Seattle Mayor Wants to Add Tolls to Congested City Streets

Seattle's Central Library stands at Fourth Avenue and Madison Street in the central business district.

Seattle's Central Library stands at Fourth Avenue and Madison Street in the central business district. Shutterstock


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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | New D.C. rule roils food truck operators … Detroit suburb sues state agency over “bogus” water-quality test … state-run auto-IRA programs face industry opposition … and a tough winter strains public works budgets.

TRANSPORTATION | By the end of her first term in office, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wants to implement some sort of congestion-pricing plan for motorists heading into or through her city’s congested downtown area. Durkan made the announcement on Wednesday where she detailed her administration’s climate action plan and reaffirmed the city’s commitment to the meeting emissions-reduction goals under Paris Agreement, despite President Trump’s decision to have the U.S. exit the international climate accord. Durkan said that the city will only move forward on such a tolling plan with public support. "We have to make sure that it is paired up with meaningful transit because we can't ask people to get out of their single-occupancy vehicles unless there are meaningful options that they have, whether that is buses, walking, bikes, or other public transit," Durkan said at a press conference. If Seattle successfully introduces a tolling plan for city streets, it’d be the first U.S. city to do so—transportation officials in New York City have studied congestion pricing for vehicles entering parts of Manhattan. Looking at Seattle’s emissions breakdown by sector, passenger vehicle trips make up a large percentage. And while other cities drool over Seattle’s impressive public transit ridership numbers and have looked to emulate local practices that have boosted bus and light-rail ridership, the Emerald City still has a lot a lot of work to do to reduce driving levels, as Ryan Packer of The Urbanist observed:

Last week, Durkan halted work on a proposed downtown streetcar project so it can undergo an independent review of its costs, sparking fears among transit advocates that the city may kill the project. [The Seattle Times; KING-TV; @typewriteralley; Route Fifty]

State and local transportation officials in Hawaii face $15 billion in long-term infrastructure costs to rebuild and protect low-lying coastal roads that are threatened by rising sea levels. On Oahu, two chunks of the Kamehameha Highway were eaten away by heavy surf in 2016. A “baseline estimate” from the Hawaii Department of Transportation indicates the agency “will need $7.5 million for every mile of highway road that must either be raised, pushed back or relocated entirely to escape erosion and flooding in the next 50 to 100 years—and $40 million for every mile of bridge.” [Honolulu Civil Beat]

Local leaders in Worcester, Massachusetts have some very difficult decisions to make regarding the future of Worcester Regional Transit Authority bus service. The transit agency “faces a $900,000 shortfall for the next year and has proposed service cuts ranging from reducing service on certain lines by half to eliminating weekend service.” And that could send ridership plummeting. [Worcester Telegram]

MUNICIPAL REGULATIONS | Some food truck operators in the nation’s capital are upset with new rules from the District of Columbia’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs regarding its special lottery for sought-after locations, like around highly trafficked Farragut and Franklin squares. The change impacts food truck operators who run multiple trucks, who can now only enter the special daily lottery just once. "This sends a chilling message to all D.C. businesses that DCRA may choose to radically change their regulations at any time, with zero transparency and no warning," according to Kirk Francis, who operates Captain Cookie. [Washington City Paper]

RETIREMENT | The Center for Public Integrity recently released a report about the handful of states that have started offering programs geared for residents who work for small businesses that don’t offer a retirement-savings plan. That includes Kristi Kono, a hair stylist who works at Annastasia Salon in Portland, Oregon. But these programs face opposition from the financial sector.

According to the Center for Public Integrity:

Since 2015, Oregon and four other states —California, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland—have set up these so-called “auto-IRA” programs overseen by the state. Nine more states are considering similar programs this year, among them New York, Missouri and Pennsylvania.

But the investment industry is standing in the way, aggressively deploying trade groups and raising the specter of legal threats to stop the proliferation of these plans. Behemoths such as the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce oppose the plans because they argue the private sector already provides options for workers like Kono. But many small businesses, such as Annastasia Salon, find the private plans too expensive.

[Center for Public Integrity]


Beverly Hills, Michigan: The suburban village north of Detroit is suing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as it seeks to invalidate an unusually high lead reading from water sampled from one home, a reading local officials think is “bogus” and may have been contaminated by “a small lead flake” dislodged from a water filter. [Michigan Radio / WUOM-FM]

New Canaan, Connecticut: An onslaught of winter storms and nor’easters has overstretched the budget of the local public works department, which has seen cost overruns of nearly $300,000. Public Works Director Tiger Mann recently told New Canaan’s Board of Selectmen that his “department will need a special appropriation for $198,000, and need to cut spending by $100,000 by reducing overtime, holding off on a hire, and changing some practices because of the weather-related costs.” [New Canaan Advertiser]

Boston, Massachusetts: Lawyers for former Maine House Speaker Mark Eves and Maine Gov. Paul LePage faced off on Tuesday before an en banc panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is deciding whether the case should move forward after mixed rulings in lower courts. The lawsuit brought by Eves accuses the governor of threatening the funding of a public charter school run by the Good Will-Hinckley School, where the speaker served as president. Eves was fired by the school in 2016. [Portland Press-Herald]

Denver, Colorado: Members of the Denver City Council this week decided not investigate Mayor Michael Hancock, who has been accused of and apologized for sending inappropriate texts to a police detective who previously served on his security detail. While city councilmembers decried the mayor’s conduct, they also said the council didn’t have the authority to make a legal decision in the matter. [The Denver Channel / KMGH-TV]

Huntington Beach, California: In a 6-1 vote on Monday, the Huntington Beach City Council voted to sue the California state government over its “sanctuary” law, a move that came after Orange County leaders signed onto a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against the Golden State. Officials in the Orange County city of Los Alamitos voted last month to exempt themselves from the state’s sanctuary law. [Orange County Register; Southern California Public Radio]

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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