At this juncture Tacoma's transportation situation can be characterized as a number of different visions, some of them are at odds with one another, but all of them have page after page of unfunded projects. City Manager Eric Anderson has a vision for parking garages on the edge of Downtown, Tacoma Streetcar has a vision for a city-wide streetcar system, the Mobility Master Plan has a vision for an extensive bike network, Pierce Transit is planning bus rapid transit on Pacific Avenue, and the common citizen has rather humble aspirations for roads free of potholes and a completed sidewalk network in South Tacoma.
The Problem: Unreconciled Visions, Bureaucracy, and No $
All of these visions for a future transportation system are steps in the right direction. They articulate a profoundly different world than exists today, but they lack sufficient concurrence with one another. The city also lacks the staff necessary to meet the standards set by Council while coordinating actions amongst multiple funding agencies. Add to that Tacoma's transportation bureaucracy, namely the Public Works Department, has been trained and conditioned for decades to cater to the throughput and storage of automobiles. However, the system we have now fails to meet the maintenance and repair needs of that one mode, let alone improvements in other modes. Once we collectively acknowledge these facts it becomes easier to understand why there has been so much talk and yet so little progress in transportation over the past few years. The City is simply ill-equipped to oversee the development of a 21st century multimodal transportation system. We need new institutions with new powers to take the ideas of citizens and the City Council and to aggressively pursue a diversified and well-maintained transportation system.
The Street Utility -
One option that Tacoma has available to rectify this situation is to create a state-authorized Street Utility. The Tacoma Street Utility would function just like any other utility service presently provided by the City of Tacoma. A small monthly fee, would be imposed on every home, business and industrial facility in the city based upon how much vehicular traffic is produced (doesn't that just make sense?). The revenues generated would then be used to fund up to 50% of the cost of transportation projects. Such projects could vary from new sidewalks to road paving to streetcar tracks to the backlog of unfunded local improvement districts.
Such a utility would have the effects of actually implementing the city's complete streets policy in an incremental manner, while coordinating all new investments in transportation, while seeing to the maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure. The new Street Utility Board and staff would provide active project coordination, leadership on alternatives to car, and an actual revenue source to bring plans to fruition. It could absorb the streets portion of the Public Works Department, which would give some much needed transparency to their work. Although not solving all of Tacoma's funding needs, the funding could go a long way if it is leveraged properly with local, state, and federal dollars.
We have a utility that provides broadband internet and cable television services. I'm all for Click Network. But why do we have that kind of a utility and not a utility to pay for existing infrastructure that's vital to the continued existence of the city? Why don't we have this already?
Transportation Benefit District - (RCW 36.73)
On the topic of streetcars, another potential state authorized entity exists and has yet to be utilized – the Transportation Benefit District (TBD). Such districts, when created by the City Council, act a great deal like Local Improvement Districts, but with more funding options for specific projects. With the Transportation Benefit District, we are able to fund transportation improvements of many kinds, including high capacity transit projects identified by the Puget Sound Regional Council. The 6th Avenue Streetcar/Light Rail extension to Tacoma Community College is one of those projects.
The area surrounding 6th Avenue could have a district that raises capital funds for streetcars using vehicle license fees, a capital bond and a sales tax, while other parts of Tacoma only need to have a meager vehicle license fee to support local streets. This makes it easier for voters to know what they're getting, and hopefully makes it more likely that they'll approve the district. Districts only exist as long as is needed to complete their projects. The Street Utility comes into play here as well, because they will be needed to coordinate the projects and matching funds from various agencies to make streetcars and other transportation improvements work.
The Street Utility (pdf)
- Street Utility (RCW 82.80)
- Notable Characteristics:
- Can be created by simple majority initiative or by Council
- Requires a new public board
- Can fund practically ANY transportation improvement from streetcars to bikes to road repairs to traffic signal priority
- Tax Authority
- Commercial Parking Tax on vehicle stalls or parking fees
- Monthly $2 / employee fee, $2 / residential housing unit fee
- Various fees by type of building on monthly utility bill, administered by TPU
- Single family residence: $2 to $8 a month (Oregon cities are about $3-$4 a month)
- Senior housing and multifamily housing ranges from 10% to 60% of a single family residence.
- Industrial and manufacturing buildings and parks could expect $10 a month for every 10,000 square feet.
- Commercial building categories, such as restaurants, office buildings, and general commercial buildings could expect $15 to $35 a month per 10,000 square feet.
- Shopping centers, could expect $150 a month per 10,000 square feet (which would be apportioned among the many businesses within the shopping center)
- Transportation Benefit District (RCW 36.73)
- Notable Characteristics:
- Can be created by simple majority initiative or Council action, but bonds require 60% Yes vote.
- For capital "road" infrastructure only
- Can fund "HCT" determined by Puget Sound Regional Council - Light Rail / Streetcars
- Could be used for $80M matching funds
- Tax Authority
- $100 vehicle license fee
- 3.75 cents / gallon fuel tax
- 0.2% Sales Tax
- 1 year excess property tax levy or capital bond levy (Needs 60% Yes Vote)