Saturday, September 2, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Got any bright ideas to relieve traffic? State roads official offers $1,000 prize

Seattle Times staff reporter

About the contest

Entries can be up to 175 words and can include a picture, chart or graph. Entries are due Oct. 6, although that could change. They should be sent to

Highway consultants and engineers have their own jargon when describing what they do.

What the heck, for example, is "through-put maximization"?

State Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald wants to move beyond bureaucratese like that to fresh ideas for solving transportation problems and is putting up $1,000 of his own money to reach that goal.

It's called the $1,000 Doug MacDonald Challenge, sponsored by the national Transportation Research Board, an organization with the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's just a crazy idea I had," MacDonald said. "If someone can claim the prize by coming up with a better word than through-put maximization, then we will have achieved a breakthrough."

Through-put maximization means moving the maximum number of cars through a stretch of highway at the maximum speed.

Sitting in traffic jams doesn't achieve that, MacDonald said.

The idea of generating new transportation ideas from the public with a contest came to him while he was sitting around one day.

"Every time we pay consultants, we get the same old ideas, the same old graphs and charts," MacDonald said. "Maybe there's a better plan to get new ideas, so I decided to make a modest personal contribution in hopes of stirring up interest.

"I am fascinated by how we are going to get the public's enthusiasm about the fact we can keep highways moving so we actually get more use out of highways. In a line of stalled traffic, you don't get much production of the highway. Everyone wins when the lanes move."

Why the $1,000 prize? MacDonald said he has been buying property in the San Juan Islands for years and was making $1,000 payments each month. This month, he'll make his last payment, and he was looking for a way to spend his extra $3,000 for the rest of the year.

He said he's donating $1,000 to build water projects in Africa and $1,000 for an AIDS orphanage in Malawi, Africa, where he served in the Peace Corps. And $1,000 will go to his traffic contest.

He said the ideas will go to a three-member panel of judges. "It's not like the winner is going to get the Nobel Prize, just a little recognition," MacDonald said.

He hopes to attract university students. He's been told that a class at the University of California, Berkeley, is taking the contest on as a project.

"I'm not trying to promote an agenda," he added. "We always solve problems with a little circle of people, consultants, and I'm not sure it always works. It seems an interesting idea to throw out bait. It was worth my while to write a check."

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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