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Published on Friday, December 15, 2017

Joint Transportation Committee hears assessment on Transportation Commission

The 2017 transportation budget included a proviso directing the Joint Transportation Committee (JTC) to conduct an assessment of the roles and responsibilities of the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC). On December 14, 2017 the JTC heard the assessment.

Morningside Research and Consulting, Inc. conducted the assessment over a 4-month period beginning in July 2017 and concluding in November 2017.

Among their findings, Morningside reported:

  • In 2005, the Legislature removed the commission as the policy body overseeing Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and structured WSDOT as a cabinet agency headed by a Governor‐appointed Secretary of Transportation. The newly separated commission retained statutory authority to develop the “comprehensive and balanced statewide transportation plan,” while WSDOT still operated under the statutory requirement to develop a statewide multimodal transportation plan.
  • The lack of a clear role for the statewide transportation policy plan of the commission complicates cooperation and coordination between the commission and WSDOT.
  • Stakeholders are not in agreement about which state entity should prepare and submit a federally compliant transportation plan.
  • Several stakeholders who support having an independent body to conduct policy development and planning separate from WSDOT lamented the lack of attention paid to the work of the commission. Others questioned the value of the policy and planning activities of the commission.
  • Stakeholders indicated the commission‐developed statewide transportation policy plan does not drive transportation decision‐making.
  • The commission’s local meetings, designed to gather input from local communities on local transportation issues, lack a clear focus and outcome.
  • No other state has an independent transportation commission similar to Washington and none have responsibility for the type of transportation plan the commission develops.
  • Some stakeholders expressed concern about the commitment of WSDOT to incorporate broad transportation planning, particularly local issues and concerns, in their planning efforts.

As a result of their findings they provide many recommendations. These include:

  1. Transferring the responsibility for developing the statewide transportation policy plan from the commission to WSDOT.
  2. Requiring WSDOT to adopt a rule specifying a timeframe for its review and update of the integrated statewide transportation plan.
  3. Requiring WSDOT to assume the responsibility for the local meetings, whose purpose is to provide an opportunity for local officials to present information about transportation issues important to their communities.
  4. Formalizing communication among the commission, the Legislature, and the Governor’s office.
  5. Adopting internal policies and procedures for engaging the Legislature and Governor on the issues within the purview of the commission.

In addition, the report concludes “eliminating the functions of the commission in statewide planning, policy development, and community engagement, as recommended above, would result in a commission with a narrow set of responsibilities. The budget proviso and the Request for Proposals for the WSTC assessment prohibited the consultant team from reviewing the toll rate and ferry fare setting functions of the commission and the role of the commission in the road usage charge study. The consultant team therefore makes no recommendations on these functions or the viability of the agency without transportation planning and outreach responsibilities.”

AWC will continue to monitor this issue if the Legislature chooses to respond to these recommendations. Of particular interest to cities will be whether this leads to a change in the way that the state develops its statewide transportation plans.

Categories: Transportation