Ever since Sound Transit chose Interstate 90 as the preferred alignment for East Link light rail, a concerted effort to “protect” I-90 from the project has come from a few legislators – but mostly the office of Representative Judy Clibborn (41st, Mercer Island), chair of the House Transportation Committee.
I’ve written about this a little in the past, but it seems time to lay out a framework of her sustained attack on transit. She has repeatedly spoken in favor of transit as an idea – but not any of the transit that comes to her district. For a representative whose district voted over 55% for Sound Transit 2, her opposition seems misplaced.
As much as I pay attention to all this, I’m still not sure when her opposition started actively, but the first thing I see in law is a proviso from her in the 2007 transportation budget, ESHB 1094. This proviso requires that an ‘access plan’ be created to allow Mercer Island residents to use the new HOV lanes in single occupancy vehicles after the center lanes are closed to traffic:
“Expenditure of the funds on construction is contingent upon revising the access plan for Mercer Island traffic such that Mercer Island traffic will have access to the outer roadway high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes during the period of operating of such lanes following the removal of Mercer Island traffic from the center roadway and prior to conversion of the outer roadway HOV lanes to high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. Sound transit may only have access to the center lanes when alternative R-8A is complete.
The same year, she moved some R8A funding out from the 2007-2009 budget, as mentioned previously on the blog, to 2017 and beyond. Remember that this was early in the year before Roads and Transit came in November – this was almost a pre-emptive strike in case R&T passed.
Clibborn also pushed for an “Independent Review Team” to (hopefully) bolster her claim that light rail over I-90 was like the “Big Dig”. When that IRT released their report, essentially giving light rail a thumbs up from an engineering perspective, she told attendees of the hearing that they should be ready to hear about a “show-stopper.” Sounds like that was wishful thinking.
With light rail seeing support that just won’t quit, and that likely to be bolstered by Link opening this year, she’s exercising a ‘nuclear option’ now. Not only has she defunded R8A, it sounds like the state plans to hold light rail over I-90 hostage. Today’s transportation plan halts negotiations for the I-90 express lanes between WSDOT and ST, pending yet another review from a panel that House Transportation appoints. Oh, goody.
What’s worse, sources tell me that Speaker Frank Chopp (43rd, my district, went over 80% for ST2, also note he appointed Clibborn) wants Sound Transit to fund $1 billion, yes, that’s $1,000,000,000, of SR-520 replacement as payment for the I-90 lanes. Apparently that’s what those express lanes are worth to him, even though they were over 90% federally funded (yes, really!) – and the federal government (the GAO) says that states can’t use the proceeds from air rights sales on interstate highways (PDF, page 5). Here’s the excerpt:
“The statute states simply that any federal share in the net proceeds, which a state receives as a result of the sale, use, lease or lease renewal of such property, is to be applied to other eligible title 23 projects. Logically, the use of the term “federal share” indicates that the federal share retains its character as federal funds. Furthermore, by providing in § 156(a) that states must dispose of real property at fair market value, unless the Secretary grants an exception for a social, environmental, or economic purpose, the statutory text evidences a strong and on-going federal interest in any revenues generated from such disposal. In our view, this is a clear indication that the federal share of these proceeds should continue to be treated as federal rather than state funds.”
Don’t these people realize we’re paying attention now? Sound Transit is not your personal ATM, Mr. Speaker.