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Does a city have any authority (or say) in what the speed limit should be on a state highway that runs through its boundaries?
Reviewed: 01/17

There is a process for a city to change speed limits set forth in RCW 46.61.415. Note, that in order to reduce the speed limit, an engineering and traffic investigation must be done. In relevant part, RCW 46.61.415(1) states:

Whenever local authorities in their respective jurisdictions determine on the basis of an engineering and traffic investigation that the maximum speed permitted under RCW 46.61.400 or 46.61.440 is greater or less than is reasonable and safe under the conditions found to exist upon a highway or part of a highway, the local authority may determine and declare a reasonable and safe maximum limit thereon which
  1. Decreases the limit at intersections; or
  2. Increases the limit but not to more than sixty miles per hour; or
  3. Decreases the limit but not to less than twenty miles per hour.

But more to the point of the question, this statute also describes the process for changing a speed limit on a state highway that goes through a city. RCW 46.61.415(6) provides (emphasis added):

Any alteration of maximum limits on state highways within incorporated cities or towns by local authorities shall not be effective until such alteration has been approved by the secretary of transportation.

So, if a city council was to lower the speed limit on the portion of a state highway that runs through the city, the change could not go into effect unless and until the state Department of Transportation approves. This approval requirement is in addition to the traffic study described above.

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Can time-limited parking be enforced in ADA parking stalls? We are enacting a three-hour time limit on parking in our downtown area and need to know if that limit may also be applied to ADA stalls.
Reviewed: 12/16

The minimum time limit for a person parking a car with a disability placard or license plate is four (4) hours, and that applies to all nonreserved, on-street parking spaces, whether they are ADA spaces or not. RCW 46.19.050(5).

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Does a project have to be included in the transportation plan element of a city, town, or county's comprehensive plan in order to be funded by a transportation benefit district (TBD)?
Reviewed: 08/16

Not necessarily. To be paid for with TBD funds, a project within the district must be contained in the transportation plan of the state, a regional transportation planning organization, or a city, county, port district, county transportation authority, or public transportation benefit area.

Under RCW 36.73.020(1), a TBD may only be established (emphasis added):

for the purpose of acquiring, constructing, improving, providing, and funding a transportation improvement within the district that is consistent with any existing state, regional, or local transportation plans . . .

And RCW 36.73.015(6) similarly defines "transportation improvement" to mean:

A project contained in the transportation plan of the state, a regional transportation planning organization, city, county, or eligible jurisdiction as identified in RCW 36.73.020(2) [i.e. port district, county transportation authority, and public transportation benefit area].

One such "transportation plan" would be the transportation plan element of a city, town, or county's comprehensive plan, given its predominance as the jurisdiction's "blueprint" for future transportation planning.

This analysis is the same even for a jurisdiction that has assumed its transportation benefit district pursuant to chapter 36.74 RCW.

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Can transportation benefit district funds pay for a street sign improvement program?
Reviewed: 02/16

Yes, in our opinion, a transportation benefit district (TBD) may use its revenues to fund a street sign improvement program, if that program is part of an appropriate transportation plan. RCW 36.73.020(1) allows TBD revenue to be used to fund transportation improvements included in a city, county, or eligible jurisdiction's transportation plan. RCW 36.73.015(6) defines "transportation improvement" as follows:

"Transportation improvement" means a project contained in the transportation plan of the state, a regional transportation planning organization, city, county, or eligible jurisdiction as identified in RCW 36.73.020(2). A project may include investment in new or existing highways of statewide significance, principal arterials of regional significance, high capacity transportation, public transportation, and other transportation projects and programs of regional or statewide significance including transportation demand management. Projects may also include the operation, preservation, and maintenance of these facilities or programs.

This definition is broad enough, in our opinion, for a street sign improvement program contained within a transportation plan to be funded from TBD revenues. Note also that the criteria identified in RCW 36.73.0201) that a TBD should use "when selecting transportation improvements" include "improved safety" and "improved travel time" - matters that street sign improvements can address.

Further information regarding TBDs can be found on our Transportation Benefit Districts webpage.

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Does MRSC have a template or a step-by-step process by which a city can follow in order to establish a transportation benefit district?
Reviewed: 01/16

MRSC does not have a template or a step-by-step process that a city can follow in establishing a transportation benefit district (TBD), though the resources on our TBD webpage should help in going through that process. The process goes roughly like this (for a TBD that consists of the same boundaries as the city):

  1. The city council holds a hearing on the proposed TBD, in accordance with RCW 36.73.050.
  2. The city council adopts an ordinance establishing the TBD, consistent with RCW 36.73.050(2). Our TBD webpage provides some examples of such ordinances. These ordinances are helpful in showing the process the respective jurisdictions went through in adopting the ordinances and regarding what is to be done after the ordinance is effective.
  3. The city council thereafter acts as the TBD board.
  4. The necessary fund(s) must be established to carry out the operation of the TBD.
  5. The TBD board (the city council acting as the TBD board) adopts charter/bylaws/rules of procedure to govern its operation. See, e.g., Mercer Island TBD board meeting agenda packet, 11/17/2014; Snohomish TBD board agenda, with attachments, 12/7/2010.

The exact process varies from city to city. There is no particular timetable under which this process must occur. To fill in the blanks in the steps outlined above, you may want to contact one or more of the jurisdictions that have established a TBD. Here is a list of the jurisdictions that have established a TBD.

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Request for information relating to the regulation of WATVs on city streets including which cities have adopted ordinances allowing their use on city streets.
Reviewed: 10/15

These types of vehicles are addressed in state law as "wheeled all-terrain vehicles" (WATV).  RCW 46.09.310(19) defines "Wheeled All-Terrain Vehicle" as:

(a) any motorized nonhighway vehicle with handlebars that is fifty inches or less in width, has a seat height of at least twenty inches, weighs less than one thousand five hundred pounds, and has four tires having a diameter of thirty inches or less, or (b) a utility-type vehicle designed for and capable of travel over designated roads that travels on four or more low-pressure tires of twenty psi or less, has a maximum width less than seventy-four inches, has a maximum weight less than two thousand pounds, has a wheelbase of one hundred ten inches or less, and satisfies at least one of the following: (i) Has a minimum width of fifty inches; (ii) has a minimum weight of at least nine hundred pounds; or (iii) has a wheelbase of over sixty-one inches.

With respect to their operation on city streets, RCW 46.09.455(1) provides, in relevant part:

A person may operate a wheeled all-terrain vehicle upon any public roadway of this state, not including nonhighway roads and trails, having a speed limit of thirty-five miles per hour or less subject to the following restrictions and requirements:


(d)(i) A person may not operate a wheeled all-terrain vehicle on a public roadway within the boundaries of a city or town, not including nonhighway roads and trails, unless the city or town by ordinance has approved the operation of wheeled all-terrain vehicles on city or town roadways, not including nonhighway roads and trails.

So, WATVs may not be operated on city streets unless the city has adopted an ordinance to specifically authorize their use and the streets on which they are allowed have a speed limit of 35 mph or less. RCW 46.09.455(1). If a city does authorize their use, it must on the main page of its website identify the public roadways on which WATVs are allowed. RCW 46.09.455(1)(d)(ii).

In addition, RCW 46.09.360, relating to regulation of WATVs by local governments, provides in part:

Notwithstanding any of the provisions of this chapter, any city, town, county, or other political subdivision of this state, or any state agency, may regulate the operation of nonhighway vehicles on public lands, waters, and other properties under its jurisdiction, and on streets, roads, or highways within its boundaries by adopting regulations or ordinances of its governing body, provided such regulations are not less stringent than the provisions of this chapter.

This means the state has not entirely preempted the field and cities can enact additional regulations governing WATVs as long as the regulations are not less stringent than the state regulations.

For more information, see our July 23, 2013 MRSC Insight blog post, All-Terrain Vehicles Renamed and Rolling, and the Final Bill Report for ESHB 1632.

Although we have not surveyed cities on this topic, we are aware of a number that have adopted ordinances to allow and regulate wheeled all-terrain vehicles within their city limits. See, for example:

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We authorized a councilmanic TBD fee of $20 over two years ago. Can we authorize another $20.00? When would the fee begin?
Reviewed: 09/15

Yes, the transportation benefit district (TBD) can authorize an additional, nonvoted (councilmanic) $20 license fee on August 2nd, per Section 309 of the 2015 transportation funding bill, . That section, which went into effect on July 15, amends RCW 36.73.065 to state that a TBD can increase that fee to $40 "if a vehicle fee of twenty dollars has been imposed for at least twenty-four months." The legislation does not directly define "imposed," but RCW 36.73.065(4) states in part that "A district that includes all the territory within the boundaries of the jurisdiction, or jurisdictions, establishing the district may impose by a majority vote of the governing board of the district the following fees and charges . . . ." (Our emphasis.) Based on that emphasized language, we conclude that it is the vote to authorize the license fee that "imposes" the fee.

As such, the additional $20 fee can now be authorized/imposed by the TBD, because more than two years have expired since the $20 fee was imposed. However, the Department of Licensing would not start collecting the fee until six months after it is imposed. See RCW 82.80.140(4) ("No fee under this section may be collected until six months after approval under RCW 36.73.065").

For more information on the 2015 legislation affecting TBDs, see New Legislation Affecting Transportation Benefit Districts, MRSC Insight, 8/6/2015.

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May the city pass a distracted driver ordinance that is more restrictive than state law, such as making it a traffic infraction to use cell phones, while driving, in ways that are not currently prohibited in state law?
Reviewed: 04/15

We don't think the city may pass a more restrictive distracted driver ordinance. The Washington courts have strictly interpreted the ability of cities and counties to enact regulatory provisions that are not uniform with the state statutory provisions on motor vehicles. In a prominent case regarding this issue of a city enacting a more stringent traffic ordinance, Seattle v. Williams, 128 Wn.2d 341 (1995), the state supreme court invalidated a city ordinance that defined the offense of driving while intoxicated using a lessor blood alcohol level (0.08) than used in state law (0.10). (The Legislature changed the level to 0.08 in 1998.) The court began its opinion, at 341-42, as follows:

The question presented by this appeal is whether the City of Seattle may enforce an ordinance that defines the offense of driving while intoxicated in a manner that is not in uniformity with a state statute defining the offense of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor. We hold that it may not, because to allow it to do so would contravene RCW 46.08.020, a statute which requires traffic laws to be "applicable and uniform throughout this state," as well as RCW 46.08.030, a statute which requires traffic laws to be "applicable and uniform upon all persons operating vehicles upon the public highways of this state

A more restrictive distracted driver ordinance effective only in your city would also - by being "more restrictive" than state law - violate this uniformity requirement regarding traffic laws as set out in RCW 46.08.030.

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Must a city's van be accessible to disabled people?
Reviewed: 12/13

A city is purchasing a van to pick up senior citizens to take them to activities at the city senior citizen center. This van will not operate on a fixed route but will operate on call.

Section 224 of the ADA requires public transit agencies that operate demand-responsive systems to ensure that newly purchased or leased vehicles solicited after August 25, 1990 are accessible to disabled people. DOT regulations define demand-responsive as any system of transporting individuals by vehicle at the request of the user. Since the city in this case does fall within the definition of a public transit agency, it is covered by this requirement.

DOT may waive the accessibility requirement if, when viewed in its entirety, the system provides equivalent service to disabled and non-disabled passengers. However, in this case, the city has no vehicles which are accessible to disabled people and therefore it does not provide equivalent service.

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May a city regulate train speeds?
Reviewed: 12/13

No, this is preempted by federal law, under both the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 and the Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970 (FRSA). City of Seattle v. Burlington N.R.R., 145 Wn.2d 661 (2002). Federal regulations enacted pursuant to FRSA prescribe operating speed limits for each class of railroad track. However, federal law provides that a state may adopt a more stringent standard with respect to railroad safety and security when the standard: 1) is necessary to eliminate or reduce an essentially local safety or security hazard; 2) is not incompatible with federal law; and 3) does not unreasonably burden interstate commerce.

The authority of a city, other than a first class city, to regulate train speeds is also preempted by state law, which grants to the Utilities and Transportation Commission the exclusive right to regulate train speeds in such cities. RCW 81.48.030. The 2006 legislature amended RCW 81.48.030 to clarify that the commission has authority to regulate railway train speeds within the limits of cities only to the extent that its authority is not preempted by federal law. See Chapter 70, Laws of 2006 (ESSB 6679). It also established a process under which a railroad must provide 60 days written notice to the commission and the applicable local government before increasing operating speeds. After 60 days, the railroad operator may increase operating speed as proposed, unless the commission has determined that a lower limit is necessary to address local conditions consistent with federal law.

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What authority does a city have to regulate a portion of a state highway that runs through the city?
Reviewed: 12/13

Cities and towns are authorized by state statute to regulate and enforce all traffic and parking restrictions on highways within city limits. However, any regulations that are not identical to state law must be approved by the state Department of Transportation before becoming effective. See RCW 47.24.020(11).

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Are charter counties able to operate parking lots and collect parking fees, other than those outlined in RCW 36.01.080?
Reviewed: 07/11

Charter counties are not restricted to operating parking lots only in conjunction with the types of facilities listed in RCW 36.01.080. That statute provides:

Counties may construct, maintain, operate and collect rentals for parking facilities as a part of a courthouse or combined county-city building facility.

So for most counties in the state, they would only be authorized to operate parking facilities in these limited circumstances. But, a different rule applies for a home rule charter county. A home rule charter county is not limited to the powers specifically set out in the state statutes. The only limitation on the power of a home rule county is that their action cannot contravene any constitutional provision or any legislative enactment. A home rule county has as broad legislative powers as the state, except when restricted by enactments of the state legislature. See King County Council v. Public Disclosure Commission, 93 Wn.2d 559 (1980).

Since there is no constitutional provision or state statute that provides that a county cannot operate a parking lot and collect parking fees, a home rule county is presumed to have that authority.

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