Summary: A visit to Olympia

For the final project in this class, my classmate, Matthew Palzkill and I chose to visit with our State Legislators for the 46th Legislative District in Olympia. After contacting each legislator I received a response from Rep. Jessyn Farrell to meet with her from 3:15-3:30 on Thursday, March 14th. The following is a summary of that meeting.

THE BILLS

During this meeting we decided to take the opportunity to discuss two bills that are being considered by the House Transportation Committee at this moment. The first is HB 1745 regarding the continuation of the SR 167 HOT Lanes beyond the initial pilot program. The second bill chosen to discuss was SSB 5152 regarding the creation of Seattle Sounders and Seattle Seahawks specialty license plates.

THE ISSUES

For the bill regarding the SR 167 HOT Lanes, I chose to encourage the representative to support the bill and approve the permanence of the HOT Lanes with no end date. In the bill, the end date of the pilot program has been struck through so that there is no end date for the program. I agree with this change because the HOT Lanes have been proven effective at managing traffic and increasing throughput on the roadway. Sighting the Fourth Annual Performance Summary, the HOT Lanes have been proven to maintain free flow traffic conditions, reduce traffic congestion in the general purpose lanes, and encourage equitable use of the HOT lanes for both high and low income drivers. It is also important to note that the number of daily trips on the HOT Lanes has increased from year to year which has increased total volumes carried on the corridor, but has decreased the volumes carried by the general purpose lanes. Therefore, I encourage a “YES” vote on the bill.

For the second bill regarding the Seattle Seahawks and Sounder’s license plates, I wanted to tell legislature that I encourage passing this bill, but that I want to also encourage legislature to change the wording of the bill to add in a section regarding the symbols that can be displayed on the plates. The current specialty plate bill does not specify how the plates should be designed other than it “must display artwork approved by the department.” While this is effective, it must be recognized that each additional plate that the state approves makes it exponentially more difficult for Optical Character Recognition equipment used in tolling and the operation of red light running cameras to determine certain plate characteristics such as the plate number. This is due to the fact that the color changes between the designs on each plate must be recognized by the computers that automatically read the plates. When a specialty plate is introduced, then the plate cannot automatically be read and must be manually reviewed increasing the cost of operations for these systems. By making plates more uniform, the cost of operations for the taxpayer will go down. This encourages the concept of “Lean Goverment” being pushed by Governor Inslee in the current biennium.

THE MEETING

Unfortunately, upon arrival at the Representative’s office we were told that she was busy and that we must meet with her legislative assistant, Nigel Herbig. We were directed into the Representative’s office and were then encouraged to discuss our opinions regarding these bills. When discussing the 167 HOT Lanes, Nigel explained that Rep. Farrell supported my argument fully and that she has voted “YES” on this bill as it has moved throughout the House. He also explained that there were others in the House that were against the HOT Lanes and tolling in general.

We then moved on to the license plate bill that was being discussed that day in the House Transportation committee. Nigel listened to my argument and told me that this argument is one that neither he, nor any of the representatives have brought up before. However, it did not seem that this was of great importance for him or an issue that Rep. Farrell should bring up in the committee.

After the meeting we were encouraged to attend the public hearing on the Transportation Committee so that we could see the legislative process in action. Both Matt and I agreed that this was important and we decided to attend the public hearing. Pictures of that hearing and our visit to the capital are below.

Standing in front of the capitol building

Standing in front of the capitol building

Sitting in the House Transportation Committee meeting on 3/14 at 3:30 in the JLOB Building

Sitting in the House Transportation Committee meeting on 3/14 at 3:30 in the JLOB Building

LESSONS LEARNED

The primary lesson that I learned was that there are certain things that state legislature is interested in hearing, and there are other arguments that are best left for certain state agencies to figure out for themselves. The SR 167 HOT Lanes are important for the commute of many people in the state and play a major role in the advancement of our transportation system. However, license plates are not a major issue in the legislature and these arguments should be taken elsewhere. Another takeaway from this meeting was learning how my future profession fits in with the greater good of the people. Every major transportation project will impact an entire region. It is important for me as an engineer to consider this when I, too, am involved in the decision making process. By going to Olympia I was reminded of this ethical lesson which I hope to carry with me as I start my career.

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