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State Seeks Input on Its Vehicle Miles Traveled Reduction Strategy

State Seeks Input on Its Vehicle Miles Traveled Reduction Strategy

As part of MRSC’s Local Climate Response Project, we are inviting guest authors to share options and ideas for local climate action related to preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change. This blog describes state-based efforts to reduce transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions by proposing reductions in vehicle miles traveled.

In 2021, the Washington State Legislature (Legislature) directed the Washington State Department of Commerce (Commerce) and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to:

  • Develop guidelines to help cities and counties integrate climate mitigation and resiliency goals into local comprehensive plans,
  • Develop a process for establishing reduction targets for local vehicle miles traveled (VMT),
  • Recommend a suite of options for local jurisdictions to achieve the targets, and
  • Identify funding requirements for state and local jurisdictions to achieve the targets.

The requirements can be found in SSB 5092 Sec. 126(a) and the 2021-23 Transportation Budget SSB 5165 Sec. 218(3).

We Need Your Help

We need local information and perspective to inform and shape the process for developing VMT targets and supportive actions to achieve those targets. WSDOT and Commerce have developed a survey to collect input from cities, counties, regional transportation planning organizations, metropolitan planning organizations, and others. More information about the approach and timeline is available in WSDOT’s December 2021 report to the Legislature.

The survey should take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete, depending on how much information you provide. Your participation will help ensure that diversity in geography and local experiences are reflected in the information we gather. Your feedback will also help inform the recommendations developed and reported to the Legislature.

State Direction

Washington’s recently updated State Energy Strategy identifies reducing VMT as a key strategy to reducing transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The strategy calls for the electrification of the transportation fleet, the reduction of VMT through strategic land use planning and the provision of multimodal transportation options. The energy strategy explicitly calls for:

(E)lectrifying as many passenger, truck and freight vehicles as possible; investing immediately in the infrastructure required to support massive vehicle electrification; and developing incentives and land-use plans to reduce miles traveled and increase other modes of transport, such as transit, cycling and walking.

WSDOT is tasked with developing a process for setting VMT targets, and Commerce will simultaneously provide comprehensive plan guidance to local jurisdictions that addresses reducing GHGs and per capita VMT, and models a climate change and resilience element. More information can be found on Commerce’s Climate Program webpage.

Supporting Local Partners

Transportation choices are personal and based on the unique circumstances in which people live and work. Much of the effort to support people’s ability to meet their daily needs without having to drive long distances occurs at the local level. Local jurisdictions exercise their authority for land use planning under the state’s Growth Management Act and their police powers set forth at Article 11, Section 11 of the Washington State Constitution.

The state plays a supportive role in aiding local jurisdictions to define and implement practical solutions that best fit their communities. Available materials include guidance on land use and transportation planning, comprehensive plan transportation elements, and transportation efficient communities.

Many of Washington’s communities will complete updates to their comprehensive plans over the next few years; several have already gotten started. This means that we will be conducting our work at the same time as some local comprehensive plans are going through the update process. The project team intends to collaborate with cities and counties to provide timely information on actions local jurisdictions can take to reduce VMT to help inform comprehensive plan updates.

What’s Next?

Our team would be delighted to speak further with anyone who indicates their willingness to do so through the survey or by email. Before completing an interim report to the Legislature in June 2022, we will:

  • Work with local government partners to document how VMT reduction is addressed in comprehensive plans,
  • Collaboratively develop a recommended suite of options for local jurisdictions to achieve reductions in VMT that can be incorporated into comprehensive plan updates,
  • Propose updated statewide targets based on existing and available data and research, and
  • Conduct foundational research on local target setting approaches.

This project will conclude with a final report to the Legislature in June 2023 that will define a process for local VMT reduction targets. We look forward to jointly developing recommendations with all of you.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Celeste Gilman

About Celeste Gilman

Celeste is the Transportation and Land Use Policy Advisor with the WSDOT Multimodal Planning and Data Division. She leads strategic efforts within the agency to work with partners across the state to utilize land use as a tool to manage transportation demand. She also serves as the Deputy Director of the Regional Transit Coordination Division, working with transit agencies and cities and bringing planners and engineers together to expand high-capacity transit and multimodal station access. Prior to joining WSDOT, Celeste led the University of Washington's award-winning sustainable transportation programs, served as the chair of the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board, and has been a contributor to numerous transit advisory groups.