It's not news that public works directors often are charged with convincing both their governing bodies and the public of the need to fund infrastructure improvements, but when they are successful at getting the message across, it's a lesson that other public works directors could learn from.

In Pierce County, Wash.-home of Mt. Rainier and located south of Seattle-transportation managers identified the challenges associated with the development of traffic impact fee (TIF) programs and successfully articulated that to the county council.

A one-time charge for the capital cost of public facilities needed to serve new development, such as roads and intersections, traffic impact fees aren't popular with either governing bodies or developers. Still, the fast-growing urbanized county, whose population is about 800,000, is home to about 1,500 miles of county roads-many of which will be affected by rapid development.

In 2003 the county's department of public works floated the idea of a TIF program to the county council, which tabled consideration of the program for a variety of reasons, mainly political: Some council members considered it just another tax; others said it would have a negative affect on economic development and affordable housing.

Yet within a year public works staff analyzed the county's traffic needs over the next two decades, considering potential deficiencies related to new developments. "We projected a $650 million shortfall over the next 20 years," says Gary Predoehl, transportation manager for Pierce County (Wash.) Department of Public Works & Utilities. "That finally got the attention of the council," which, in the summer of 2005, directed public works staff to resubmit the TIF program. ( www.piercecountywa.org/pc/abtus/ourorg/pwu/tpp/tif.htm)

In February 2006, the county's planning commission unanimously recommended approval of the program, and in October the county council approved it by a 6-1 vote setting an implementation date of Jan. 1, 2007.

"You need to understand the politics of your community and communicate how and why you are considering traffic impact fees," Predoehl explains. "Make the council your ally instead of constantly fighting with it about the issue. Communicate the schedule, and show the milestones."

To date, 46 major road projects totaling about $392 million have been implemented under the TIF program, which is expected to generate $188 million over the next 20 years.

- Michael Fielding

Session: Traffic Impact Fee Program Success - The Pierce County Story
Gary Predoehl
Transportation Manager, Pierce County (Wash.) Department of Public Works & Utilities
Sun., Aug. 18, 2008
2-2:50 p.m.