State transportation commission learns about local, regional issues during Edmonds meetings — day 1

Edmonds Mayor Mike Rosen (left) and Executive Director of Snohomish County Ken Klein welcome the commissioners.

Part 1 of 2 parts

The Washington State Transportation Commission met in Edmonds for two days this week – part of its effort to learn more about regional and local transportation issues and challenges. It was the first time the commission has met in Edmonds.

Edmonds Mayor Mike Rosen welcomed the commissioners to Edmonds and also provided an update on local traffic conditions. He said that the vehicle death rate in Washington state has risen 11% since last year despite a 3.6% national decrease.

“We’re frequently ranked as one of the worst places to drive, and we’re ranked among the bottom five of road conditions,” Rosen said. 

In Edmonds, “our roads are worse than they were in 2018. We can’t fix it all, and it’s going to take the city and region,” Rosen said. This is something we can’t fix by ourselves. We’ve got to work together.”

Transportation update

The state transportation commission is a seven-member body appointed by the governor, and it provides an open public forum for transportation policy development. It reviews and assesses how the transportation system works statewide and issues the state’s 20-year Washington Transportation Plan. As the State Tolling Authority, the commission adopts state highway tolls and sets ferry fares. It also conducts special studies and projects as directed by the state Legislature.

The commissioners are developing the statewide Washington Transportation Plan 2040 & Beyond that addresses local, regional and state transportation needs. Currently, the plan is in phase one, which is where the commissioners engage the public through regional meetings.

Washington State Transportation Commissioner Paula Reeves gives an overview of Washington state’s long-term transportation plan.

“The commission will begin its first round of listenings over the next two months,” said Washington State Transportation Commission Senior Policy Analyst Paula Reeves. “With six meetings planned throughout the state, the first will be posted by Puget Sound Regional Council on April 23 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. You can register at the commission’s website.”

The plan is expected to be completed by the end of 2025.

Reeves also reported that:

  • Washington State is collaborating with transportation commissioners from Oregon and California to create a networking plan that coordinates improvements and investments in various transportations, such as rail, highways and aircrafts.
  • A Route Jurisdiction Study is being conducted and will be completed by July 1, 2025. This study assesses state highway inventory and local roadway designations to determine if some roads should be changed to city, county or state jurisdictions.
2023-2025 state transportation revenue.
Federal transportation funding.

Deputy Director Carl See said that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has a $6.99 billion budget. Nearly half of that comes from motor vehicle fuel tax. The transportation budget for highways is about $6.3 million, and about 57% ($3.6 billion) funds mobility projects that reduce highway congestion.

Meanwhile, the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funded $5.4 billion to Washington state over five years (fiscal years 2022 to 2026) – $1.7 billion more than the previous funding package. Nearly half of that goes to highway performance. 

About 69% of city and 65% of county transportation revenue is locally generated, including property and sales taxes and vehicle fees. 

Commission Executive Director Reema Griffith said that the Road Usage Charge (RUC) will replace the gas tax as a revenue source since many people are using less fossil fuel as they transition to electric or hybrid vehicles. Avoluntary RUC will be implemented in 2025, followed by:

  • 2027: The voluntary RUC will apply to cars getting 25 miles per gallon or higher
  • 2030: RUC will be mandatory for all new vehicles
  • 2035: RUC will be mandatory for all vehicles

The RUC will have minimal impact on low-income households and will continue to comprise a 4% of low-income household expenditures, just like the current gas tax, she said.

“Under the gas tax, we need people to keep buying gas, and that’s a problem as we look at our climate objectives and priorities,” she said. “This (the RUC) allows us to move away from the reliance on fossil fuel and over to a system that is just a consumption based on road miles.”

Gas tax revenue is expected to decline from $1.3 billion to less than $300 million by 2050. The revenue is likely to plateau from 2024 to 2027 before declining.

Commission Financial Analyst Aaron Halbert also reported that additional tolls will be added this decade, including:

  • I-405 express toll lanes from Renton to Bellevue
  • SR 167 high occupancy toll lanes extension
  • SR 167 and SR 509 expressways (Puget Sound Gateway Program)
  • I-5 Columbia River Bridge Replacement

The tolls are used to pay debt, maintenance and operation for each toll facility.

Halbert added that while ferry ridership throughout the state has been steadily increasing since 2020, it has not reached pre-pandemic levels of an average of 23 million passengers each year. In 2023, there were 18.7 million riders, compared to 17.4 million riders  in 2022.

Ferry fares are expected to raise about $376 million during the 2023–2025 biennium, which covers about 48% of Washington State Ferries’ costs.

The Big Picture

Puget Sound Regional Council Executive Director Josh Brown gives the commissioners the “big picture” of the state of Puget Sound’s transportation system.

Executive Director of the Puget Sound Regional Council Josh Brown then covered several major characteristics of the Puget Sound region that affect how transportation is managed, updated and improved. These include:

  • Population growth, which is expected to increase from 4.4 million people in 2024 to 5.8 million in 2050. The region had an increase of 54,000 people between 2022 and 2023.
  • The addition of 39,000 jobs between 2022 and 2023.
  • Employment was above 2019 levels in 2023; the region fully reclaimed all the jobs lost during the pandemic, he said.
  • Housing growth, which since 2018 has been 72% multi-family housing. Single-family homes make up about one-fourth of the housing growth.
  • Traffic: Among the statistics he shared: Morning congestion is significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels as more people engage in hybrid or fully remote work.
  •  Indigenous Americans were seven times more likely to die in a traffic collision than a white, Hispanic or Asian resident in 2022.
  • Morning congestion is significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels as more people engage in hybrid or fully remote work.

“We see disproportionately higher accidents and death rates in rural areas [because] their infrastructure is not as good,” Brown said. “Darker roads, no shoulders, etc. It’s something we’re thinking about how we work with our regional tribes.”

The Puget Sound region is expected to grow to 5.8 million people by 2050.

Brown said that in the 1980s and early 1990s, the public was concerned about urban sprawl and lack of infrastructure within the urban areas such as Seattle. From 1960 to 1990, the city had lost about 40,000 people while the rest of the Puget Sound region increased its population by 1.2 million.

Since the Growth Management Act was adopted in 1990, with the goal of growth and development in a way that promotes efficient land use, preserves natural resources, protects the environment, supports economic development and fosters vibrant communities while minimizing urban sprawl. Seattle’s population was nearly 780,000 and the Puget Sound region’s population was 4.44 million in 2023. 

About 72% of the housing growth in the Puget Sound region has been multi-family housing.

“We’re laying a brand-new vision for growth that is not about building new cities and sprawling,” Brown said. “It’s investing in core areas that are closer to job centers and making sure we have more robust transit investments and more options for people.”

Edmonds transportation challenges and successes

L-R: Edmonds Public Works Director Oscar Antillon, City Engineer Rob English and Transportation Engineer Bertrand Hauss.

Edmonds Public Works Director Oscar Antillon, City Engineer Rob English and Transportation Engineer Bertrand Hauss spoke about changes to Highway 99 and traffic control in Edmonds. 

English highlighted several completed elements of the city’s Highway 99 Revitalization Project, including:

Currently, the City of Edmonds is working on these Highway 99 improvements:

  • Adding 6-foot wide sidewalks with a 5-inch planter strip buffer
  • Adding 4-foot wide bike lanes with a 1-foot buffer
  • Improving street lighting
  • Disability upgrades
  • Stormwater, water and sewer upgrades
Current projects on Highway 99 in Edmonds.

Hauss covered the traffic issues along Edmonds Way (SR 104) from the city’s Westgate neighborhood to the Edmonds-Kingston ferry terminal. 

“Imagine there are five signals and there’s no communication, so there’s a lot of delay,” Hauss said, pointing out the usual traffic congestion that clogs the ferry terminal as vehicles exit the ferry. “Our objective here is to build a TMC [Traffic Management Center] at the public works building and then implement the Adaptive Signal Control [ASC]).”

The ASC uses sensors, cameras and algorithms to continuously monitor traffic flow and adjust signal timings at intersections in real-time. These systems collect data on vehicle volumes, speeds and queue lengths, allowing them to dynamically optimize signal timing to minimize delays and congestion. The ASC can also manage and adjust traffic flow during holiday travel or emergency events. All the signals are owned by the City of Edmonds while the maintenance is done by Lynnwood company TMC.

Future of regional transit

Sound Transit Executive Director of Planning, Environment and Project Development Don Billen (left) and Community Transit Chief Executive Officer Ric Ilgenfritz discussed current projects and future plans for the transit agencies.

Sound Transit Executive Director of Planning, Environment and Project Development Don Billen covered several new light rail lines that will open in the near future. These are:

  • 2 Line, East Link: Runs from Lynnwood to downtown Redmond with 26 stations and more than 34 miles of track. (Opening in 2024 and 2025)
  • 1  Line: Runs from Northgate to Lynnwood with four new stations in between, which are two Shoreline stations, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. (Opening on Aug. 20, 2024)
  • 2 Line, Lynnwood: Runs across Lake Washington to King County’s  Eastside. (Opening in 2025)

The East Link will open in two phases: South Bellevue to Redmond Tech in 2024 and Lynnwood to downtown Redmond in 2025.

Sound Transit’s next “exciting milestone” will be a planned light rail extension that goes from West Alderwood in Lynnwood to downtown Everett with additional stations, Billen said. The 3 Line would extend to Everett while the 2 Line would extend to South Everett for a total of 16.3 miles – the longest single-planned extension. Estimated time of completion is 2037 to 2041.

“We currently do not have funding,” Billen said. “We are carrying through the environmental planning process if funding becomes available.”

In 2027 to 2029, three new rapid bus transit lines will connect to the light rail in Shoreline, Lynnwood, Bellevue and Tukwila. These buses will also be 100% battery powered.

  • S1 Line: Bellevue to Burien
  • S2 Line: Bellevue to Lynnwood
  • S3 Line: Shoreline to Bothell
New bus lines that connect Lynnwood, Bellevue, Renton, Shoreline and Bothell.

“We’re very excited about delivering new service and delivering zero emissions,” Billen said. 

Community Transit Chief Executive Officer Ric Ilgenfritz said that the agency’s new Swift Orange Line that opened on March 30 at Edmonds College will provide connecting services to the Lynnwood light rail station. These include:

  • Swift Blue-to-Link connection at 185th Street and I-5 in Shoreline.
  • New 900 series Community Transit bus routes that connect to the Link; these new buses replace the 400 and 800 series.
  • Expanded RideStore customer service center at Lynnwood City Center.

Other changes in the bus lines include:

  • A drop in the number of routes from 45 to 35.
  • Additional local express routes that will have triple the number of routes within 20 minutes or less.
  • Express routes that run every 30 minutes or less will have twice the number of routes.
  • Launch of the Gold Line in 2027 to 2029, which goes to Arlington.
  • Extension of the Green Line in 2028 to 2031, which goes to Bothell.
  • A possible Silver Line at the Casino Road corridor in the 2030s. 

“We’re going from 45 relatively low-frequency routes to a more compact network of 35 routes with much more frequency,” Ilgenfritz said. “So we’ll be increasing the service by 32% overall over the next several changes.”

He added that the transit services will expand into the rural areas, such as Arlington, Lake Stevens and Darrington. There will be announcements about this project at the end of this year.

“Our goal is to bring more people into the overall system,” Ilgenfritz said. 

Snohomish County transportation needs

Public Works Director of Snohomish County Kelly Snyder highlighted several priorities that Snohomish County needs to improve its traffic:

  • North county: Improvements on SR 531 and the interchange at I-5 and 156th Street Northeast in Arlington; replacement of the aging U.S. Route 2 trestle.
  • South county: Improvements on SR 99, SR 524 and new crossings at I-5 to improve access to the new Sound Transit light rail stations and to improve the performance of the Community Transit’s Swift Bus Rapid Transit
  • Rural regions: Improvements to SR 9 and SR 522, which often have major bottlenecks

Snyder said that the trestle in the U.S. Route 2 is a vital pathway from the east side of Snohomish County to the west side. “The westbound portion of the trestle is in absolute need of replacement,” she said. “The eastbound [trestle] was replaced a number of years ago and has limitations to it. There is some funding allocated by the legislature to do some sort of pre-design and environmental work.”

Snyder said that there have been some improvements on SR 9, such as adding roundabouts. There is a section on SR 522 that runs between Bothell and Monroe that needs to expand from a two-lane road to four lanes. “It provides a terrible bottleneck in that particular place, and it’s also a significant safety corridor,” she said. 

Currently, these projects are not yet funded, but Snyder said that the county is considering multiple ways to get funding, including from adding toll lanes, Sound Transit, WSDOT and the federal government.

“These systems need to integrate with each other. If WSDOT doesn’t get the funding, and the county doesn’t get the funding, then we’re going to have issues on all the others,” Snyder said.

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

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