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Commute Trip Reduction program raises hackles at Spokane Valley council

Council members irked by state’s goal of reducing car use

An update about something as pedestrian as Spokane Valley’s Commute Trip Reduction Implementation Plan for 2015-2019 drew intense comments from City Council members Tuesday evening.

Morgan Koudelka, a senior administrative analyst with the city, opened the presentation by explaining that the CTR plan update happens every four years and that much of the work for this revision has been done as the city worked on its comprehensive plan.

LeAnn Yamamoto, Spokane County’s transportation demand management manager, introduced Gov. Jay Inslee’s executive order 14-04, which recently established the Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce and calls for a continued reduction of carbon emissions in the state. Yamamoto said Inslee has set a goal of increasing commute alternatives statewide by 40 percent. The governor’s order is an addition to the state’s more than two-decade effort to reduce pollution and gridlock.

Councilmember Rob Higgins wanted to know what would happen if the city doesn’t reach that goal.

Yamamoto said “this is a good faith law. Employers may be fined if they don’t participate” and added that the last time an employer was fined was in the mid-1990s.

It quickly became clear that some council members were unaware that CTR is a state law implemented in 1993. It’s funded by the state Department of Transportation and applies to all employers with more than 100 employees, including Spokane Valley which has won awards for its program. CTR’s main goals are reduction of vehicle miles traveled and reduction of “drive alone trips.”

Councilmember Arne Woodard was baffled and outraged.

“I am opposed to the fact that the governor can just set these standards,” Woodard said. “When it becomes mandatory that we get more people out of their cars, where are our freedoms going? This just grates on me.”

Councilmember Ed Pace said he’d enjoyed last year’s CTR awards presentation but thought it was a volunteer effort.

Yamamoto said CTR does not tell anyone what they can or can’t do but it encourages employers to help employees commute in alternative ways.

“The program does take 7,600 cars off the roadways in Spokane County every morning,” she said.

Mayor Dean Grafos encouraged the council to move the plan forward to a vote, but gained no traction.

Pace encouraged “push back” against the governor’s order.

Koudelka reminded the council that CTR doesn’t cost Spokane Valley any money.

“We can push back against the executive order from the governor if you feel like that’s a battle you want to fight,” Koudelka said.

He was asked to bring back the plan on Jan. 27 with answers for Pace on how many taxpayer dollars are spent on the program as well as how much it costs Spokane Valley employers to comply, and information for Woodard on how much Spokane Valley staff time is spent on the program.

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