Managing Growth

Addressing Growing Demands on our Transportation System

It’s no secret that Washington state is a great place to live and work.

Washington has the 8th fastest growth rate in the country and has grown by about a million people each decade since 1990. Net migration continues to account for the majority of our growth as it has for the last few decades.

Managing Growth, Increasing Choice

One of the things that sets Washington apart from most other states in the nation is our coordinated approach to managing growth. We’ve been at it now for over a quarter century.

95% of the state’s residents now live in a city or county that plans for jobs, housing, and transportation under the Growth Management Act (GMA).

For all of the challenges that confront us in our efforts to provide safe and reliable mobility options, much has improved in the last 25 years.

+ See some examples of progress
  • Many communities offer more opportunities for more people to reduce their travel costs while increasing their travel choices, from major metropolitan areas to small suburbs and rural towns. More people have access to more travel choices—driving, transit, walking, biking, rideshare, and virtual access—than ever in our history.
  • Transit productivity and efficiency in urban areas is going up as communities grow in more transit-supportive ways, with higher density, mixed-use lifestyle options near transit. This augments the predominant auto-oriented single- family suburban options that dominated development patterns for the better part of the 20th century. Old land use patterns don’t go away overnight, or even over a quarter of a century. It takes time for the market forces that drive private property development and consumer lifestyle preferences to change; regulations alone are not enough. Those changes are increasingly evident, particularly in areas with high land values where transportation-efficient development makes market sense.
  • As required by GMA, local land use plans have curbed sprawling low density residential development that consumed so much of our agricultural and resource lands from the 1970s into the 1980s, helping to ensure that rural areas remain rural.
  • We’re managing demand for limited capacity more effectively, using an array of technologies and practices like dynamic tolling to help balance peak demand in the same way utilities do during those times when demand exceeds capacity. Our approach to system performance means that the existing transportation infrastructure can move more people and goods, so we can target our capacity investments more strategically and free up funds for other transportation needs.
  • New streets and roads are being built that accommodate all travel modes safely and conveniently, not just drivers. More miles of sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails have been built since passage of the GMA than in all of Washington’s history to that point. It’s undeniable that many miles of outdated infrastructure still require upgrades but that work is happening as fast as scarce resources and other opportunities allow.
  • Washington is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from motor vehicles. Emissions testing programs in Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Spokane counties help curb the worst polluters. Washington’s 2005 Clean Car Law ensures that vehicles sold or leased in the state meet strict clean air standards. Aggressive carbon reduction targets are monitored biennially by Ecology and reported to the legislature. The 2016 report showed progress between 2010 and 2013, but transportation still accounts for almost 43 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, with cars, trucks, and planes making up the vast majority of those emissions.

Transportation doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Coordinating transportation and land use decision-making means thinking about transportation in the context of statewide growth and economic opportunity.

The past is no prediction of the future. At every level of government, throughout the private sector, and even for households and individuals, the transportation decisions we face in the future are going to be different from those we faced in the past. Many drivers of change are outside the control of any government agency or community and are happening at an unprecedented pace. We are challenged to ask different questions and think differently about possibilities and choices than we have in the past. For example:

+ See some of the questions we're asking
  • What are realistic expectations about system performance and level of service, and how do we manage our resources to meet those expectations?
  • How do we harness data, technology, and the emerging paradigm shifts around personal mobility to achieve broader societal, environmental, and economic goals all across Washington and not just in selected pockets or populations?
  • How can mobile applications of technology improve the flow and delivery of cargo on local freight corridors?
  • How do we adapt our decision-making processes and funding structures to better participate and effectively engage in these transformative processes to maximize public benefit from the changes and minimize negative impacts and missed opportunities?
  • What does coordinated decision-making mean in an era of ridesharing and Mobility as a Service? Do we have access to the right data to make investment decisions? Are we ready to share and manage data between different sectors and agencies?

For the foreseeable future we need to continuously evaluate the adequacy of our tools and assumptions, continue to advocate for maintenance and preservation of existing facilities, and work to become more nimble in our decision-making processes to keep up with the pace of evolution.