to get reinforced every time the Pentagon closes bases elsewhere.

JBLM is now poised to get bigger still, with an influx of about 14,000 additional soldiers and dependents.

As it happens, Interstate 5 shrinks from eight lanes to six not far from where Lewis-McChord begins to disgorge its traffic. That bottleneck will get a lot tighter when the base swells to 36,000 people. Add that to the existing traffic nightmare, and it’s clear the state must create new HOV lanes to connect the planned high-occupancy lanes in Tacoma to points south.

But mass transit is also a logical part of the solution. Those HOV lanes would do the most good if they were efficiently carrying Sound Transit’s express buses through the congestion.

Read more »

April
19th

Pierce Transit: An agency in trouble

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Pierce Transit is seeing the first stirrings of a rebellion that may get rowdier in months to come.

Officials in five of the county’s cities – Bonney Lake, Buckley, Orting, Steilacoom and DuPont – have started talking out loud about seceding from the taxing district that supports the mass transit agency. That’s because the people at Pierce Transit are considering cutting back service dramatically – while still collecting the sales taxes in the places where service is getting cut.

Pierce Transit points to a slide in sales tax revenue that began near the end of 2007 and didn’t slow until last summer. That put the agency’s projected income far below the steady 6 percent annual increases it apparently had expected would continue indefinitely.

The agency’s leaders are floating two possibilities for making ends meet: By either radically reducing bus service outside the county’s Tacoma-Lakewood urban core, or by asking county voters to add 0.3 percent to the local sales tax.

The first option is ugly and – to be blunt – could be a recipe for the extinction of Pierce Transit. It could cut more than half of the existing bus routes, including all service to Edgewood, Milton, Northeast Tacoma, Buckley and the Key Peninsula. All other communities the agency now serves would see fewer routes or less frequent stops. Bonney Lake would lose all local service. East Pierce County would be particularly hard-hit.
Read more »

Feb.
6th

Seattle can’t stripe the lanes on the Highway 520 bridge

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Why is it so hard to make a big transportation plan stick in Seattle?

The city’s years of arguments over replacing the Alaskan Way viaduct seem settled – keep your fingers crossed. But Seattle officials are suddenly pushing to reopen the plan, already enacted in law, to replace the Highway 520 bridge over Lake Washington. This after more than 10 years of studies and negotiation produced the existing agreement for a six-lane bridge, with two general-purpose lanes plus one HOV lane running in each direction.

Too many cars, say Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, the Seattle City Council and various greener-than-thou types. They want the Legislature to shift course and turn the two HOV lanes into mass transit-only lanes (meaning just buses, for the foreseeable future).

The state – meaning taxpayers from Tacoma to Spokane – would wind up paying billions of dollars and getting only four automobile lanes, no more than on the old Evergreen Point floating bridge.

Whatever McGinn and the others may think, this isn’t Seattle’s call to make. The bridge carries a state highway – repeat, state highway – not a city arterial. Its configuration is every bit as important to Bellevue, Redmond and other cities on the east side of the lake as it is to Seattle. Many in those communities were originally seeking an eight-lane bridge to accommodate more automobile traffic, which routinely slows to a tortoise-paced crawl during rush hour.
Read more »

Sep.
23rd

Doin’ the Puyallup via Pierce Transit

I’m never going to drive to the Puyallup Fair again. Taking a Pierce Transit bus is just too easy. (Click here for information on Fair Express routes from eight locations.)

At least that was the case for me Tuesday, when I caught a 9:30 a.m. bus at the Lakewood Sounder Station. The bus left exactly on time and deposited passengers directly opposite the Blue Gate 15 minutes later. The cost: $3.50 round trip vs. $10 had I parked my car. Plus I avoided a long parking lot walk and getting stuck in traffic.

The transit folks have the express

Read more »