Bill to reduce driving would hamper economic growth, stakeholders warn

Bill to reduce driving would hamper economic growth, stakeholders warn
SB 6335 aims to reduce driving by adding vehicle mileage reduction goals to city and county planning under the state Growth Management Act (GMA). Photo: freepik.com

A Senate bill aims to reduce the amount of miles Washingtonians drive through amendments to the state Growth Management Act (GMA). SB 6335 introduced by Rep. Jesse Salomon (D-32) would add climate change and greenhouse gas emission reduction (GHG) as part of planning requirements for certain counties, most of them located in western Washington. Local government advocates and business groups testifying at a Jan. 21 public hearing of the Senate Committee on Local Government warned that the proposal would both undermine economic development and guarantee legal fights.

“I think no matter what happens we will get sued, I guarantee you,” San Juan County Commissioner Rick Hughes said.

Association of Washington Business Government Affairs Director Mike Ennis made a similar prediction. “Additional requirements will increase costs in permitting times and more importantly open the door for litigation.”

Created by the state legislature in the early 1990s, GMA is intended to prevent urban sprawl by encouraging growth within designated areas. As part of the law, regional and local governments must update comprehensive plans that determine land use and zoning policies. Part of those plans involve population and employment projections or targets.

At the same time, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) since 2008 has sought to reduce vehicle miles driven per capita. Its goal for 2020 was to reduce driving by 18 percent. However, the 2018 Biennial Transportation Attainment Report found that traffic has actually increased across the entire state.

Under SB 6335, regional and local comprehensive plans would have to include strategies to reduce vehicle miles in support of both WSDOT’s goals and the state’s 2008 GHG emission reduction goals. Additional planning requirements would be imposed on cities and counties who meet the following criteria:

  • Population larger than 100,000 and west of the Cascade mountains;
  • Unincorporated population of less than 40,000 located east of the Cascades;
  • Population larger than 90,000 but with an unincorporated population of less than 15,000, and located east of the Cascades; and
  • A population larger than 500,000 and located east of the Cascades.

If enacted, the bill would have the state Department of Commerce set GHG reduction goals for the cities and counties that would be incorporated into their respective comprehensive plans. Regional transportation planning organizations within affected jurisdictions would also have to adopt a vehicle mile reduction plan.

Futurewise lobbyist Bryce Yadon told the committee that “this is really getting at the heart of what we believe we need to be working at and changing.”

The bill is closely tied to another piece of legislation also sponsored by Solomon that was examined during the public hearing. SB 6453 adds climate change to one of the planning goals under GMA.

Salomon told colleagues that “part of my reason for introducing the elements bill (SB 6335) is to create a discussion. I recognize there is a fiscal impact to localities.”

Although signed in as “other” on the bill, Association of Washington Cities Government Relations Advocate Carl Schroeder warned the committee that there is “a lot of complicated ideas and ramifications in these proposals. We’re pretty concerned that we’re going to be put in the crosshairs in terms of the local response to this.”

He added that efforts to reduce driving are at odds with economic growth. “What does this mean for any growth outside of the areas that are served by good transit access? Any of that growth is, by its very nature, going to increase the miles. What happens in a community like Kent which is heavily dependent on warehousing? If they’re going to permit more warehouses, that’s going to bring more trucks onto the road…so as a consequence of this, would they be prohibited from permitting that sort of activity because it’s inconsistent with the overall state climate reduction efforts?”

That perspective was shared by Washington Farm Bureau Director of Government Relations Tom Davis. “I don’t know how in the world you would apply and actually succeed in reducing miles driven and (still) maintain the economic viability of our farmers. We have to oppose this bill just to protect our farmers.”

The new planning would also add to local government costs. Washington Association of Counties Policy Director Paul Jewell told legislators: “many counties simply lack the technical skills and the technical personnel and the personnel needed to really focus on this. They’re going to need state support. The problem of course with that is there’s not…strong history of state support where planning is concerned. We’re always the ones left holding the bag with regard to the costs for ongoing updates and the implementation and all the liability.”

No further action is scheduled for either bill at this time.

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