This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
Ted Van Dyk “reports” that regional leaders are coalescing around a post-Prop-1 transit plan that looks — surprise! — mirrors Van Dyk’s personal wishes and desires almost to a tee. It’s hard to know where the reporting ends and the navel-gazing begins:
In all of this, a new consensus is emerging about a post-Prop 1 agenda. It centers on moving aside turf-oriented, self-serving agencies such as Sound Transit and transferring power to a more objective, more responsive regional body. It would stress immediate priorities such as addressing the urgent Alaskan Way Viaduct and Evergreen Point Bridge, which are aging and structurally vulnerable. It would not stop light rail construction in place, but it would limit construction to a line running from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to either Convention Place, Husky Stadium, or Northgate. Future funding would be focused more greatly on express bus, bus rapid transit, and normal bus service; dedicated transit lanes; HOV lanes; tolling; and selective repair and expansion of long neglected local roads and lifeline highways. Citywide trolleys definitely would not be part of the scheme.
You’ve got to love the use of the passive voice here (“a consensus is emerging”), implying that the whole thing is just coming together as God and nature intended. It’s a miracle!!
But I really have to take this opportunity to rant against this idea of a regional “superagency” that’s getting so much press these days. The Puget Sound Regional Transportation Commission (PSRTC) — which would combine RTID, Sound Transit, and the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) — was the subject of the Rice-Stanton report (.pdf) that forms the basis of Van Dyk’s article. It is an idea that is intuitively appealing, but fall apart spectacularly upon deeper examination.
Let’s not mince words here: the PSRTC is not just a silly idea, it’s a dangerous distraction from the real transportation problems facing our region. Like the Department of Homeland Security at the federal level, the PSRTC’s main purpose will be to make us feel like we’ve accomplished something, while formerly effective independent agencies (e.g. FEMA) are gutted and politicized as part of the new, unwieldy mega-bureaucracy.
For example, the PSRC, Rice and Stanton argue, “is charged with planning regionally, but has limited authority. Although it articulates a regional vision and attempts to plan for the region, the PSRC lacks the power to prioritize needed projects due to its governance structure.” But this is a feature, not a bug! The PSRC’s insulation from politics and taxing is exactly what makes it so valuable and objective as a planning agency.
Also, the proposed PSRTC would have “life cycle responsibility” for construction and maintenance of “regional projects.” I assume this means it would have its own construction crews and maintenance facilities, or at least be responsible for subcontracting them. But why? Ostensibly, the PSRTC is being created for regional priority road projects like the ones specified in the RTID: I-405 widening, the “Mercer mess,” the 520 bridge, and others. But design and maintenance for those already rests with specific agencies. Unless you’re going to abolish KCDOT, SDOT, and all the other local DOTs, you’re adding bureaucracy, not removing it.
Finally, we don’t need yet another elected board overseeing something. Our ballots are far too large already. As it is, we must elect a couple of Port Commissioners, a few city councilmembers, a school board, some county councilmembers, federal judges, state reps and legislators, and maybe soon an elections chair. We need fewer of what Knute Berger wisely derided as “designer governments.”
What might — might — make sense is to combine the various regional transit agencies (Everett Transit, King County Metro, Community Transit and Sound Transit) into one transit agency, like Portland’s Tri-Met or New York’s MTA. But that would have the effect of giving Sound Transit even more clout, and that must be avoided at all costs, according to Van Dyk and his ilk (despite the fact that the people of the region view ST more favorably than, say, WSDOT).
To be sure, there is a real funding problem in the region. With round after round of anti-tax initiatives crippling the state’s budget (which must also fund important things like education and health care), it’s getting harder to fund transportation projects. But creating another agency doesn’t solve this problem, it just redirects it. If the state, cities, and counties can’t come up with the revenue, they need to raise taxes, or elect leaders who will. Redrawing lines on the map doesn’t magically make money appear.
In other words, creating the PSRTC does not restore these funds. It simply proposes to acquire them from a smaller bloc of voters, including Tim Eyman (who lives within the PSRTC’s proposed boundaries, let’s remember). Does anyone think that he’s just going to sit on his hands while we try to raise $70B or so in new revenue?
I encourage everyone to download the Rice-Stanton report and skip to Page 114, where Commissioner Dan McDonald writes a highly intelligent and accurate “minority report,” that calls into question the logic of the whole thing. A monster bureaucracy like the PSRTC will face stiff political opposition that will be every bit as difficult as simply trying to raise the revenue through existing agencies.
All of which makes you wonder why we’d even do it in the first place.