by Seattle Mayor MIKE MCGINN
While working in the community, and running for office, I heard from Seattle residents that they wanted better transit. And not just better buses, but rail transit where it made sense. That’s why as part of my campaign I made a commitment to the public: Within two years I would give voters the chance to vote on rail expansion in Seattle.
The measure now in front of the City Council reflects that commitment. From the very first day after the election we started laying the groundwork. And now we have an historic opportunity to begin controlling our own transit destiny.
Here’s how we got here. First, we launched a Transit Master Plan process. Seattle’s old Transit Master Plan still included a monorail. It was time for an update. We pulled together a broad stakeholder committee, retained top-notch planners, and began the process of identifying the next best transit investments for Seattle. We asked the public what they wanted. 57% of respondents to an online survey told us they wanted more rail.
We worked diligently with Council for full funding to complete the Transit Master Plan, to appoint citizen advisors, and to demonstrate that this plan was to be guided by the best transit principles. Our commitment then and now was to rigorously identify the best transit investments, whether rail or improved bus service. The Transit Master Plan process, while not yet complete, clearly identifies the top corridors for new investment, and that new rapid streetcars are an effective way to connect neighborhoods such as Ballard, Fremont, and the U-District to downtown.
But a good plan is not enough — we also need to fund it. Working with Council President Richard Conlin and Councilmember Tom Rasmussen we launched a Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee to identify how to fund Seattle’s transportation needs. They too gathered public input. Their surveys and focus groups found that not only did the public support more transit, but that they were willing to pay for it. The committee’s recommendation was unambiguous: Invest in catching up on deferred maintenance, and make a significant investment in catching up on deferred transit. Their proposal, if enacted as recommended, would give us the type of permanent funding source that would allow us to complete the detailed planning needed for rail transit, and make a significant down payment on real capital investments.
The table is now set for the Council to act, and now is the time to be bold for rail.
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Here’s why. Transit, along with education and next generation infrastructure like broadband is one of the keys to being competitive in a global economy. It connects our residents to jobs and opportunity. It moves us away from a high cost model of relying on gas and oil. Transit puts money in people’s pockets and keeps money in our local economy instead of being shipped off overseas. Portland’s transportation policies, including their rail lines, have created a “green dividend” of $2.6 billion each year that gets reinvested in their community. Transit will create the types of communities in which next generation businesses and creative leaders want to participate.
We can’t count on the state or the region to prioritize the neighborhood to neighborhood connections in our city that the Transit Master Plan shows is possible. King County Metro is being starved by the state legislature by being given inadequate financing authority. We can’t count on an infusion of cash from Sound Transit. Northgate will be the last light rail station we build in Seattle for decades.
I understand that the City Council is worried about the length of time necessary to finance capital investments in rail. But I think the public is more worried that if we sit on our hands and delay building transit, we’ll watch Portland, Vancouver, Los Angeles and other cities make the investment in transit infrastructure and leave us behind. Now, more than ever, we have to be bold enough to try and take control of our own destiny in a highly competitive global economy.
It’s not as if the state or the City Council are strangers to long-term financing for capital projects. We routinely use long-term financing for our City Light and our public utilities projects. It’s how you build infrastructure. Just last year the City Council approved a 2.5% parking tax to finance initial costs of the Mercer West project and the Elliot Bay Seawall and additional long-term financing for these projects will be required. Five years ago they approved a long-term financing source so that we could undertake the Spokane Street Viaduct the Mercer East project, and the City’s bridge rehabilitation and seismic upgrade projects. The question is, are we the type of city that will only finance road infrastructure but won’t do that for transit?
As a long-time community member, as an advocate, as a candidate, and now as mayor I have heard the same thing from the public — this city deserves rail transit. And the public is prepared to invest in it. That’s why, for the past year and a half, we’ve worked with transportation experts, businesses, the public, and the Council to show Seattle how we can realize our transit future. And I’m confident that if the Council gives the public a chance, they’ll embrace that future.