On Thursday March 14th, I, as well as classmate Mallory Wilde, trekked down to Olympia to ask our legislator, Rep. Jessyn Farrell, a few questions about bills that she was involved in with the Transportation Committee. Despite the fact that I was from another district (Rep. Tarleton is my legislator but was unable to schedule a meeting that didn’t conflict with my classes), Mrs. Farrall was able to schedule us from 3:15 to 3:30 on the 14th, and had no qualms with a 2 person interrogation. The objective was to tell her a Transportation Engineers prospective on a few bills.
The bills we were there to discuss were HB 1745 and SSB 5152. HB 1745 had to do with the continuation of the SR 167 HOT Lanes after their initial period ended, and SSB 5152 was in regards to the addition of Seattle Sounders FC and Seattle Seahawks to the special license plate list.
The issues Mallory and I had were very similar with each bill, seeing as we have similar background. Obviously when it came to the SR 167 bill, we were supportive of the bill getting passed and for the written bills striking through the language that stated the SR 167 trial period was a positive. The HOT Lanes have proved to be a valuable source of income, and they also have helped to increase flow by having more people get through that lane than the other lanes, according to data we received in class. It seemed like keeping these lanes was a major positive for the community and we wanted to voice that. Even though the congestion has increased in this special lane, overall roadway congestion has decreased, furthermore making this a good decision to pass. Next was the license plate bill. There are already 26 separate types of license plates that are made available to the general public outside of the standard “Mountain” plate. Each one of these requires the tolling transponders along 520 and similar roadways to adapt its technology in order to pick up. The cameras are set to get rid of the blue Mt. Rainier in order to only read the license plate numbers, but they aren’t completely set to read other plates. Such as the WSU one, where the letters are white and the color of the crimson gets removed. We wanted to express how difficult it was becoming to read these plates, as well as how each one that gets flagged has to be manually read. We wanted to remove the strike through of the line of the bill that deleted the “trial period until July 2013” for all previous plates, that way more data can be collected on the previous license plates.
Here is a picture of one of the random plates we found in the parking lot:
Once we arrived at the meeting, we were told the Rep. Farrall was busy and we would be meeting with her Legislative Assistant, Nigel Herbig. He greeted us and welcomed us in, and then asked what sort of questions we had. We voiced out opinion on the SR 167 bill, and he informed us the Farrall was also a big supporter and voted yes. However, it did not pass due to the Republicans and “their refusal to look at the facts of the congestion.” He even named names of people who voted against it. He said how they were too often referred to as “Lexus Lanes” and had an elitist aura about them, which made it hard to pass. Next up was the License plate bill. Mallory brought up the point that new license plates were hard to read, and that there were such plates like “I love pets” that were clogging up the system. Nigel said how they had never thought of that before, but at the same time he seemed to shrug it off and was making jokes about how the bill was a joke and would get passed regardless. After the meeting, the Transportation Committee was in session so we decided to go see them debate these bills before our eyes. As it turned out, all the money from those License Plates would go to underprivileged kids, so it’s probably a good thing we didn’t speak out. The highlight of my day was when a bill was discussed about the legality of having people ride in a car being towed. At first I thought it was an idiotic idea and laughed, but after a few stories were told about how it would be beneficial, I was sold as well.
I took many things away from this experience. It was very interesting to see things that engineers work on get talked about in legislation, with none of the technical items ever getting brought up. More time was spent on the public perception of the HOT Lanes than on the actual data and algorithm used to determine fair prices. I always assumed that all the data would be presented, but that’s not how it was. I was also shocked to hear Nigel laugh when we brought up the License Plate issue. I realize that it is kind of a no brainer, but at the same time there are 2 sides to all issues and there was a new license plate restriction enacted for a reason. I really enjoyed watching the committee meet, as well as just walking around the grounds after. All in all, a great trip!