[UPDATE: See excerpt of Board selection rules at the bottom.]
In our Greg Nickels endorsement, we alluded to the possibility of some sort of Sound Transit crisis in the future, the idea being that we would have wanted Nickels in a position of power should that happen. Now, with Nickels out and either McGinn or Mallahan receiving an automatic virtually assured seat on the Sound Transit board when they take office, it’s important to recognize why establishment support for ST is necessary.
Although it’s the opinion of this blog that Sound Transit is a very well-run public agency, there are three basic things that could cause serious problems for the buildout:
- The Economy. Sound Transit got a AAA credit rating by being conservative about allocating its revenue streams. That said, a weak recovery in sales tax revenue would put further pressure on the agency’s budget, and Japan-style stagnation could make it very hard to achieve all the Sound Transit 2 objectives.
- Tunneling. Sound Transit’s sole tunneling experience — through Beacon Hill — was not a happy one. They were on schedule, barely, despite a huge amount of padding in the plan. It may have been a problem with that particular contractor, but it bears watching as they begin a much larger tunneling project to Roosevelt, and possibly under Bellevue.
- Political Risk. We’ve covered this a lot before, but there are still powerful interests not at all pleased with having to give up the express lanes on I-90, or that seek to extract transit funding for use on state road projects. Moreover, there are still plenty of people who self-identify as transit advocates who think that reorganizing transit agencies is a good idea. This kind of maneuver, which has support in the legislature, would wreak havoc on ongoing projects.
There’s no reason to be overly alarmed about any of these potential problems, because they haven’t yet materialized. And, of course, all large infrastructure projects have risk. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that we can doze off until 2016 without making sure that the right leadership and the right politicians are in place.
Because there’s some confusion on this in the comments, the relevant Sound Transit Board selection policies are below the jump.
Who Serves on the Sound Transit Board
Sound Transit is governed by an 18-member Board of Directors; 17 members are local elected officials, and the 18th member is the Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary. Local elected officials include mayors, city council members, county executives, and county council members from within the Sound Transit District. Currently, the Sound Transit Board includes three members from Snohomish County, ten from King County, four from Pierce County, and the State Transportation Department secretary.
The county executive in each of the participating counties appoints members from that county.The respective county councils confirm the appointments.By state law, appointments must include an elected city official representing the largest city in the participating county and proportional representation from other cities and unincorporated areas.To help assure coordination between local and regional transit plans, half of the appointments in each county must be elected officials who serve on the local transit agency governing authority.