Unlike California, Washington’s statutory per capita VMT reduction mandate under Executive Order 09-05 for regional transportation plans lacked the critical process of building substantial political and technical support needed to ensure state and regional plans contained objectives which were feasible and legally defensible. However, Washington has made significant changes to its regulatory structures through the Growth Management Act in the 1990s – which created an early impetus for collaboration between state agencies to discuss the role of local land use and transportation interactions. Despite strong state agency coordination, which California is struggling to develop, Washington’s bottom-up planning process did not extensively rely on guidance from MPOs and local governments regarding technical and capacity needs which would affect the implementation ability of GHG and VMT reduction targets issued.
While Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) was recognized for its comprehensive long range transportation plan (Transportation 2040) as a blueprint for sustainable transportation, the plan came under legal attack over its inability to achieve the proportional share of VMT reduction targets per the statewide mandate. Upfront collaborative input from MPOs on the technical and resource limitations of regional governments and local implementation jurisdictions was a critical step missing in the development of ambitious and achievable GHG reduction plans among Washington’s MPOs.
Lacking a state led effort to provide legal defensibility for its plan, Transportation 2040 directly supports the region’s land use vision and it prioritizes projects that serve regional centers. It increases the use of transit, biking, and walking and improves the balance between jobs and housing. It incorporates technology to improve mobility and reduce congestion in 12 smart corridors. It includes a specific four-part strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles travelled. The plan also builds on current efforts to protect natural areas and focus growth within livable communities. The plan’s financial strategy relies on traditional funding sources in early years and transitions over time to a new funding structure based on user fees and other pricing approaches that replace the gas tax. PSRC also conducted extensive public outreach and involvement to develop this plan, including engagement with the freight and business communities.
Combining the strengths of California’s MPO-driven target setting process with Washington’s state agency leadership may have prevented PSRC from encountering legal challenges during the development of its visionary transportation plan.