This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
In his column this week, Josh Feit at The Stranger argues that it would be better for environmentalists and transit advocates to vote “no” on this fall’s RTID/ST2 package, and instead hope for a transit-only vote in 2008.
Feit’s first argument is that there’s still plenty of work to do on ST1, so waiting another year to start on ST2 is no biggie. That’s specious logic. Sound Transit knows how to walk and chew gum at the same time. The more advanced planning they can do, the better. Land acquisition and construction costs are increasing at 3-5x the rate of inflation. Every year we wait adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the project.
Secondly he notes that the “the compromisers inform us cuckoo idealists that political reality wont allow a 2008 vote. Governor Gregoire won’t stand for it.” But the “political reality” has never been about Governor Gregoire. Rather, it’s been about the fact that the Puget Sound region, for various reasons, has always been skittish about big transit projects — from the failed 1911 Bogue Plan to the failed 1968 Forward Thrust to the failed 1995 RTA package to the failed 2000 Monorail. We need to be coaxed along slowly, carefully, and with lots of candy. Because, let’s remember, for all Seattle’s “progressive,” “big-city” pretensions, it’s still a small and relatively rural town in one of America’s most outlying provinces. That’s the “political reality” of the region, and it has little to do with Gov. Gregoire’s re-election campaign.
Finally, Feit notes that 2008 will be a much more favorable political climate for liberals, being a presidential election year. That has some merit, although one has to weigh the more favorable political climate against the increased risk of a transit-only package going in front of all three counties. It seems like a wash at best.
Regardless, it’s hard to see what a “no” vote actually accomplishes. Feit calls out the $1.1B I-405 expansion, for example. But that’s something that’s going to happen eventually. 405 needs to be expanded and there’s more than enough political will to make it happen. If environmentalists think they can kill the 405 expansion, they’re misguided. The best they can do is delay it, which will make it more expensive (and starve even more money from transit projects) down the road.
Vote yes this November.
Update: In retrospect, I was a little sloppy above when I wrote that I-405 “needs” to be expanded. What meant (and what I tried to get at in the rest of the sentence) is that there’s more than enough political and popular will to expand I-405. It would be very, very hard to stop it, given the relative power of the suburbs versus the city in Olympia and a general sense that Seattle gets all the attention. I-405 expansion is the one project that the Eastside really wants and, as I’ve argued elsewhere, it might even offer an opportunity for a surface/transit solution to replace the Viaduct.