This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

There’s some interesting discussion on STB on what a revised Sound Transit initiative might look like. Scaling back to Northgate and Bellevue sounds reasonable, but it would really hurt ridership.

The real issue, it seems, is how you design a package inside the Sound Transit RTA district that spends so much on King County in particular. Subarea equity dictates that you raise the same amount of money from all sub-areas and re-invest it in those areas (RTID has a similar policy for roads — funds raised in each county are re-invested in that county).

Obviously King County gets more because it contributes more, but even that doesn’t account for the disparity of building light rail to Northgate and Bellevue while investing in nothing that crosses the Pierce or Snohomish County lines.

This gets to why subarea equity is a double edged sword. While it allows the different subareas to feel like they’re all getting their money’s worth, it hamstrings the planning process. Planners can’t just make investments where they’re best for the region, they have to make sure the projects get doled out equally among the subareas, regardless of whether that’s the best use of the funds.

This came into sharp relief in the Prop. 1 debate. We all thought we were voting on a $17B (or $47B) package, but in truth, each subarea was really voting on its own, smaller package that got reinvested in its area. The “yes” folks didn’t really do a good job of getting that particular message out. And I don’t blame them — it’s legitimately confusing!

Either we’re one region or we’re not. This solomonic solution seems to be giving us the worst of both worlds. Prop. 1, following this strategy, tried to walk the line between being a holistic, regional plan and being a targeted, local plan, and it succeeded at neither.