2023 Final Dispatch From Olympia
TCC’s Wrap-Up of the 2023 Legislative Session
The legislature concluded its most recent hybrid session on April 24th. This session saw members highlight housing, safety, climate, and enforcement issues and the passage of a $13.4 billion transportation budget that kept the promises made by the historic Move Ahead Washington Transportation package from 2022.
We are grateful that the legislature continued to allow remote testimony, ensuring that people across Washington who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in the legislative process, had their voices heard. It is important that the legislature continues to have this vital infrastructure to increase equity in the process.
Move Ahead WA passed last year and made long strides in transportation investments, so there was a renewed focus on different policies; housing and land use took center stage for most of session. There were some incredible successes with the Middle Housing and Growth Management Act bills, and it was frustrating to see others, like the Transit-Oriented Development bill, not cross the finish line. We also pushed hard for Free to Walk, and Traffic Safety for All, but the controversial police pursuits bill hampered its momentum. Many bills to celebrate, and many bills to bring back again in 2024!
Here’s a look into how TCC’s priorities turned out.
HB 1110 – Increasing middle housing in areas traditionally dedicated to single-family detached housing
The flagship Middle Housing bill, increasing housing options in areas traditionally dedicated to single-family zoning, has passed both chambers. This bill will increase housing density across cities, and lifts parking requirements within half a mile from transit. You can read more about what this bill will do from KUOW here.
HB 1181 – Improving the state’s response to climate change by updating the state’s planning framework
This bill would update the Growth Management Act (GMA) to establish a new “climate change and resiliency” goal. The legislation requires jurisdictions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled with an emphasis to reduce pollution in historically impacted communities. This legislation also requires that cities prioritize safety of all road users and plan for multimodal roadways. Read more from our partners at Futurewise here.
HB 1853 – Making certain corrective changes resulting from the enactment of chapter 182, Laws of 2022 (transportation resources)
This bill made small technical changes to the original Move Ahead WA bill. Additionally, it included updates that strengthen the law’s multimodal provisions, and renamed the Connecting Communities Grant Program to the Sandy Williams Connecting Communities Program at DOT, in honor of Spokane community advocate Sandy Williams.
Most notably, it clarifies Transit Support Grant eligibility by clarifying agencies cannot “delay or suspend” tax collection in order to qualify for the grant.
Bills to be Continued Next Year:
SB 5383 – Concerning pedestrians crossing and moving along roadways
This bill would give pedestrians the right to cross where and when it’s convenient and safe. It also requires pedestrians to exercise due care, which means that people are expected to behave reasonably and to take other people’s safety when crossing the street.
The police pursuits conversation took a lot of wind from the sails of any other policing-related bill. Despite the Free to Walk bill not passing this year, it made it farther than many expected, revealed some opposition/points we can clarify next year, and allowed us to do significant member education. Expect to see this again next year!
HB 1513 – Improving traffic safety
This bill would have reduced traffic stops for specific paperwork or non-safety related issues, and create a grant program to help solve the root cause of those issues. This bill left the House Transportation Committee but never received a floor vote. Our partners at ACLU-WA continue to lead on this Traffic Safety for All bill and have a great blog post that goes into policy details.
Like Free to Walk, this bill was also hamstrung by the conversations around the police pursuits law. Despite that, the grant program was popular among members, and the bill made it through the House Transportation Committee without any amendments. A portion of the grant request made it into the final budget; see below for the budget summary. Expect to see this again next year!
HB 1832 – Implementing a per mile charge on vehicle usage of public roadways
A Road Usage Charge, or RUC, is an innovative way to generate transportation revenue that charges people by the number of miles they drive rather than gallons of gas used. However, we had concerns with recent versions of the bill, and wanted to see more flexible use of funds and a low-income program. We expect to have this debate again next year, where we’ll continue to fight for climate and equity goals that support the transportation system we envision.
This bill did not make it out of House Transportation by cutoff, but some funding for implementation made it into the final budget; see below for our budget summary! TCC testified Other on this bill.
SB 5466 – Promoting Transit-Oriented Development
This bill would have made significant steps toward providing affordable housing investments near high-density transit. You can read more about the bill from our partners at Sightline or a recent Seattle Times article here.
This was the first year the bill had been introduced and made significant changes to housing opportunity near transit. Unfortunately, this bill failed to pass this year, but it will be back in the 2024 legislative session. Bills with such significant changes to state and local policy normally take a few years to pass. With that in mind, there is funding in the Capital budget to kick-start development around transit for jurisdictions that allow certain development types.
What’s in the Transportation Budget:
TCC and our partners have been advocating for budget allocations to advance certain policy work (often called provisos). Here are some key policy provisos and allocations:
- Road Usage Charge: After a lengthy discussion in the House, a Road Usage Charge (RUC) bill did not move forward. However, the legislature wants to ensure a RUC could be implemented on time and is trying to get agencies moving in the right direction. Therefore, the Transportation Budget includes $150,000 provided for the Department of Licensing and the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) to study a per-mile fee program implementation and administration. An equitable RUC requires equitable implementation, so we will look to monitor how DOL progresses in setting up systems for this program that align with our values.
- Workforce Shortage Study: The transit operator shortage is the single biggest threat to delivering transit service across the state. Just in this past year, thousands of hours of service have been cut due to a reduced workforce. $100,000 of the multimodal transportation account is appropriated for Washington State University to study the potential impacts that current licensing requirements and testing may have on the shortage of commercial drivers, with a focus on public transit operators. We look forward to the results of this study to be delivered in 2024 as a first step in understanding and addressing the transit worker shortage.
- Statewide Transit Level of Service Study: The state’s Frequent Transit Study is set to be released in June of this year, but unfortunately the budget didn’t include funds for phase two of the Frequent Transit Service study. This study would help identify how and where we should be investing in service across the state.
- Sidewalk Data Collection: The Transportation Budget provides $5 million for data collection for the University of Washington’s sidewalk inventory and accessibility mapping project. Accurate and comprehensive sidewalk data plays a key part in understanding access to transit. The legislature also committed an additional $5 million to complete the study in the next biennium.
- Traffic Safety For All: We were interested to see $750,000 in the Transportation Budget for a grant program to support local initiatives that establish or expand civilian intervention programs for addressing non-moving violation causes. While we think the grant program is an important part of addressing transportation safety and the needs of low-income drivers, we hope its inclusion in the budget does not take away momentum from passing the full Traffic Safety for All bill.
- Performance Based Project Funding: The final budget includes $150,000 provided to WSDOT to continue implementation of a performance-based project evaluation model.
- Youth Ride Free: Move Ahead WA helped ensure transit agencies allowed youth to ride free! While most transit agencies have implemented this policy, new budget allocations will provide Amtrak with the funding to implement the same policy on their Cascades train. The Transportation budget allocates $2.25 million for the elimination of fares for passengers 18 years of age and younger for service on the Amtrak Cascades corridor in the state, and $140,000 of the motor vehicle account is provided for the Pierce County ferry to do the same!
- I-5 Planning: The Transportation Budget provides $11.9 million for WSDOT to perform the I-5 planning and environmental linkage study and master plan.
- Mobility Partnerships Grant: We were disappointed not to see funding for WSDOT’s proposed Mobility Partnership Grant in the final budget, which would have supported mobility for vulnerable populations and overburdened communities.
- High Speed Rail: The Transportation Budget allocates $2.25 million to coordination, public engagement, and planning of ultra-high-speed ground transportation between British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.
- Low Income Tolling Program: The final Transportation Budget did not include funding for a low-income toll program study or program, which earlier the Senate budget had hinted at with funds to study public perception of a low-income program.
- Behavioral Health and Public Safety on Transit. Two noteworthy additions to the budget were a $200,000 appropriation providing for a 6-month public transit and behavioral health co-responder pilot program in Pierce County, as well as $500,000 for King County Metro to develop a pilot program to place intervention teams, including human services personnel, along routes that are facing significant public safety issues.
In addition to policy provisos, these budgets also include appropriations of some Move Ahead WA grants and projects for the 2023-2025 biennium. The Senate Transportation Chair describes the authorization process like so: “Most grant programs and operating expenditures have been sized to allow for steady ongoing amounts through the 16-year investment plan. Some programs have been front-loaded due to advanced delivery opportunities or matching funds needs, while other programs still require development step up over time. Programs funded from Climate Commitment Act funds have also been sized to generally match the cash flow available from CCA auctions.”
TCC will continue to advance these policy priorities, work to build support, and do member education in the interim. Stay tuned for a preview of our 2023post-session and beyond priorities from our Policy Director, Hester Serebrin!
How You Can Help!
We have an ambitious slate of transportation equity priorities already in the works for 2023-2024 — looking at rider experience, the operator shortage, developing a viable Road Usage Charge bill, and repealing Washington’s harmful jaywalking laws. We rely on the generous support of people like you to make this critical work possible. Please consider making a contribution today — truly every bit helps!
Thank you for your support this legislative session. We’ll be in touch soon. Ride on!
– Transportation Choices