[UPDATE: Shutting down the comment thread here, which quickly degenerated into trolling and increasingly irrelevant responses to it.]
We’re often told that transit alternatives simply can’t be funded with the money used for projects like the Deep Bore Tunnel. Thanks to the 18th Amendment to Washington’s Constitution, the gas taxes that largely fund highways ostensibly can’t be used for non-highway purposes.
It turns out that may not be true, thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision. Last week transit advocates in Olympia were trying to figure out if the ruling rendered the traditional interpretation inoperative. But if the will to fund transit with gas taxes exists, I don’t see that the amendment matters.
To see why, look at this GAO report (via). In general, federal gas tax revenues can be used for transit or highways, but the proportion is allocated by Congress. However, 29% of the Federal Highway aid program — $53 billion between 2007 and 2011, excluding stimulus funds– are flexible*, meaning states and “metropolitan planning organizations” (MPOs, i.e. the PSRC) can choose to spend Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funds on transit projects. Much of this money can be used for operating costs, unlike most federal funding.
The report doesn’t have complete state-by-state figures. Washington transferred $104m in this fashion over that five-year period, but that was only between 10 and 25% of the total possible. In other words, another $60m to $200m per year could have been spent on transit given the organizational capacity and the political will.
And because money is fungible, this could easily have been in effect paid for with gas taxes by backfilling the lost highway funding with those taxes. The net effect would have been increased funding for transit with one of the greenest taxes the state has in its inventory.
Don’t ever let our leaders tell us they have no choice but to build highways. Because they do.
* Specifically, Surface Transportation Program (STP) and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) funds can be reallocated by local authorities.